January 25, 2023

What is THC-O?

What is THC-O? In this post, we explain what this compound is, what its basic effects are, and compare it to other hemp plant cannabinoids. We also cover safety, legality, and where to buy this new cannabinoid.

Explainer: What is THC-O?

THC acetate ester (THC-O acetate or just THC-O) is an analog of the delta-9 THC molecule. It is sometimes preferred by experienced cannabis users since it is stronger than the classic delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) you’re used to.

THC-O is derived from the class of “tetrahydrocannabinols.” This group of compounds includes different versions of THC, such as delta-7, delta-8, delta-9, delta-10, HHC, THC-P, and THCV. However, THC-O is unique.

THC-O is a semi-synthetic cannabinoid and a prodrug which means it becomes active only after metabolization. It doesn’t naturally occur in cannabis plants. Manufacturers typically synthesize THC-O concentrates in laboratories from tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA). THC-O produces a deep sense of euphoria and in large doses can induce hallucinogenic, psychedelic effects.

How does THC-O compare to regular THC? THC-O is about three times stronger than regular THC, and in high doses it can induce hallucinations. For this reason, some use THC-O as a spiritual experience.

Remember, none of these cannabinoids is for beginners. Expect that the side effects of THC-O and THCP will be a lot like THC—and then some. If you are new to derivatives and analogs, delta-8 THC is another good alternative.

How Was THC-O Discovered?

The US Army discovered THC-O during the Edgewood Arsenal Experiment in the 1940s on dogs. The colorless, highly flammable chemical compound acetic anhydride is used to synthesize THC-O. It is typically used in making dyes, explosives, fibers, pharmaceuticals, and plastics.

(This is not to be confused with THCP, which was discovered much later in 2019 by the Italian military, who also discovered CBDP, an analog of cannabidiol [CBD]).

How Does THC-O Work?

THC-O interacts with CB1 receptors in the brain and central nervous system. These receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a vast neurochemical network.

The ECS regulates core bodily functions, including appetite, body temperature, fear perception, fertility, immune responses, memory, mood, pain, sleep, etc. The CB1 receptor mediates the euphoric high, also provides health benefits, including anti-inflammation, neuroprotection, pain relief, physical and mental relaxation, and sleep improvements.

Does THC-O Get You Higher than Other Forms of THC?

Yes, THC-O is much stronger than delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC, though not THC-P.

An alkyl side chain, also called the main or primary chain or backbone, is a string of carbon atoms that influence how the body’s cannabinoid receptors and cannabinoids interact. The length of the alkyl side chain of THCP is at the root of its extreme potency. For perspective, THC-O has an alkyl side chain with five-links, while THCP has an alkyl side chain with seven-links. Thus, THCP binds the most readily with these receptors, and is the most potent THC analog.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that THCP creates similar effects as delta-9, plus additional mental and physical effects. However, even in high doses, THCP doesn’t cause hallucinations, unlike THC-O.

The onset and type of effects depend on the product type:

  • Vape carts. Vape liquids are infused with THC-O and sometimes terpenes to create distillate vapes and other inhalables. The effects start within minutes and last for up to 4 hours.
  • Tinctures. Oils and tinctures offer high bioavailability and a rapid onset of effects—usually users feel the effects of THC-O within 30 minutes.
  • Edibles. Edibles like THC-O gummies are ingested orally, which causes the cannabinoids to take longer before they start showing effects—usually between 30–90 minutes, depending on metabolism and whether they were consumed with or without food. Edibles also sometimes produce more powerful effects that last longer than other forms of THC.

THC-O Products: Are They Legal?

The legal status of any cannabinoids, including THC-O, can be confusing.

The Controlled Substances Act (CSA) only touches on delta-9 THC, and doesn’t specify these cannabinoids. However, parts of the Federal Analogue Act (FAA) do cover THC analogs, which means that without further action all THC isomers would be scheduled substances.

However, the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp-derived cannabinoids legal, including THC analogs. The bill specifies that all hemp products are legal so long as they are derived from hemp plants that have < 0.3% delta-9 THC.

This made hemp-derived cannabinoids such as THCP, THC-O, HHC, and delta-8 THC legal across the US federally. Specific states have banned products containing these compounds or imposed 0.3% limits on all THC variants.

It is worth noting that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has not clearly defined “synthetic” in its regulations, but may be working to create a rule limiting the use of cannabinoids such as THC-O. This would be based on the fact that THC-O is produced in a laboratory; according to a 2017 DEA Resource Guide, if they are made in a laboratory, “synthetic cannabinoids are not organic.” If the DEA clarifies its definition of synthetic, it may also move to define hemp-derived THC-O as a controlled substance.

What About Marijuana-Derived THC-O?

Marijuana-derived cannabinoids, including THC-O, are all illegal federally under the Controlled Substances Act. The law prohibits all products derived from cannabis plants with delta-9 THC levels that exceed 0.3% by dry weight. This makes it illegal to grow, manufacture, package, distribute, sell, possess, buy, import, and transport cannabis products under federal law.

However, marijuana laws also differ from state to state. Check your local and state laws to ensure hemp-derived cannabinoids like delta-8 THC and THC-O are legal where you live.

Is THC-O Safe?

THC-O can be attractive low-dose options if you want something other than delta-9 THC. But since manufacturers must extract usable amounts of THC-O from cannabis, you need to ensure your THC-O products are free from contaminants. Always check the certificate of analysis (CoA), and only buy from trusted vendors

How Do All of the Cannabinoids Compare?

Wondering how THC-O compares to other popular and legal hemp-derived cannabinoids?

THC-O creates greater psychoactive effects than the cannabinoid hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) which occurs in nature and has a similar strength to delta-9 THC. THC-O is about 5 times stronger than HHC. For a more familiar frame of reference, HHC is about 80% as potent as delta-9 THC. HHC is known for its soothing, relaxing effects, particularly when combined with CBD.

THC-O is approximately 5x more powerful than delta-8. At any dose, delta-8 offers a relaxing high and mild psychoactive effects. For first time users, delta-8 THC is often the smartest analog, especially for anyone who might be sensitive to the effects of delta-9 THC.

While you can mix THC-O with alcohol, we don’t recommend doing it. Alcohol, especially binging on it, can worsen the side effects of any kind of THC.

CBD is found in much larger concentrations in cannabis than THC-O, they two share few characteristics. CBD doesn’t interact with CB1 receptors and so cannot produce intoxicating effects. THC-O induces a euphoric high and may cause users to fail a drug test.

Where to Buy THC-O Products

Because hemp-derived cannabinoids are federally legal, you might be tempted to visit a nearby head shop or vape store and see if they stock THC-O \ products. Certainly a dispensary is a better choice, because at least you know more of what you’re getting. But it’s expensive and limits your choices for sure.

You will find the most high-quality THC-O products online. That’s the easiest way to maximize your selection and verify quality. Like any natural product or supplement, hemp products are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so the ability to shop with reputable vendors that offer testing results is key. Reading the COA shows you the levels of cannabinoids and ensures your products are free of trace amounts of solvents and other contaminants.

Finally, when you shop online to buy THC-O you can compare different flavors, formulas, prices, and potencies right from home, anytime. It feels pretty amazing to get your gummies or vape cartridges right to your door!

Final Thoughts on THC-O

THC-O is still really new, and especially if you’re curious about psychedelics you’re probably dying to try it. When you shop online for THC-O products from trusted vendors who post third party lab testing results, you know just what you’re getting! You also have a confident, convenient experience.