This article originally appeared on AskGrowers.com and has been reposted, unedited, with permission.
Even for laymen with a decent working knowledge of cannabis, THC-O (otherwise known as THC acetate or THC-O acetate) is a fairly unknown, non-natural cannabinoid. Unlike the more visible CBD or even THC, you won’t see articles about it in health magazines or have advertisements for it pop up on social media.
For years, it’s been under the radar, and now there is a growing discussion around THC-O. This is for two reasons: its potency and its accessibility. THC-O has been found to be around three times stronger than conventional THC. And because the law has not yet caught up with its existence, it can be accessed by anyone who lives in a state where conventional THC is illegal.
What Is THC-O Acetate And Why Are There So Many Discussions Around It?
THC-O is artificially synthesized from the precursor to traditional THC, called tetrahydrocannabinol acid, or THCA. The process used to create THC-O preserves the basic structure of the THCA but adds an acetate group.
TCH-O is what’s known as a “prodrug”, which simply means that it doesn’t become active in the body until after the liver metabolizes it. Acetylated THC is far stronger than its naturally derived counterparts because it can cross lipid-sensitive barriers in the brain and digestive tract more easily. After metabolizing, what’s left in the body is a more bioavailable delta 9 THC compound.
Processed as an odorless and tasteless compound, THC-O is not water-soluble. It has begun to show up on the market in the form of vapes, edibles like gummies, tinctures, and other products. THC-O products are similar to THC products, just with greater potency.
A Brief History of THC-O Acetate
THC-O hasn’t really been in the public eye until recent years, but it has been studied as far back as 1949 by the United States military. In the 1970s, DEA agents raided a lab in Florida that was synthesizing THC-O. Yet because there was apparently no real marketplace for it, the FDA didn’t investigate the compound any further. The War on Drugs seemingly passed this one by.
In 2018 the United States Congress passed a bill that allowed for the growth and production of hemp. Because THC-O can be synthesized from hemp, an underground marketplace began to grow. Because the laws regarding the compound are vague and not clearly stated, THC-O began to grow in popularity, especially in states where traditional cannabis remains illegal.
How Is It Made?
Like traditional THC, THC-O is synthesized from hemp. It is synthetically altered to change its chemical structure. The process begins with THCA, the compound from which all other forms of THC are derived. The traditional Δ9 THC and Δ8 THC are decarboxylated (a chemical process that removes a carbon atom from the carbon chain) through the application of heat. However, THC-O is made by taking the raw THCA and processing it with sulfuric acid and acetic anhydride before it is heated, which dramatically alters its molecular structure.
This is an extremely volatile chemical process, and under no circumstances should anyone try to create THC-O at a home lab. Not only is home-processing extremely dangerous, but it will likely be ineffective. THC-O requires very specific processing parameters, and a layperson would not be able to create a potent product.
What Do We Know About THC-O’s Effects?
THC-O is an extremely psychoactive form of THC. It offers a high that is around 3x more powerful than traditional marijuana. THC-O acetate effects are marginally hallucinogenic, which has earned it the nickname “the psychedelic cannabinoid”. Because of this, it’s good to note that it’s best to be cautious in consumption. It’s safer for those who are already accustomed to the effects of cannabis. The effects at higher doses have been compared to that of mescaline, LSD, or “magic” mushrooms. Users can feel extremely “heavy” and unable to move. Lower doses are comparable to the typical delta 9 THC variant.
Because of the breakdown of THC-O in the body, the high doesn’t kick in for about 20-30 minutes after consumption (It must be metabolized in the liver first.)
Some side effects of THC-O-acetate include:
- Extreme lethargy/sedation
- Nausea or vomiting
- Incapacitation and/or incoherence
These negative side effects are more likely to occur at higher doses. Here are the recommended dosages.
- Effects Threshold: vaped or smoked 0.5 mg, oral 3 mg
- Psychoactive Standard: vaped or smoke 1-3 mg, oral 3-10 mg
- Psychedelic Effects: more than 5 mg smoked, oral 10 or more mg
For those trying to cheat the drug test, THC-O is not going to help as it leaves the body as a more potent form of delta 9 THC after being metabolized by the liver. This excretion will be picked up on a THC drug test.
Is THC-O Safe to Consume?
There is not enough research available on TCH-O to determine whether it’s safe for human consumption. Because it has just recently started to emerge from the underground, there is certainly some amount of risk in using it. While there has never been a recorded death from an overdose while using THC-O, there are a few things to keep in mind about consumption.
Vapes using vitamin E acetate were found to cause a virulent form of lung disease in some users called lipoid pneumonia. While there is not enough research to prove a similar effect with THC acetate, some experts theorize that there could be a similar effect if taken through vape carts.
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Another possible issue is a run-in with adulterated products. This is a highly unregulated synthetic drug. Therefore, there is a good chance of receiving an impure, contaminated, or downright dangerous product.
Finally, because this prodrug is so incredibly potent, it is important to go slow. Start at a very small, minimal dose and potentially increase it only as your body becomes accustomed to the effects.
THC-O vs. THC, Delta-9 THC vs. Delta-8 THC
The most common form of THC derivative is delta 9 – this is what is actively present in marijuana and smaller amounts in hemp. The delta 8 is another popular iteration that occurs naturally as delta 9 breaks down, but it can also be created synthetically. Here is a quick breakdown of each THC compound.
Delta 9 THC
This form of THC is naturally occurring. Its average concentration in marijuana is approximately 15-20%. Primary health benefits include analgesic (pain-relieving) properties, and anti-seizure properties. The main target receptors include cannabinoid receptors 1 and 2 (CB1 and CB2). It has a high psychoactivity rate and costs $0.07-$0.13 per mg.
Delta 8 THC
This form of THC is naturally derived from delta 9. It has a 1% concentration in marijuana. Primary health benefits include sleep support and calming properties for anxiety. Target receptors include CB1 and CB2. It has a moderate psychoactivity rate and costs $0.06-$0.12 per mg.
Legal Status and Forecasts
THC-O acetate legality can be a bit complicated to suss out. It’s not named a prohibited substance anywhere but in the UK and New Zealand. However, THC acetate is an analog of delta 9 THC, which is listed as a Schedule 1 drug. In the US, this means that it would likely be classed as a Schedule 1 drug under the 1986 bill called the Federal Analogue Act. Again, it is not specifically stated but would fall into this category by default.
In Canada, this prodrug is not prohibited. Nor are there any laws that might categorize it in this way, but it is very difficult to obtain THC-O in Canada.
Because there is a provision in the US to classify it as a Schedule 1 drug, it is likely that it will become a banned substance in the future on a federal level. Even now, state and federal laws are scrambling to catch up to a growing market. there are 18 states that have legalized delta 9, and THC-O may squeeze through in those states. As more states legalize THC, it may follow by default.
Is It Worth Trying?
For curious tokers, trying a new substance that is 300% more potent than THC is a most welcoming experience. However, we urge you to explore new psychedelic horizons with caution because THC-O is a prodrug. What it means is that the chemical has to be metabolized in the body first. Depending on one’s overall tolerance, the process might take 30 minutes, sometimes more. This is potentially hazardous as an unwary pothead might think the dose was too small, which can lead to an overdose.
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That said, therapeutical usage of THC-O makes more sense than casual recreation. There are known cases of cannabis patients consuming over 1,000 mg of THC daily to help them manage their debilitating, paralyzing, and even mortal chronic conditions. For those therapeutic users who have high cannabinoid tolerance, THC-O is worth giving a shot. The form of edible tinctures is the most comfortable form of consumption that can fit into any lifestyle.
As with the use of any pharmaceutical, whether you decide to try it yourself is a matter of personal preference and choice. However, there are a couple of things to keep in mind and review before you make that decision.
First of all, remember that THC-O is extremely potent. Stronger than any other form of THC available. It is a prodrug, which means that it is metabolized before it is processed at the cannabinoid receptor sites. If you decide to try it, start slow and increase your dosage slowly. Recommended THC-O dosages are the following:
- Beginner (low tolerance): 3mg-10mg per use
- Intermediate (medium tolerance): 10mg-25mg per use
- Advanced (high tolerance): 25mg-50mg+ per use
REMINDER: Make sure your body can handle the effects before moving to the next dose level!
One more thing. Under no circumstances should you attempt to process this drug on your own. It is both difficult to do correctly and extremely dangerous if done incorrectly. Not only can incorrect processing cause volatile chemical reactions, but you can also end up with a compromised product. If you choose to consume THC-O, only purchase it from a source you trust.