From the sedative effects of delta-8 to psychoactive delta-10 THC, there’s a “newer” kid on the block. THC-O (pronunciation: T-H-C oh) is gaining popularity. Why?
The answer is easy. Called a psychedelic cannabinoid, it has the power to induce hallucinatory effects. Oh, and they say it’s 300 percent more potent than its cousin (conventional THC) that everyone knows.
Is the more potent THC-O legal? Some may believe that knowing whether it’s safe is more important. Let’s see.
Is THC-O Legal?
Many have questioned the legal status of THC-O because the answer isn’t clear-cut. THC-O’s legality is a gray area, thanks to the Farm Bill passed by Congress in 2018. Hemp was legalized that year, and THC-O is manufactured from hemp. Thus, many, including cannabis manufacturers, say the THC-O production is legal. This, however, depends on how you interpret the law.
On the other side of the coin are those that say THC-O isn’t legal. Their reason is the Federal Analogue Act of 1986.
This act states that any substance analogous to a Schedule 1 drug would, by extension, be classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Conventional THC is a Schedule 1 drug. THC-O is analogous to THC and thus also a Schedule 1 drug.
It gets really complicated because, technically, it can be argued that CBD and delta-8 THC are then also Schedule 1 drugs. It all depends on what the laws categorize as analogous versus non-analogous.
The law is scrambling to catch up in the void among these designer cannabinoid products, which live in the marginally legal space. These are products like THC-O. Although THC-O comes from hemp and is legal, it still skirts the law, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
In the states where adult-use hemp is legal, the regulators aren’t looking at hemp-derived products because they fall in a legally gray area.
So is THC-O legal? It depends on who you ask and how they choose to interpret the law in the U.S.
How Is THC-O Extracted?
THC-O is not a natural compound found in the cannabis plant. Instead, it’s a chemical twin, or synthetic analog, of conventional THC, manufactured specifically to be stronger than delta-8 or delta-9 THC.
Since THC-O doesn’t occur naturally, cannabis producers put other compounds through extensive extraction and modification. It’s highly dangerous (so don’t try this at home!). In this situation, buy from reputable sources, don’t DIY.
In a series of extractions, the first step is to extract CBD from raw or less than 0.3 percent of legalized THC hemp. The second step is to extract delta-8, delta-9, or a similar modification from the CBD. Thirdly, chemists then add acetic anhydride to the delta-8 or THC variation. Finally, it becomes an acetate, or tetrahydrocannabinol acetate. You guessed it: THC-O.
It’s actually an acetate ester, which is formed via decarboxylation. In chemistry, when you decarboxylate, the chemical compound in question loses a carboxyl group. Chemists will do the same to delta-9 THC. In this case, the process of heating loses the carboxyl for a certain time.
During the manufacturing of THC-O, producers often use lead tetraacetate, which is highly toxic. This process, which promotes oxidation, creates an oxidative decarboxylation with acetate ester as a byproduct.
The acetic anhydride is highly flammable, explosive, and corrosive. So unless manufacturers make THC-O in a controlled laboratory environment with a vacuum hood, it has high health and safety risk factors.
When delta-8 THC becomes an acetate, the process eliminates all the terpenes, cannabinoids, and flavonoids. What’s left behind is a thick brown motor-oil-like THC isolate that’s flavorless, scentless, and potent.
What Are the Effects of Smoking or Vaping THC-O?
THC-O is a thick brown, oil-like liquid. Manufacturers use it in tinctures, edibles, and vape cartridges.
As a prodrug, your body needs to metabolize THC-O before it’s activated. Therefore, it takes between 20-30 minutes until you start feeling the effects of THC-O.
Once you’ve metabolized it, what’s left in your system is a highly bioavailable variation of delta-9 THC. Many believe this bioavailability is responsible for the increase in potency (compared to the usual effects of delta-9).
If you’ve smoked, vaped, or eaten a gummy with THC-O, the effects you’ll feel are more psychedelic and spiritual than the sativa high you get with delta-9 THC or the calming effects of delta-8 THC.
Is THC-O Safe to Consume?
Since chemists synthesize THC-O using natural hemp, this is why it has a similar chemical profile to the delta-8 and delta-9 variants of THC.
However, because it is also an acetate ester, there is concern that it could be like vitamin-E acetate, which produces ketenes at vaporization temperature (when vaping). Ketenes are highly toxic, and they can cause lung damage, even in small amounts.
Since your body needs to metabolize THC-O to feel the effects, scientific reasoning suggests you eat it instead of smoking it. Moreover, the worry is that smoking or vaping THC-O will activate other chemicals (similar to ketenes).
All in all, there isn’t a lot of research on THC-O and no regulation to date. This means that with no quality control, you can buy either high-quality THC-O that might be safe or low-quality THC-O that may be unsafe.
There is no way of really knowing what, if any, unknowns have been added to the finished THC-O product. For all you know, potentially toxic elements may have been added or may be left behind if the product hasn’t been appropriately purified.
And with this compound being up to 300 percent more potent than delta-9 THC, many people worried about the unpleasant and imbibing effects.
However, for cannabis patients who use THC products to help with chronic pain management, THC-O might offer relief when used in recreational doses.
Final Thoughts on THC-O and Cannabis Consumers
With no legality, research, or regulation for THC-O products, you can never truly be sure that what you are buying is high quality, low quality, safe, or unsafe.
If you want to give THC-O a try, experienced consumers recommend starting slow with a low dosage. Don’t think it’s not working because you don’t immediately feel the effects. It takes about half an hour, or even longer, depending on your metabolic rate. Once you know when it kicks in, what it feels like, and have a reference point, you can slowly up your dosage.
But again, with almost no studies into the effects of THC-O, the message is clear: proceed with caution.