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THC-O is the Semi-Legal Psychedelic Cannabinoid

Jim McDonald
May 4, 2022

Following the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp cultivation, we’ve seen a wave of products made from the legal plant. Aside from non-intoxicating CBD, which is found organically in hemp plants and can be easily extracted, there is a growing list of cannabinoids that have been manufactured by subjecting CBD to various chemical processes.

THC-O is one of the latest of those cannabinoids. It follows in the commercial footsteps of delta 8 THC and other “new” cannabinoids. Some of these compounds occur naturally in cannabis plants in very small quantities; some don’t. But all of them have found a presence in the legal (or semi-legal) marketplace because manufacturers have discovered how to produce them in large quantities by processing them from legal hemp plants.

What is THC-O?

THC-O is the acetate ester form of THC, sometimes called THC acetate ester, or O-acetyl-Δ9-THC. It’s usually known as THC-O acetate (or ATHC or THC-Oa) among experts, but has been shortened by almost everyone to THC-O. Sometimes people drop the hyphen and call it THCO or THC O. However you decide to spell it, it’s pronounced “THC-oh”—that’s the letter O, not a zero.

Like delta 10 THC and the other hemp-derived cannabinoids on the market, THC-O is chemically almost identical to delta 9 THC, the intoxicating compound that dominates marijuana plants. And its effects are very similar to delta 9, but because it binds more tightly to the body’s cannabinoid receptors than the other THC forms, THC-O is more intoxicating than delta 8, delta 10 or HHC—and is even stronger than delta 9 THC (more on that below).

THC-O is available in all the usual cannabis styles: vapes, oils, edibles and flower. THC-O vape carts and disposable vapes are sold with either unflavored distillate or with added terpenes for flavor. THC-O is also mixed with edible oils like MCT to make tinctures for oral use. There are THC-O edibles available too, including gummies and chocolates. Finally there is “THC-O flower,” which is simply hemp flower infused with THC-O.

TRĒ House D8/HHC/THC-O Gummies

TRĒ House D8/HHC/THC-O Gummies

The D8/HHC/THCO TRĒ House gummies offer a balanced cannabinoid combination for an energetic high. Infused with a refreshing mango flavor, each gummy contains 20 mg of D8, 10 mg of HHC, 3 mg full-spectrum CBD, and 2 mg of THC-O. The gummies come in packs of 20 for a 700 mg total cannabinoid content.

What are the effects of THC-O?

As with the other hemp-derived THC variations, the big question about this one is, does THC-O get you high? The answer is a resounding yes. In fact, THC-O is purported to be 2-3 times more powerful than the delta 9 THC found in marijuana.

Measuring the effects of THC-O versus delta 8 THC, delta 10 THC or HHC is subjective, of course. But by most accounts, THC-O gets you higher than delta 8—and is a much more intense experience than all other forms of THC.

Not only is THC-O stronger than other forms of THC, but the psychoactive effects are much different. Many users describe THC-O as producing an almost psychedelic high, with borderline hallucinogenic effects. Both drug experts and sellers advise new users to go very slowly when trying this powerful cannabinoid.

There’s another reason to go slow: the effects of THC-O are always delayed. It’s a so-called “prodrug,” which means that the THC-O you swallow or inhale isn’t pre-activated by heat like most THC (the process called decarboxylation). Instead, the effects of THC-O aren’t felt until it’s been fully processed through the body—just like THC edibles.

So, whether you’re eating THC-O gummies or vaping a THC-O cart, you won’t feel any effects for 20-60 minutes. Since it’s so strong, it’s important to use a small amount first, then wait and see how you react before ingesting more.

Koi THC-O cart

Koi THC-O Cartridges

Koi THC-O carts are made with a blend of THC-O, delta-8 THC, and strain-specific terpenes. Available in one-gram carts with options in indica, sativa, and hybrid strains. The carts are additive-free and compatible with standard batteries that support a 510-threaded cartridge.

Will THC-O show up in a drug test?

There is practically no research on how the body processes THC-O. But as the acetate ester form of THC, it seems almost certain that drug tests will pick up THC metabolites in the blood, urine, or hair of a THC-O user. There is no information on how long THC-O remains in the body, but it’s safe to assume that it can be detected for at least as long as delta 9 THC—possibly for weeks or months.

The same warning applies to THC-O as delta 8, delta 10, and HHC: if your employer tests for marijuana use, it’s best to avoid THC-O.

Is THC-O safe?

Well, producing THC-O is definitely dangerous. Acetic anhydride is flammable, and using it creates a risk of fire and explosion. As with butane hash oil (BHO), it can only be made in properly equipped labs by people very familiar with the process.

Some people say consuming THC-O may not be safe because there has been almost no research done on its effects in the body. As with any unregulated substance, you should find out as much as you can before deciding to use it.

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and all of its derivatives, as long as they contain less than 0.3 percent delta 9 THC. There is considerable debate about the legality of THC-related substances produced by chemically altering legal CBD. But so far, Congress hasn’t amended the bill, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hasn’t taken action to shut down manufacturers.

But it remains a gray area. Some experts think THC-O and its hemp-derived cousins are ripe for enforcement because they could fall under the Federal Analogue Act. That law says that a substance “substantially similar” to a federally illegal Schedule 1 drug (like delta 9 THC) is itself automatically classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Until now, the DEA has decided to mostly steer clear of the issue, but that could always change.

Meanwhile, state legislatures have begun to restrict some of these hemp-derived products by passing bans, or only allowing sales in state-controlled dispensaries. In a weird twist, it’s often the legal cannabis industry that pushes for laws to restrict sales of these cannabis products, which compete with marijuana and concentrates sold in licensed dispensaries.

In the case of delta 8, a lot of states have stepped in to ban sales. That hasn’t happened yet with THC-O, but if it gains a large commercial foothold, the party police will probably show up to ruin the fun. How long it will remain available no one knows.

THC-O products are sold online by many of the same retailers that sell CBD (and delta 8, delta 10, and HHC). THC-O can also be found in convenience stores, head shops, gas stations, and some vape shops.

Smokers created vaping without any help from the tobacco industry or anti-smoking crusaders, and vapers have the right to keep innovating to help themselves. My goal is to provide clear, honest information about the challenges vaping faces from lawmakers, regulators, and brokers of disinformation. I recently joined the CASAA board, but my opinions aren’t necessarily CASAA’s, and vice versa. You can find me on Twitter @whycherrywhy
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