Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Tetrahydrocannabinol-O-acetate (THC-O-acetate, also known as THC-O) is a non-natural or “semi-synthetic” cannabinoid. This means that it is a chemical found in nature but is produced artificially from a naturally-occurring cannabinoid, THC.
THC-O can be synthesized from any cannabis plant (marijuana or hemp, sativa, and indica strains) via laboratory processes involving highly toxic synthetic chemicals like acetic anhydride.
Due to THC-O’s relatively recent popularization, little is known scientifically. Some speculate that THC-O has psychedelic effects and claim it is three times more potent than regular THC. THC-O is relatively unregulated, and little is known about its danger.
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What Is THC-O?
THC-O acetate is produced from the hemp plant through a relatively complex and dangerous chemical process.
The process begins with CBD extraction from raw hemp, and further extraction occurs of Delta-8 THC from the CBD. The chemical acetic anhydride, commonly used to create drugs, plastics, and explosives, is added to make THC-O’s final product.
THC-O’s crude preparations may appear brown and viscous, similar to motor oil. It has no aroma or flavor, as making THC-O strips the hemp of its terpenes and flavonoids. This is one of the many reasons we often advise people to be wary of synthetic cannabinoids (SCBs).
How THC-O Affects the Body
THC-O is a THC analog, and as a synthetic cannabinoid, it is assumed to interact with cannabinoid receptors. THC-O may have different functional effects than THC, including differential physical and chemical properties, which are yet to be investigated despite the relative chemical similarity.
One known detail about THC-O is that it’s a prodrug of THC, meaning THC-O is an inactive substance that must be metabolized into its active form. This occurs through deacetylation from liver enzymes that remove the acetate (O) group. This causes a delay in THC-O’s effects of 20-30 minutes after consumption.
As a relatively thick liquid, THC-O is ingested in edible products, tinctures, and vaporizer cartridges. Some compare THC-O’s effects to lower doses of naturally occurring psychedelics like mescaline. However, these effects are merely anecdotal points, and further research into THC-O’s effects is required.
Psychedelics like mescaline target different receptor systems, particularly the serotonin 5HT2A receptor, so effects can vary significantly from what some have stated about THC-O. Some have compared cannabis to psychedelics in its effects, but these are often personal accounts and don’t necessarily apply to synthetic or semi-synthetic cannabinoids.
This law has been suggested to play a part in the growing popularity of hemp-derived synthetic cannabinoids like THC-O in states where cannabis is illegal. From this view, it seems the Farm Bill has inadvertently prompted the creation of hemp extractions, often more potent than their delta-9-THC cousins.
However, other experts believe THC-O is illegal under the 1986 Federal Analogue Act due to its structural similarity to THC. This states that any substance with structural similarity (structural analog) to a Schedule 1 substance will come under the same laws as that substance.
THC is Schedule 1. It is important to note that CBD and Delta-8-THC would also come under this law, and THC-O’s legality thus depends on where the line is drawn.
Is THC-O Safe to Use?
THC-O is unregulated and can vary extensively with lower-quality reagents and equipment.
Unlike legal and FDA-regulated THC products, there is no guarantee of what consumers will receive when purchasing THC-O products. They may have harsh chemicals used in the creation process, dangerous thinning agents, or unknowns.
Aside from its unregulated nature, the actual dangers of THC-O are yet to be investigated, so it remains hazardous to use. This synthetic cannabinoid is rumored to be three times as strong as regular THC, and it lends itself toward negative results that may not be apparent with regular cannabis use.
“So, between the inherent danger of the process to make it, the potential toxicity of the product, and its illegality, I’ve got to recommend that people forget about it. It’s just not something that people should be trying,” cannabis and endocannabinoid researcher Ethan Russo, M.D. told HempGrower.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Is THC-O bad for you?
The negative effects of THC-O have not thoroughly been investigated, and animal studies have shown gastrointestinal, behavioral, and respiratory disruptions with intravenous administration. Due to this and its possible potency, it is recommended that potential users of THC-O proceed with caution.
What does THC-O feel like?
Some users report psychedelic, hallucinogenic experiences when using THC-O, akin to low doses of psilocybin or mescaline. However, the effects are yet to be scientifically established.