Just when you thought you’d heard of every new cannabinoid, another one joins the roster. Enter THC-O, the THC derivative that is three times more potent than Delta-9 THC. As if that weren’t enough to entice even the most THC-tolerant consumer, THC-O is borderline psychedelic in effect. Is something this potent safe, or even necessary?
Despite the hype, there is some controversy as to whether or not THC-O is a breakthrough in cannabis processing, or if it bastardized the essence of cannabis, perfect in its natural form. So where does this cannabinoid come from, and is it legal?
What Is THC-O?
THC-O, or THC-O acetate, is a synthetic analog to Delta-9 THC. Unlike minor cannabinoids like Delta-8, Delta-10, or HHC, THC-O is not naturally occurring within the cannabis plant. Instead, it is made through a series of extractions that start with a hemp plant. Like with most new cannabinoids, research and regulations are scarce.
We know that early research indicates that THC-O is a pro-drug, meaning that it must be metabolized before it is activated. After THC-O is metabolized, it becomes a variable of Delta-9 THC but with much higher bioavailability. In that case, consuming the same amount of THC-O as one would consume Delta-9 might leave even the most experienced cannabis consumer in an utterly stoned stupor. However, for a medical patient who requires large doses of THC to quell symptoms, THC-O might be a more effective and affordable alternative.
How to Make THC-O
Producing THC-O begins with THC. Since the most concentrated form of THC is prevalent in marijuana, it would make sense to start there. However, marijuana is heavily regulated, and can only be produced, manufactured, and sold in states with a medical or adult-use program. Because of this, most companies produce THC-O with hemp.
Hemp does contain trace amounts of THC, but there is another way to obtain larger quantities as a base for THC-O production. First, CBD is extracted from industrial hemp, and then converted to Delta-8 THC through isomerization. Again, Delta-8 is naturally occurring, but this isomerization process is needed to procure enough Delta-8 to work with.
Next, acetic anhydride is combined with the Delta-8 THC molecules, leaving behind a completely odorless, flavorless THC isolate. There are no terpenes, flavonoids, or additional cannabinoids present after the application of the acetic anhydride.
Please note that acetic anhydride is extremely flammable. This is a highly volatile and dangerous process and should never be done at home. Leave the science to the scientists, folks.
Is Delta-10 the Same as THC-O?
Delta-10 is a naturally occurring cannabinoid, but like Delta-8, it is present in only trace amounts. The same isomerization process used to extrapolate Delta-8 from CBD is used to create Delta-10.
Delta-10 is much less potent than either Delta-8 or Delta-9, making it significantly less potent than THC-O. Some users report that Delta-10 is like the sativa to Delta-8’s indica, and have even gone so far as to say that THC-O is something akin to mescaline or LSD.
THC-O VS THC
THC is the starting point for THC-O. The two differ in chemical composition, and most notably — THC-O is a manufactured, synthetic cannabinoid as opposed to naturally occurring THC. THC-O does not exist anywhere in the cannabis kingdom and is only made possible in a lab.
The second most notable difference between the two is the variance in potency. While both can be considered psychotropic substances, THC-O has a propensity to produce delusions, hallucinations, and altered perception in much smaller doses than THC might.
How Strong Is THC-O?
THC-O is said to be three times more potent than Delta-9 THC. For someone who consumes large amounts of cannabis daily, that might sound alluring, but something that strong could send a first-time cannabis user into a full-blown panic attack.
Its powerful effects are a blessing for patients who need to consume hundreds (if not thousands) of milligrams of THC to manage their symptoms. Unfortunately, that volume of THC purchased in a dispensary comes with a hefty price tag, even with a medical marijuana card.
Effects of THC-O
Some people report THC-O to be almost spiritual in effect, relating its mental and physical feelings to a psychedelic trip. Introspective and stimulating of all senses, psychedelics have the potential to change mindset and outlook on life. However, this effect can be disturbing and uncomfortable to some users, especially if it’s unexpected.
Physically, THC-O offers soothing effects with a full-body sensation that typically begins like THC with a little pressure behind the eyes that ultimately washes over the whole body as effects heighten. It’s similar to THC….but “more”.
Is THC-O Safe to Consume?
This depends on who you ask. Naturally, brands releasing THC-O products advocate for its safety, so long as it was produced in a laboratory and rigorously tested.
Since THC-O is highly concentrated, the starting material plays a vital role in overall safety. Hemp treated with pesticides or containing heavy metals from contaminated soil will produce an extract with even higher concentrations of those things. In general, vaping poses some concerns among the cannabis community.
Is THC-O Legal?
Again, this depends on who you ask. Hemp was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, paving the way for hemp and its byproducts to hit the mainstream market. Regardless of originating status on Delta-8 and Delta-10 products, they still remain in a legal gray area as THC products. Simply because THC-O is not a naturally occurring cannabinoid does not mean that it is exempt from legal scrutiny.
Some people will argue that it falls under the protection of the Farm Bill, so long as the product was derived from hemp, and contains less than 0.3% THC. However, on the other side of the coin, THC-O is technically a THC analog and may fall subject to 1986 Federal Analogue Act. This law states that anything considered analogous to a Schedule 1 drug (like marijuana) is also considered a Schedule 1 drug. As of now, no federal regulations have banned the sale of THC-O.
Where to Buy THC-O?
Most THC-O products are available online. Companies like Bearly Hemp Co and Binoid promote and sell vape pens and gummies containing THC-O. As demand continues to grow for these highly potent products, more and more online retailers will jump in the game. It’s important to remember that you should always do your due diligence when shopping from online cannabis retailers.
Verify that they include all ingredients and dosage recommendations on their packaging, and complete testing information is available online. Certificates of Analysis should include total cannabinoids and terpenes and negative results for mold, mildew, pesticides, heavy metals, and residual solvents.
Can THC-O Cause a Failed Drug Test?
In short, yes. THC drug panels are simply testing for THC metabolites, and due to its extreme potency, THC-O is sure to cause a positive drug test. If you believe that you may be facing a drug test, it’s best to stop the use of all cannabis products immediately.
THC-O Consumption Methods
THC-O is primarily found in vape pens, tinctures, and edibles. Continued research may help us indicate which methods are best for specific uses. For example, if THC-O is much more bioavailable than THC, a tincture absorbed via sublingual delivery might prove successful for medical marijuana patients who need fast-acting relief.
Determining dosage is personal to the user. However, knowing that THC-O is three times more potent than THC, it would be wise to cut back your regular dosage significantly when testing any THC-O product. For example, if you typically like a 50mg THC edible, start with 10-15mg of THC-O and wait a full two hours before deciding if you’d like to up your dose.
Cannabis science can be both exciting and slightly overwhelming. Altering the plant from its natural state is controversial to some audiences who prefer to keep things the way mother nature intended. And yet, other schools of thought suggest that this plant was gifted to us to use as needed and alterations are a natural part of that process. What do you think? Will you be trying out synthetic or semi-synthetic cannabis products?