What is THC-O?

THC-O is a concerning semi-synthetic analog of THC with questionable safety and legality.

THC-O Acetate product
Photo Credit: Delta Effex

THC-O, short for THC-O-Acetate and often referred to as ATHC, is a semi-synthetic analog and prodrug of delta-9 THC. It’s said to be three times more potent than delta-9 and five times more potent than delta-8 THC. Moderate doses of THC-O induce a euphoric high similar to delta-9 but with noticeable hallucinogenic and psychedelic effects. 

While not explicitly listed as a controlled substance, THC-O’s legality remains questionable, as does its safety. However, THC-O products are still available to purchase from a select number of US-based brands such as Bearly Legal and Utoya. Expect to pay a higher price for THC-O products than, say, CBD or delta-9 products.

Why is THCO-O becoming more popular?

THC-O is becoming popular across the US thanks to growing interest in other THC analogs such as delta-8 and delta-10 and their proliferation in the market. THC-O is also psychedelic, hallucinogenic, and three-times more potent than delta-9 THC, which makes it an enticing experience for cannabis users across the US. 

Is THC-O natural or synthetic? 

Unlike CBD, CBG, or CBC, THC-O is not a naturally occurring cannabinoid present in cannabis. THC-O is a purely synthetic substance created from a delta-9 conversion process under laboratory conditions using specialized chemicals.

How is THC-O made? 

As mentioned, THC-O doesn’t appear naturally in hemp or marijuana flower and must be created synthetically. To make THC-O, producers convert it from natural delta-9 THC via a structural isomerization process using sulfuric acid and acetic anhydride. 

In simpler terms, a structural isomerization process takes delta-9, alters its molecular structure, adds an acetate group, and turns it into THC-O. The acetate group gives THC-O its increased potency when consumed. 

Are there dangers to creating THC-O at home?

Yes, there are many dangers to creating THC-O at home. You should never perform a structural isomerization process without the correct knowledge and safety equipment (and where necessary legal authorization). 

Does THC-O cause a high and what are its effects?

THC-O does cause a euphoric high comparable to delta-9 but with hallucinogenic effects. Hallucinogenic effects include noticeable visual distortions, auditory hallucinations, and heightened emotions. However, like any other euphoric high, a THC-O experience is heavily dependent on the dose.

THC-O Acetate vape cartridge
THC-O vape carts are sold online and ship to most states. Photo courtesy: Dank Lite
  • A low dose of THC-O is said to induce a mildly euphoric high similar to delta-8 THC
  • A moderate dose of THC-O is thought to induce a more psychedelic and trippy experience
  • A high dose of THC-O is a juggernaut and can leave you physically and cognitively incapacitated for extended periods of time — an effect similar to LSD

How long do the effects of THC-O take to begin?

The effects of THC-O take longer to begin in your body than delta-9. While delta-9’s effects can begin within 20-30 minutes after oral consumption, THC-O can take up to an hour (or more). Likewise, the effects of delta-8 THC products when inhaled are almost immediate, while inhalation of THC-O can take up to 20 minutes. 

Why is the onset of THC-O’s effects delayed?

The reason why the onset of THC-O’s effects is delayed is that it’s a prodrug of THC requiring deacetylation via your liver enzymes before it interacts with your system. Deacetylation refers to the removal of the acetate group from a molecule (in this case THC-O). 

If you’re looking to dose THC-O now or in the future, we recommend a level of patience. Refrain from dosing too much too quickly after your first dose, otherwise, you’re going to feel the effects much harder than expected. 

Benefits of THC-O

The benefits of THC-O are still unknown. Researchers have yet to discover THC-O’s safety and effectiveness as an anti-inflammatory, pain-reliever, appetite stimulator, or stress-reducer. 

Anecdotal stories from users claim THC-O induces uplifting and mood-enhancing euphoria, which might be good for anxiety, depression, stress, and general mood. Others suggest it works the same way as delta-9 for pain and inflammation. 

Don’t believe everything THC-O sellers tell you

Since research is virtually non-existent and THC-O’s health benefits are largely unverifiable, we recommend taking any claims with a pinch of salt. We believe it’s wholly irresponsible to even suggest a man-made, semi-synthetic substance has any benefit without scientific verification to back it up. Even anecdotal evidence from THC-O users is dubious, highly subjective, and doesn’t take into account safety concerns.

Is THC-O safe? 

THC-O’s safety is unknown. So far, there are no recent reports of overdose or death as a result of consuming THC-O, which already makes it somewhat safer than other synthetic compounds. However, this doesn’t mean THC-O is without risk. 

According to an interview with Dr. Ethan Russo, a pioneering cannabis scientist, there are no guarantees when it comes to THC-O. 

I have no guarantee that [THC-O] isn’t potentially toxic in some other fashion. Maybe it doesn’t get broken down by the liver properly and it can accumulate. If it is twice or three times more potent than THC, it’s an immediate recipe for potentially serious side effects. 

Dr. Ethan Russo

Side effects of THC-O

Side effects of THC-O in humans are limited to anecdotal evidence. No current preclinical or clinical research exists verifying THC-O’s side effects in the short or long term. However, a 1970s experimental study showed THC-O caused acute toxicity and ataxia (coordination and balance issues) in canines. 

However, some users over on the r/tho subreddit report several short-term psychological side effects, some of which are positive. 

Is THC-O legal?

THC-O is in a federally legal grey area and is currently permitted (not banned) in 38 US states such as Alabama, California, and Texas. 

Why is THC-O in a federally legal grey area?

THC-O is in a federally legal grey area because it’s trapped between vague and conflicting legislation. 

The United States Controlled Substances Act (CSA) doesn’t explicitly name THC-O as a controlled substance but it could still be considered a synthetic analog of THC under the Federal Analog Act, 21 U.S.C. § 813. This means THC-O’s use, possession, sale, distribution, and production are potentially illegal and prosecutable on the federal level. 

However, many THC-O vendors cite the Agriculture Improvement Act (2018 Farm Bill) as proof that THC-O is legal and not a controlled substance. Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and hemp derivatives are legal. The problem is, THC-O is technically not a natural hemp derivative or phytocannabinoid. It’s purely synthetic, meaning it still likely belongs under the Federal Analog Act. 

Will THC-O cause me to fail a drug test?

Yes, THC-O likely causes a failed drug test result the same way as delta-9 and delta-8. However, this is purely speculative, and very little scientific research exists to verify this claim. 

THC-O could cause a failed drug because it’s a synthetic prodrug and analog of delta-9 THC with a similar molecular structure save the acetate group. This means it’s metabolized, excreted, and detectable on a drug test much the same way as delta-9, its metabolites, and its variants. 

If you’re regularly drug tested at work, it’s best to avoid THC-O products. 

Can THC-O be detoxed from your body? 

No, THC-O cannot be detoxed from your body. Nothing can cleanse, rid, flush, or extract THC-O or any other cannabis plant derivative from your system. Why? THC-O is fat-soluble and it stores securely in your fat cells after the metabolization process finishes. The only way to get THC-O out of these fat cells is through physical removal, which is impossible. 

Related: Do Weed Detox Kits Work?

Where can you buy THC-O products?

Since consumer interest in THC-O is relatively new despite being around since the 1940s, there are very few THC-O products. The available ones can be difficult to find, especially if you’re shopping through local retail stores or vape shops. Online stores such as Delta Effex, 3Chi, Bearly Legal, Utoya, and Binoid are convenient alternatives.

Conclusion: Purchase THC-O at your own risk

THC-O is a semi-synthetic compound not present in cannabis. It’s purely man-made with a questionable level of safety. We highly recommend you recognize the risks and purchase THC-O products with a level of caution. 

If you do decide to buy THC-O products, here are a few pointers:

  • Start low, go slow, and don’t consume more than you think you can handle
  • Order from legitimate and credible brands with Certificates of Analysis
  • Don’t combine THC-O with alcohol, illegal drugs, or prescription medications
  • Don’t consume THC-O if you have a pre-existing psychological condition