What is THC-O?
THC-O, or THC-O acetate, is a semi-synthetically derived cannabinoid that’s considered to be three times stronger than delta-8 THC, or delta-9 THC depending on how it’s made, with the potential for producing mild psychedelic effects.
It is a prodrug of delta-8 and delta-9 THC, meaning that when it enters the body and is ultimately metabolized by the liver, it effectively becomes delta-8, or delta-9 THC. It is distinct from all other forms of THC in that there is no harshness when inhaling and it doesn’t kick in until 10-30 minutes after inhalation.
As of right now, very little is known about the cannabinoid as it has only just entered the mainstream consumer market in 2021 and has little published research on it’s effects, but it has become incredibly popular as an ingredient in delta-8, CBG, and CBD vape cartridges because it is an easy substance to work with and customers seem to enjoy it’s effects as it pairs with the other cannabinoids.
While its most popular use is as an additive in vape cartridges, it is also sold in tinctures, gummies, and cartridges that don’t contain any other cannabinoids.
Is THC-O legal?
Like almost all things cannabis, THC-O lies in a legal gray area. Advocates of the cannabinoid’s legal status cite the 2018 Federal Farm Bill, which legalized hemp that tests under 0.3% delta-9 THC along with its extracted byproducts, presumably including THC-O. Skeptics point to the Controlled Substance Act, which bans synthetic cannabinoids, but does not specifically define what “synthetic,” means.
As a testament to how confusing cannabis legislation is in the US, as of right now, technically no form of THC is legal on the federal level. Thus, anytime anyone in any state purchases marijuana from a dispensary that may be legal at the state level, they are breaking federal law.
All in all, different legal experts have different opinions, so it’s hard to definitively answer to THC-O’s legality, however so far there have been no reported arrests of any individuals, or businesses selling, or consuming THC-O.
THC-O vs Delta-8 THC
Believe it or not, THC-O is actually most often created from delta-8 THC. First, CBD is converted into delta-8, then, acetic anhydride is added to potentiate, or strengthen, the delta-8 by increasing its bioavailability. What you're left with is a tinted oil that is, in essence, a supercharged form of delta-8 distillate.
A more intense experience
Delta-8 produces a high similar to delta-9 THC, or what is naturally found in large amounts in marijuana, but is around 50% as potent. THC-O, on the other hand, has been reported by experienced users to have the potential to produce a feeling similar to a small dose of mescaline, a potent psychedelic, while also potentially packing a punch around three times as strong as delta-8 THC. This means you should generally avoid THC-O unless you have a high tolerance to weed, or delta-8. Though a drawback for some, many who do enjoy THC-O prefer it precisely for its potency.
While vaping delta-8 can take as little as 5 minutes to kick in, THC-O can take upwards of 30 minutes when inhaled. This is because, as mentioned before, THC-O is a prodrug, so it only takes effect after it enters the body and the liver has metabolized it.
This makes it incredibly important to start with small amounts and not to redose until you’ve given yourself enough time to adjust to the effects. One of the most common experiences of people that first use THC-O is thinking that it doesn’t work, taking more, then all of the sudden being overwhelmed with an intense high. Our advice to those planning on trying THC-O is to overestimate the potency and take as small of a dose as possible until you have a good feel for how it interacts with your body. If you’re using a THC-O cart, start with a 3-5 second hit, hold it in for 15 seconds, and wait at least 45 minutes to an hour before redosing to be safe.
Some argue that delta-8 is not synthetic and THC-O is, but this is not true for commercially produced delta-8 because it only occurs naturally in extremely tiny amounts. All commercial delta-8 is produced through a conversion of hemp extracted CBD. This said, the manufacturing process for THC-O is generally considered much more dangerous than that of delta-8 because what eventually becomes the “O,” or acetate, part of the compound, acetic anhydride, is highly flammable. While this may sound scary, when properly managed by qualified experts with the right equipment, THC-O can be safely manufactured. To put it in perspective, the majority of recreationally legal delta-9 THC carts are produced using butane. Butane is comparably dangerous to work with if mismanaged and unlike THC-O production, has a track record of causing incidents. All this to say, be smart. Don’t try to produce delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, or THC-O distillate at home!
Mixing Delta-8 And THC-O
Given that THC-O has such a high potential for getting users much higher than intended, it’s often mixed in with delta-8, or CBD, in cartridges to dilute its potency and create a more balanced experience. Since you can feel a tingling, slight burning sensation when inhaling delta-8, these formulations can give vapers a better idea of how much THC they’re actually inhaling so they don’t consume too much. If you do plan on using a delta-8 + THC-O cartridge, we recommend still sticking to waiting 45 minutes to an hour to see how you feel because while you may feel a high immediately from the delta-8, the THC-O can lag and provide a delayed boost.
What does the research say?
There is currently effectively no scientific research done on the short term, or long term effects of THC-O, other than one notorious experiment, which can hardly be called scientific, conducted by none other than the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) somewhere between 1948 to 1975. It was a part of a series of experiments called the Edgewood Arsenal human experiments, which sought to gain insight into the usefulness of different chemical compounds for war, pharmaceutical, and vaccine purposes. Along with THC-O, delta-9 THC, and LSD were also studied. The results of the study concluded that both delta-9 THC and THC-O caused ataxia, or loss of muscle control and coordination, when administered to dogs.
The effects and side-effects of THC-O
The effects of THC-O were first discussed in a 1974 book written by cannabis extraction pioneer D. Gold titled Cannabis Alchemy: Art of Modern Hashmaking, as follows:
“The effect of the acetate is more spiritual and psychedelic than that of the ordinary product (delta-9 THC). The most unique property of this material is that there is a delay of about thirty minutes before its effects are felt.”
So what does Gold actually mean by spiritual and psychedelic? Unfortunately with the lack of scientific research available, it’s hard to say for sure. Other than Gold’s early testimony, the most up to date information we have about THC-O’s effects are primarily anecdotal and come from internet blogs and forums. We reviewed hundreds of first-hand accounts on reddit and found these to be the most balanced and representative of the whole of what you’ll find if you go searching yourself. Mixed reviews, Here’s what reddit users say:
“Very sedative and I would recommend doing it in the evening. However, I have zero psychedelic experiences from it. Very much stronger than delta 8 or even delta 9, but I’m sure the experiences will differ by the individual.”
“First time I tried it I was completely blasted with psychedelic effects, and ever since it is less potent than even delta 8 and makes me feel weird rather than high.”
“THCO is wayyyyy stronger than delta 8 for me. I vape in my pen and it gets me to a 9/10 occasionally.
“For me and seemingly a lot of others, for some reason it literally just doesn’t do anything. I feel more from CBD flower than it. Tried vaping/dabbing tons, held it in, etc, nothing other than maybe application effects of other (cannaba)noids, but on it’s own I felt very little to nothing.”
The delta-8 Comparison
It’s worth mentioning that since THC-O is converted to delta-8 THC after being ingested, it may exhibit many of the same effects, such as elevated mood, pain relief, and increased appetite. THC-O also shares the same potential side-effects as delta-8 like paranoia, anxiety, dry mouth, disassociation, nausea, or vomiting.
Will THC-O show up on a drug test?
Yes. When THC-O metabolizes in the liver, it effectively becomes delta-9, meaning it will show up on a drug test as marijuana. If you expect a consequential drug test in your future, we strongly recommend avoiding THC-O, or any other forms of THC. It’s not worth it!
What to know about THC-O and Lab Tests
If you look at the COA (certificate of analysis) for almost any THC-O product, you will find that the report does not register, or even test for in any capacity, THC-O amounts. What you will most likely see is a bunch of “ND’s,” which is shorthand for “not-detected.” This is because up until recently, there has been no known method of testing for THC-O. The only purpose that these types of lab tests serve is to prove that the product does not contain illegal amounts of delta-9 THC. This means you have no idea how much THC-O you’re receiving, or if there are any harmful substances such as heavy metals, or leftover acetic anhydride from the manufacturing process, which can be extremely toxic if it is come into direct contact with.
Fortunately, ACS Laboratory, a DEA certified hemp testing lab, recently pioneered a method to test for THC-O as well as acetic anhydride. The company's President, Roger Brown, is quoted saying:
“When creating our THCOa Safety Bundle, we not only took the time to create a method for THCOa, but also a method for the potential harmful chemical, acetic anhydride, that is used as a reactor - to ensure safety and purity for the consumer and for ACS laboratory to continue to be a good corporate citizen.”
With this said, it’s probably a good idea to avoid buying THC-O from any vendors that do not conduct their tests with ACS. Sadly, as of right now, none of the major vendors of THC-O products have caught on.
Is THC-O safe?
Simply put, nobody knows yet. There are two primary problems regarding the safety of THC-O, the first being that it is an unregulated product. This means that manufacturers do not have to conduct thorough lab tests and can include almost anything in their products and get away with it, including harmful chemicals such as Vitamin-E, so long as they prove it does not contain delta-9 THC. This problem can largely be resolved by purchasing from a vendor that uses ACS lab tests and updates them frequently so you know that you’re not consuming anything you didn’t sign up for.
The second safety concern with THC-O that can’t as easily be mitigated is that it has not been researched enough to know for sure if it has harmful long term effects. This problem isn’t unique to THC-O, as delta-8, CBN, and many other cannabinoids face a similar lack of scientific backing. All of it likely stems from the reality that hemp derived products, including CBD, have only been legal since 2018, making it impossible to conduct rigorous, long term studies.
All things considered, if you limit the amount of THC-O you consume, you’ll probably be fine. As of right now there has been no reported hospitalizations from THC-O related causes.
How do you use THC-O?
If you’re vaping THC-O, the best method to get a good dose is:
- Inhale for 3-5 seconds
- Hold the vapor in your lungs for 10-15 seconds
- Wait 45 minutes to an hour before redosing
It’s critical to give yourself time to observe how you feel before redosing, as most of the negative side-effects of THC-O come from overconsumption.