Updated: Mar 24
This article is brought to you by the new Higher Learning LV Core Cannabis course.
Welcome to homework assignment 1.8 of the Core Cannabis Lite Track from Higher Learning LV. When you complete this assignment, simply click the link at the bottom of the article to return to the master page for this training track.
Welcome to Cannabinoid Clinic, an education project powered by Higher Learning LV. This series provides cannabis and hemp industry professionals with easily digested cannabinoid profiles that ask little of your time—but provide plenty of science-based information.
There are two categories of cannabinoids: Phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are those produced by cannabis/marijuana/hemp, while endocannabinoids are made by the human body. This series covers both.
THC-O acetate molecular structure
What is THC-O Acetate?
THC-O acetate (sometimes denoted as ATHC, THCO, or THC-O-A) is considered an "alt cannabinoid" along with other emerging cannabinoids outside of cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), including delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, and HHC. It is notable because it is purported to deliver psychoactivity that is several times stronger than that of its mainstream chemical cousin, delta-9 THC.
Unlike the other alt cannabinoids, however, THC-O acetate is not naturally occurring. Rather, this controversial cannabinoid is fully synthetic. It is most popular in states and areas where delta-9 THC remains prohibited, offering patients and consumers a quasi-legal alternative.
Unlike FECO (Full Extract Cannabis Oil) or water hash, THC-O-A cannot be created using kitchen-grade equipment. Production of this compound requires specialized equipment and training due to the involvement of volatile and flammable chemicals.
"THC-O acetate is notable because it is purported to deliver psychoactivity that is several times stronger than that of its mainstream chemical cousin, delta-9."
THC-O acetate can be produced via a number of methods and using different source cannabinoids. One of the most common ways to create it is conversion of hemp-derived CBD to delta-8 THC, which then is converted to THC-O acetate. Part of the controversy of THC-O acetate is due to the fact that this conversion process involves toxic and combustible chemicals, including sulfuric acid and acetic anhydride.
Those seeking more information regarding the synthesis of THC-O-A should reference the 1974 book Marijuana Alchemy: Art of Modern Hashmaking by D. Gold.
According to a June 2022 study entitled "∆8-THC, THC-O Acetates and CBD-di-O Acetate: Emerging Synthetic Cannabinoids Found in Commercially Sold Plant Material and Gummy Edibles," a number of variants of THC-O acetate can be created. For example, there is a delta-8 version of THC-O, as well as delta-9 and delta-10 versions. Thus, there is no single version of THC-O, making the selection of a reliable and safe product that much more challenging.
In Q1 2023, Brightfield Group, an market analysis organization that specializes in CBD and cannabis, reported that THC-O Acetate "had the fourth-largest share of the market." It noted that THC-O captured eight percent of this market and that it is most commonly available in vapes. In fact, Brightfield Group reports that two-thirds of all THC-O products are vape carts or pens.
Image courtesy Dr. Raphael Mechoulam
Urban Legends: Is Synthetic Bad?
Many consumers and activists in the cannabis community perceive synthetic cannabinoids to be somehow bad, as in potentially unhealthy for consumption.
For resolution of the urban legend regarding the supposed inferiority of synthetic cannabinoids, readers are referred to an interview of Raphael Mechoulam conducted by Higher Learning LV in January 2022. The interview addressed this topic with this pioneering scientist who discovered THC in 1964 and the endocannabinoid system in the early 1990s. From the interview:
Higher Learning LV: "There is a perception among some patients and cannabis consumers that naturally occurring cannabinoids are more healthy than synthetic cannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes stereotyped as featuring a lower safety profile. Is there any scientific basis for such a bias against synthetic cannabinoids?"
Raphael Mechoulam: "Synthetic versus natural is not relevant as regards toxicity or activity. If a compound is toxic or active, it will be toxic or active...whether it is natural or synthetic."
Thus, Mechoulam tersely topples this urban legend, explaining that each molecule must be carefully tested in humans to determine its individual safety profile. He also explains that this profile is in no way determined by whether a molecule is naturally occurring (produced by a botanical species) or is synthesized by humans in a laboratory.
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