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Politics, Research

What You Should Know Before Giving THC-O a Go

Ashley Priest

by Ashley Priest

September 20, 2021 08:00 am ET Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Medically reviewed by Dr. Abraham Benavides
What You Should Know Before Giving THC-O a Go

At one time, it was all about THC. Then came CBD. Then delta-8 and delta-10 were all the rage. Now, the latest trend among folks living in states without access to legal cannabis is THC-O acetate. While THC-O could be considered a cannabinoid, it’s better described as a compound due to being synthetically derived from hemp. Before you decide to give THC-O a go, there are a few things you may want to know about it.

Cannabinoid therapies and research have started to advance across the United States. This is largely a result of states taking the initiative to listen to the people’s desire to legalize cannabis. Unfortunately, the U.S. federal government has supported cannabis prohibition since 1937. Through the war on drugs and other harsh initiatives, government officials have continued to draw attention away from the research-backed medical benefits of the plant in the name of control.

While cannabis is a completely natural substance, restrictions on its growth and use have resulted in the distribution of harmful forms and derivatives throughout the illegal market. A startling example of this is the cultivation of cannabis in toxic strip pits throughout Kansas. Legalization has helped mitigate some of these issues by increasing access to lab-tested cannabis, which identifies levels of cannabinoids and terpenes as well as dangerous/banned substances.

A Synthesized High

THC-O is a semi-synthetically derived compound that starts with industrial hemp and is reported to be an estimated three times stronger than delta-9 THC. It is considered “semi-synthetic” because the process starts with hemp, which is a natural substance. 

The continued prohibition of cannabis in some states is leading to technological advancements in the field of cannabinoid science as people look for other ways to achieve the intoxicating effects of THC using newly legalized hemp. Delta-8 was accomplishing this for many people, but it quickly lost steam once law enforcement caught wind of it.

Now, researchers have discovered a way to synthetically increase the strength of THC molecules found in hemp, forming THC-O. Hemp is defined in the U.S. as cannabis containing 0.3% THC or less. Through a scientific method, acidic anhydride (a chemical compound created by removing water molecules from an acid) is combined with Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol molecules, resulting in a brownish, oily substance that can be made into tinctures, edibles, and vape cartridges.

It’s important to note that THC-O is not a naturally occurring cannabinoid since acidic anhydride is a man-made chemical. Be wary of claims by THC-O producers citing its superiority to delta-8 or delta-9 THC, as naturally occurring cannabinoids like these are generally more ideal for consumers. Nonetheless, THC-O is protected by the Farm Bill due to its derivation from hemp, making it currently legal in all states.

THC-O does not give you an instantaneous effect. Researchers have labeled it a “prodrug,” saying that it takes an estimated 20 to 30 minutes to become effective after consumption.

THC-O: A Big No or Give It a Go?

Many cannabis users find solace in the fact that it’s all-natural yet can effectively treat pain, depression, anxiety, stress, and more with minor use. As someone who grows my own medical cannabis, I appreciate that my medicine is organically produced by the planet and activated simply with heat. Synthetically altering cannabis or creating chemical derivatives can always present the risk of creating potentially dangerous residues, unknown byproducts, or products like spice, so I would personally advise those I know against the use of THC-O.

If you live in a place with zero legal access to cannabis, your best bet for getting cannabinoids into your system legally is purchasing full-spectrum hemp products. They won’t have a buzz factor to them, but your body will receive the benefits of cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, CBG, and others, along with a healthy portion of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids — none of which will be found in THC-O.

If you choose to try THC-O, it is advised that you do so cautiously and in small amounts, as the effects are supposed to be very strong. Additionally, should you decide to vape THC-O, be aware that no research has been conducted determining what other chemical reactions occur during the process of vaping. Some of the thinning agents used to create vape cartridges have been linked to serious health problems. In an unregulated market, companies can add these products without letting consumers know.

Something to Ponder

If you’re still on the fence about THC-O, consider the opinion of chemist and cannabis researcher James Stephens, who has studied cannabinoids extensively and feels trepidation towards THC-O. Stephens told media sources, “If you’re using low-quality extract material and low-quality reagents you bought online from Alibaba or whatever, you’re likely to get way less pure of a product than if you’re using clean (and pharmaceutical-grade) reagents and do a lot of downstream purification steps.” Make sure you examine all factors, positive and negative, before consuming any recreational products.

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