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THC-O: Uses, Legality & Side Effects

Also known as tetrahydrocannabinol-O-acetate or THC-O acetate, THC-O is a significantly more potent analog of delta-9-THC. The strong level of intoxication it causes, coupled with its existing legal status, means this cannabinoid has become extremely popular in recent times.

However, there are concerns over the effects THC-O causes. It is so powerful that consuming it in similar amounts to D9 will likely lead to psychedelic effects. The lack of regulation in the fledgling THC-O market means it is flooded with products of dubious quality. Consume the wrong thing, and you could suffer serious complications.

This article looks into all things THC-O, including its legality, how it’s made, its intoxication level and effects, and whether it is safe. We conclude by outlining a handful of THC-O sellers with a stellar reputation if you’re considering trying it.

What Is THC-0?

Nicknamed the ‘psychedelic of cannabinoids,’ THC-O acetate is a synthetic form of tetrahydrocannabinol. It does not exist naturally in the hemp or marijuana plant, which means expensive equipment and detailed knowledge of chemistry are required to create it. THC-O is approximately three times stronger than delta-9-THC, so users should tread carefully.

Even though it has only become popular recently, the American military began studying THC-O decades ago. It investigated the compound as a potential non-lethal incapacitating agent during the Edgewood Arsenal experiments, which took place between 1949 and 1975.

At the time, researchers tried to determine if THC-O was safe by testing it on dogs. They found that the cannabinoid had twice the capacity of delta-9-THC for producing ataxia in the canines.

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The DEA encountered THC-O in 1978 after finding a lab that produced it illegally in Florida. However, as the drug didn’t enter the market, the government agency didn’t investigate it further. Indeed, there was little mention of THC-O until 2021. Then, suddenly, it started appearing online and became available to American customers.

THC-O has the same base structure as delta-9 but with an acetate group attached. The additional portion of the molecule means it is far more potent than most THC forms.

Apart from the profound level of intoxication it causes, the gray area surrounding THC-O’s legality means sellers are free to do business for now.

Is THC-O Legal?

No one is completely sure! At present, THC-O acetate isn’t technically illegal. This is because you can synthesize it from hemp. Remember, the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp with a maximum of 0.3% THC. The plant is no longer considered a controlled substance.

Manufacturers of THC-O claim that it is legal because it comes from hemp and contains a delta-9-THC level below the legal limit. However, one could argue that the 1986 Federal Analogue Act (FAA) makes the cannabinoid a Schedule I drug. The FAA bans analogs of current Schedule I substances by default. The only way for a substance to get removed from the list is through a manual exception, which has not happened with THC-O.

The Interim Final Rule & Global Legality

In August 2020, the DEA released its Interim Final Rule (IFR). According to the IFR, naturally occurring THCs in hemp are legal if they aren’t accompanied by more than 0.3% D9. However, all synthetically derived THCs are controlled substances even if there is no delta-9-THC involved.

As you’ll see in the next section, THC-O is synthetically derived. Furthermore, THC-O could be federally illegal in the same way as delta-8-THC. Even though it is half the strength of delta-9, many states have moved to ban delta-8. Legislators are claiming it is ostensibly to do with safety as the market is poorly regulated. THC-O is far stronger than THC and delta-8 and faces similar issues with regulation.

Even makers of THC-O products acknowledge the lack of clarity over the substance’s legality.

Indeed, even makers of THC-O products acknowledge the lack of clarity over the substance’s legality. The growing prohibition of delta-8 has helped the THC-O market grow. However, as state lawmakers scramble to change the rules, the same bans could soon apply to THC-O.

At present, you can buy THC-O in most states where recreational cannabis is legal. The suspicion is that the landscape could change very quickly. You could argue that the FAA or the IFR makes THC-O federally illegal in the United States.

While it isn’t officially illegal in Canada, it is extremely hard to find THC-O there. The cannabinoid is probably illegal in most of Europe if you take a detailed look. It is officially illegal in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, however.

How Is THC-O Acetate Made?

Believe it or not, the process for manufacturing THC-O acetate is almost the same as making heroin from morphine! It involves taking a compound and adding an acetate group to increase its absorption rate and potency. While THC-O’s base structure is similar to cannabinoids found in nature, the functional acetate group is not.

Making THC-O involves several extractions beginning with industrial hemp. Manufacturers extract cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp, then extract delta-8 from the cannabidiol. At this stage, they add acetic anhydride, an extremely flammable compound, to the mix to create THC-O acetate. When properly produced, it takes the form of a thick brown liquid that resembles motor oil.

Making tetrahydrocannabinol-O-acetate is an extremely dangerous process. You should only create it in a proper lab with a vacuum hood. Only someone with the right knowledge and technical equipment should even consider making it. Manufacturing THC-O involves the use of volatile, flammable, and explosive chemicals.

One part of the process involves refluxing in strong acid. You need flasks to have a strong vacuum as they’re heated. It is a necessary step, but one that could lead to an implosion. If such an incident occurs, the emission of glass, boiling acid, flammable liquids, and poisonous vapor could prove fatal.

Making THC-O also involves causing an off-gassing of peroxide gas into the air. It is explosive, so a single spark could result in an explosion. NEVER try to make THC-O at home!

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Is THC-O Stronger Than Delta-THC-9?

Yes. It is approximately three times stronger than THC. It takes a surprisingly little amount to trigger hallucinatory effects. THC-O is a prodrug. This means it doesn’t become active until after the liver metabolizes it. Once the drug is metabolized, what’s left is basically D9.

One of the reasons why THC-O is so strong is due to its high rate of bioavailability. THC-O acetate is far more bioavailable than its delta-9 counterpart. Its functional group (-O) is removed after absorption. Consequently, the THC has its usual effects but at a substantially higher dose. Yet, as strong as THC-O is, it is not quite as potent as THCP.

What Is the Recommended Dose of THC-O?

It depends on the method of consumption. Even though it is a relatively new market, you can purchase:

  • THC-O tinctures
  • THC-O distillate
  • THC-O vape liquid
  • THC-O gummies

First of all, please remember that it is triple the strength of ‘standard’ THC. Therefore, you should use one-third of what you would normally consume in a delta-9-THC product.

If smoking or vaping THC-O, stick to a dosage of up to 0.5mg. When using it via oil or edibles, up to 3mg is sufficient. Going beyond these levels will probably result in intoxication. If you smoke 5+mg or orally consume 10+mg, you will likely experience psychedelic effects, which could prove unpleasant or even frightening. It is also best if novices steer clear of THC-O entirely.

THC-O Effects

At present, there is no formal research data available on the cannabinoid. However, THC-O acetate reviews from consumers suggest it could help manage pain, boost appetite, and reduce anxiety. High doses of it could prove incapacitating, and some users compare its effects to those produced by low levels of mescaline.

As it is a prodrug, the effects can take up to 30 minutes to kick in. During that time, it is essential not to take a second dose. If you use an edible, you might not feel anything for a couple of hours. For most users, it offers a heavy, physically sedating effect which can last for several hours. Also, the visual experience is far beyond what you’ll experience with D9.

Individuals who typically use large amounts of delta-9-THC to help reduce pain may find relief from relatively little THC-O.

Given its potency, individuals who typically use large amounts of delta-9-THC to help reduce pain may find relief from relatively little THC-O.

Please note that once the effects appear, the onset is rapid. Many users say they feel the peak effects just 15-20 minutes after the first wave.

Despite its possible benefits, the lack of testing and regulation means plenty of concerns over whether THC-O is safe.

Is THC-O Safe?

At present, there are no available scientific studies into the safety of THC-O. It is almost certainly safer than other synthetic cannabinoids such as Spice, which is a non-classical cannabinoid. This means it activates the same receptors as THC and other cannabinoids but doesn’t have a similar chemical structure, unlike THC-O.

Apart from the lack of research, there is the small matter of the market’s unregulated nature. In October 2021, NORML published a report highlighting the dangers of unregulated delta-8, delta-9, and THC-O products. The report urged people not to purchase such items and warned of exposure to an artificially concentrated terpene level in some products that could have toxic effects when inhaled.

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Unfortunately, plenty of THC-O sellers don’t provide third-party lab reports with their products. Even when there are reports, they show 15+% of unknowns, and the manufacturer either doesn’t know what this means or refuses to say.

There is a belief that THC-O’s acetate group could cause a condition called lipoid pneumonia when vaped. Once used as an additive in vape pens, vitamin E acetate is linked with this medical issue. It was also identified as the likely culprit in the vaping illness epidemic, which claimed at least 60 lives. Possible side effects from THC-O in general include:

  • Dizziness
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Sedation & lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting

If you’re planning to use THC-O, it is perhaps best to avoid vaping or smoking it. It is likely that tinctures and gummies are the safest products but only if you buy them from a reputable brand. We outline a few that have gained a positive reputation soon, but first, will THC-O cause you to fail a drug test?

Will THC-O Show up on a Drug Test?

There is a suggestion that you can use THC-O without worrying about failing a drug test. However, it will likely show up. Remember, it is a prodrug for D9. As a result, it leaves the body in the same form. This means it will almost certainly get picked up by a drug screen looking for THC metabolites. As it is more potent than delta 9, there’s an even greater risk of failing!

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THC-O Products

Not so long ago, you would struggle to find any THC-O acetate products on the market. Now, there is everything from a THC-O tincture to THC wax. The latter is a highly concentrated form of the cannabinoid and is probably best avoided unless you have an extremely high THC tolerance.

Ideally, you will stick to THC-O tinctures and gummies. Take care when measuring out your tincture dose, and resist the urge to consume a second gummy! The following brands have developed a reputation for providing high-quality THC-O products:

  • Binoid
  • Five CBD
  • Bearly Legal
  • Delta Effex
  • FU

Binoid, in particular, is at the forefront of the new THC-O craze and is regarded by many users as the #1 seller of alternative cannabinoids. It sells up to 2,500mg of the cannabinoid in tincture form for just $60. Binoid also sells gummies with 25mg of THC-O apiece. Even a quarter of a gummy should result in a noticeable effect for novices. Finally, the brand offers THC-O vape cartridges, rechargeable disposable vapes, and potent wax dabs.

Final Thoughts on THC-O

THC-O is a synthetic, highly intoxicating cannabinoid that’s triple the potency of delta-9-THC. There is a lack of evidence into its safety and efficacy, although it seems to have similar effects to D9. However, the lack of regulation means you must be careful when sourcing it. Look into the reputation of any brand that interests you, and read THC-O acetate reviews from customers.

Its legality is also questionable. Manufacturers claim it is legal, but it is possible to make a case for it being federally prohibited. As is the case with delta-8, lawmakers throughout the United States are likely to move quickly to prohibit the cannabinoid. Ultimately, if you elect to consume THC-O, respect its potency and begin with an extremely low dose.

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