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Hemp derivatives, such as THC-O and delta-8-THC are making their way to market. But these cannabinoids come with some complications.
While some people may seek THC-O for its potent and psychedelic effects, there is little research about this drug and its potential health risks.
What is THC-O?
THC-O has quietly been around for a while. For example, an article from High Times, reveals that from 1949-1975, the U.S. Military Chemical Corps used THC-O on dogs to research its potential for non-lethal incapacitation. Since then, there has been little news about it until it recently began popping up.
Even cannabis experts may be unaware of THC-O since it is very new and has little to no research. Its other names are THC acetate or ATHC. The key difference between THC-O and other forms of THC is an acetyl group where a hydroxyl group would be, according to Weed Maps. This small difference gives it unique effects that are distinct from other forms of cannabis.
Even though operators typically derive delta-8 from hemp, it does occur naturally within cannabis. THC-O, however, is not naturally occurring and is a semi-synthetic cannabinoid.
For example, Leafly says that THC-O is made by reacting acetic anhydride with delta-8-THC. This is how the acetyl group gets added to the cannabinoid and is responsible for its unique effects.
Consequently, its production is different from other kinds of THC products.
Experts say that the production of THC-O is extremely dangerous. In a Q&A with Dr. Ethan Russo and Hemp Grower, Dr. Russo mentions that acetic anhydride is “extremely flammable and potentially explosive.” This type of reaction requires a lab with a vacuum hood. Consequently, one should never attempt this at home.
“The Psychedelic Cannabinoid“
There is a lack of research regarding the effects of THC-O. But one clear fact is that THC-O is much stronger than delta-8 or delta-9-THC (aka THC). Most sources describe THC-O as being two to three times as strong as THC — but some say it can be up to 300 times as strong.
The effects of THC-O are distinct from other cannabinoid products. For instance, DailyCBD calls it “the psychedelic cannabinoid” and compares it to a mild dose of mescaline with a more physically sedating effect. Some believe the high can be very intense with mild auditory and visual hallucinations and can last for hours depending on the dose and method of consumption.
Perspective From a Pharmacist
Simi Burns is a part of the Quality Assurance and Patient Safety Committee with the International Society of Cannabis Pharmacists. She originally worked with traditional medicine but has transitioned into cannabis in a more holistic approach.
Burns tells Emerald that THC-O is classified as a prodrug, meaning that the liver metabolizes it before it becomes active. When smoking THC-O, a user probably won’t feel effects until somewhere around 20-30 minutes after inhalation. In comparison, users feel THC’s effect within 2-10 minutes after inhalation, according to Healthline.
THC-O may also have a higher bioavailability than other forms of hemp products. Bioavailability refers to a drug’s availability to reach its target destination. High bioavailability is part of the reason why THC-O has such strong effects.
High bioavailability combined with a delay in onset makes THC-O easy to over-consume. Burns recalls hearing stories of hospitalization and believes that THC-O is a huge safety risk.
“THC-O is particularly toxic in the way you have to make it. I think about it more like K2 spice than delta-8 (THC) which is somewhat naturally occurring,” Burns explains.
The end product is filled with unknown contaminants that distributors fail to mention in their product’s description. Instead, online stores like Delta 8 advertise THC-O as a superior form of THC with all the same benefits. Another source — Binoid — goes as far as to say that it is 100% natural, which is false.
“When I see that it’s for sale, that is a huge red flag. These companies are trying to sell these products while they can,” says Burns.
Legality of THC-O
The legal issues surrounding THC-O are confusing to many. The Farm Bill of 2018 nationally legalized the production and sale of hemp and its derivatives making all hemp products federally legal. But it is also an analogue of a Schedule I drug (THC), making it federally illegal by the Analogue Act. Some states have already banned hemp derivatives such as THC-O and delta-8. But in many states, it is somewhere in the grey area.
Burns is hopeful for the future of cannabis. She would like to see the cannabis market operate in check with all state and federal laws, and create a culture of providing care at the highest level. She believes that with more research we will become better informed, and use cannabis in a healthy, safe, and responsible way.
Should People use THC-O?
There are already plenty of cannabinoid products that can offer a variety of experiences and are safe to use. If someone was looking for a more intense high, a high dose edible may be a safer route than THC-O. Additionally, for those who have high tolerances for THC, tolerance breaks may help users feel more of an effect from their cannabis.
If someone was looking to use THC-O’s psychedelic properties, there may be safer options. Psychedelic drugs are still federally illegal. But drugs such as LSD, psilocybin, and mescaline are considered physiologically safe and have been well researched compared to THC-O, according to a study in Pharmacological Reviews. There can be psychological safety issues related to psychedelic substances, but there is less known about THC-O.
Aside from this cannabinoid, there are plenty of other infused products to choose from. Emerald does plenty of product reviews, so check one out!