THC-O Acetate (THC-O, ATHC) is becoming a popular option among cannabis consumers. According to Google trends, interest in this compound peaked around mid-2021. Consumers are turning to THC-O for two likely reasons. The first is that delta-8-THC- Acetate is hemp-derived and therefore legal and accessible in states where marijuana is illegal. The more exciting reason is that THC-O is supposedly a psychedelic cannabinoid. In other words, you will be taking a trip on cannabis and achieving the highest spiritual experiences and probably even ego death. Some sources claim that THC-O Acetate is up to 300 times more potent than THC. More realistic sources claim that THC-O Acetate is up to three times more potent, but we are not sure. But for recreational users craving that “elusive high,” this sounds unimaginable. Is that not the same reason why the naturally occurring opium was ditched on the streets in preference for heroin?
Notes on Opium versus Heroin
Opium, like cannabis, is a naturally occurring compound that’s derived from the poppy plant. Heroin on the other hand is a semi-synthetic compound that’s made from morphine, which comes from the poppy plant. Because heroin is an enhanced form of opium, the effects are stronger.
Heroin was originally created to be a medical analgesic. However, it was soon discovered that it triggered several adverse effects including dependence, addiction, and overdose-related deaths. Its clinical use was hence stopped but the drug found its way to the illicit market where its use is still rampant. Like marijuana, heroin is classified by the DEA under Schedule I compounds that according to the DEA have no known medical use and a high potential for abuse.
THC-O Acetate is a Synthetic Cannabinoid
THC-O like heroin is a synthetic cannabinoid that is made through the acetylation of THC (could be D8, D9, or D10) in the lab. Because it’s not a natural product don’t expect to find it in shops that sell natural cannabis products.
How is THC-O Made?
THC is heated and mixed with acetic anhydride in a lab setting. A chemical reaction occurs that converts the THC to THC-O. This chemical reaction is dangerous and hence should only be carried out by a qualified chemist and only in the right setting.
THC-O Acetate is a Pro Drug
A prodrug can be defined as any drug that is biologically inactive when ingested but once metabolized it releases a biologically active compound. THC-O acts in this way.
When acetic acid is added to THC it forms a barrier that prevents the breakdown of the THC by enzymes until it gets to the liver where it is deacetylatedated and releases the biologically active THC. Like other pro-drugs, the effects of THC-O take a longer time to kick in (lag time) because of the extra step involved in “activating” the drug. This can be anywhere around 30 minutes for inhaled THC-O or up to 1.5 hours for ingested THC-O.
Is THC-O a Psychedelic?
It is believed that THC-O provides THC that has higher bioavailability. This also means that the body has higher circulating levels of THC and 11-Hydroxy-THC. Though the effects take a longer time to kick in, once they do they are likely to come crashing in and it will be a long while before the effects subside. Higher levels of circulating 11-hydroxy-THC might be responsible for the psychedelic effects that have been reported after the consumption of THC-O.
Is THC-O Legal?
Most of the THC-O Acetate that’s being sold online and in smoke shops is actually the acetate of delta-8-THC and not delta-9-THC. Delta 8 is usually made from hemp-derived CBD and consequently, it can be argued that THC-O made in this way is also legal. However, it should be noted that THC-O is a synthetic cannabinoid. Here’s what the law says about synthetic THC.
“For synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols, the concentration of D9 -THC is not a determining factor in whether the material is a controlled substance. All synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain Schedule I controlled substances.”
THC-O, Ketene Formation, and EVALI
Most THC-O products in the market currently are in the form of vapes. The process of vaping THC-O is likely to produce harmful byproducts such as ketenes. Ketenes are highly reactive and will easily form acetic acid when they react with water in the nasal and oral mucosa.
A study by the Portland State University (PSU) found a link between vaping cannabinoid acetates with the production of the toxic gas Ketene. An earlier study linked ketene production with EVALI as the causative agent.
Safety of THC-O: Dr. Ethan Russo Opines
Dr. Ethan Russo is a notable medical cannabis thought leader and founder and CEO of a medical cannabis research company CReDO science. In an interview with Hemp Grower, Dr. Russo expressed reservations with the safety of THC-O. In his opinion, we don’t need a compound that is three times more potent (putatively) than THC. Known side effects of THC include extreme paranoia and anxiety that may land you in the ER. Vasovagal syncope, which may cause sudden falls and fractures, is also a possibility. THC-O may amplify these adverse effects or trigger off-target effects that we’re not aware of. In his words, as far as THC-O goes, “don’t go there.”
Synthetic Cannabinoids are a Sham!
Like heroin, THC-O is several times more potent than THC and the risks associated with it are by no means moderate. In addition, there’s the risk of ketene formation when THC-O is vaped. Ketene has been linked to serious and sometimes even fatal lung injuries.
Are synthetics worth the risk?
As Dr. Russo opines, synthetic cannabinoids and the risks they present are a “byproduct of cannabis prohibition.” And as he goes further to state, they should probably be avoided at all costs.