What Is THC-O? Everything You Need to Know 

Meet THC-O, a synthetic compound derived from hemp. This compound continues to gain popularity among many Americans without access to legal cannabis. With three times the potency of THC, who wouldn’t want it?

Generally, the appeal of the compound lies with that potency as well as its legal status. Per recent research, the compound is about three times stronger than your average THC. With borderline hallucinatory effects, many now refer to it as “the psychedelic cannabinoid.” 

However, the source is federally legalized hemp. As such, more and more people in states without legal, licensed delta-9 THC products are curious about it. 

Moreover, as some states start to outlaw Delta-8 THC, it may see even more popularity in the near future. Still, the safety and legal status remain iffy for THC-O products. 

That’s why we want to take some time to explore the history of this cannabinoid. What are the potential benefits? Are there any risks to keep in mind before you try it?

THC-O… What Is It?

While this cannabinoid is news to us, the US military started to study it back in the late 1940s. When they studied it on dogs, they noticed a significant reduction in their muscle coordination. In fact, it was twice the reduction of delta-9 THC. 

About 30 years later, THC-O hit the DEA’s radar. In the late 70s, DEA agents found a lab in Florida had combined an extract of cannabis with “acetic anhydride.” However, it never hit the illicit market over the next decade. 

Since it wasn’t a growing issue, the DEA stopped its investigations. 

Today, the production of this THC-O acetate is raising new alarms for the legalized cannabis industry. You see, that compound acetic anhydride is highly flammable, and to create THC-O, you have to add it to THC molecules. 

The process involves a series of extractions. It starts with hemp, which was legalized by the 2018 farm bill. First, they extract CBD from raw hemp. Next, they extract delta-8 THC from the CBD. 

Lastly, they add acetic anhydride to the delta-8 THC molecules to produce this curious compound. 

According to the experts, this is a process to leave to those with controlled laboratories. 

Don’t Try This Home

According to renowned researcher Dr. Ethan Russo, “The process of making THC-O is inherently dangerous. This is something that’s got to be done in a technical lab with a vacuum hood [and] no exposure to humans.”

What does that mean for you? 

If you want to try delta-O, buy it. Skip the DIY attempts. Don’t try this at home!

The process requires both special equipment and advanced training to produce successful results. Moreover, it requires flammable, volatile, explosive chemicals. It’s simply not worth the risk to do something better left to a lab. 

With successful production, delta-O is a thick, brown liquid - akin to motor oil. As such, many consume it in edibles, tinctures, and vapes. 

So, Is it Safe?

While it is definitely unsafe to produce, there’s not a lot of data around THC-O. With the lack of regulation and lack of confirmed research, it’s hard to say whether it’s perfectly safe to consume. 

Aside from its potency, research says that this cannabinoid is a “prodrug.” That means the compound is inactive until metabolized. For consumers, that means it takes about 20-30 minutes before it kicks in. 

Chemist and cannabis researcher James Stephens conducted an investigation into the effects of the compound for Iron Light. After his research, he cautions those interested in products. That’s because there are too many variations in terms of product quality at the moment. 

He goes on to say that a low-quality extract with low-quality reagents from shady online retailers means a less pure product. 

What’s in the products??

As part of Stephens’ research, he continuously reaches out to producers of THC-O. Unfortunately, many of the results they offer up are alarmingly unspecific. With 10-15% unknowns in the testing results, they don’t seem to understand what’s actually in the products. 

That is an immediate red flag. 

With any vape cartridge that comes from a state without legalized cannabis, it’s important to do some research. You have to know what’s in those products because potentially toxic additives cause severe health problems. Without regulation, nothing prevents companies from using these additives without telling customers. 

Additionally, some of his research points to the idea that smoking the compound opens up other questions. This is because combustion has the potential to activate other chemical reactions. 

There’s simply not enough research to say whether it’s entirely safe. 

High Potency Means Take It Slow

With the above concerns, one major worry among researchers is that adverse reactions to THC-O has the potential to set back the legalization movement. A single overdose from an unregulated product has the potential to cause another moral panic. 

While overconsumption of natural cannabis has no recorded deaths, it’s hard to know what to expect from a compound with triple the potency. 

Generally, high potency cannabis concentrates have been sold legally for years in some states. This includes wax, shatter, and dabbing oil. So, it’s hard to know the real risk of a bad trip from THC-O. 

Is THC-O Really Legal?

Like many cannabinoids, it sort of just depends on who you ask. 

When it comes to THC-O producers, they point to the 2018 farm bill. Since the molecule originates from legal hemp, they claim it as legal. 

However, they aren’t always sure themselves. Some experts state flat out that THC-O is not legal. This claim references the Federal Analogue Act of 1986.

The document states that any substance analogous to a Schedule I drug qualifies as a Schedule I drug itself. In this case, that means conventional THC.  

Still, you could use the same argument against Delta-8 products or even CBD products. Truly, it all depends on where you draw the line between “non-analogous” and “analogous.”

Scrambling to Catch Up: State Laws & Regulations

Like Delta-8 products or Delta-10 products, THC-O sits in a legal gray area between hemp and cannabis. As people continue to discover and utilize different cannabinoids, legislators have to play catch-up. 

With the banning of one novel compound, a new derivative seems to immediately take its place. 

In states with legalized cannabis, regulators tend to ignore these hemp-based compounds. Per their understanding, it doesn’t fall under their purview. 

Still, some licensed companies in states with legalized cannabis face a growing concern of unlicensed hemp-derived THC. Their main concerns are that it undercuts their profits and that it tarnishes the reputation of the industry. 

With so many unknowns and risks to health, there’s good cause for that concern. Until these hemp derivatives fall under state regulation, it’s up to consumers to stay wary. It’s crucial to weigh the risks and benefits of each compound.