Updated: Dec 8, 2022
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.
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.
THC-O Acetate Fast Facts
Role: Alt cannabinoid
Biosynthetic pathway: CBD > delta-8 THC > THC-O
Acidic precursor: n/a
Boiling point: n/a
Primary medical benefits: Greater potency than delta-9
THC-O Acetate Medicinal Benefits
Unfortunately, most of the information available regarding the safety and efficacy of this supposedly potent phytomolecule is via anecdotal reports from users or the potentially biased claims of the companies selling products featuring it.
There remains a gross lack of peer-reviewed scientific research about THC-O-A and the potential harm or help that it may provide to humans or mammals—especially when consistently consumed over a long period.
"Most information about the safety of this supposedly potent phytomolecule is via anecdotal reports or the potentially biased claims of companies selling it."
A September 2022 study entitled "Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol, an Emerging NPS and Other Structurally Related Cannabinoids" that was published in the journal Toxicologie Analytique et Clinique is one of the only peer-reviewed research studies to cite THC-O acetate, along with analysis of delta-8 and delta-10.
Reported the study: "Another molecule of particular concern is the cannabinoid called THC-O-acetate (the acetyl ester of THC), which seems to be popping up in gummies and vapes. It is basically acetylated THC, which does not occur naturally in cannabis plants and can be called a New Psychoactive Substance (NPS). Interestingly, also heroin was created by acetylating morphine over 100 years ago. No human studies on the effects of acetylated THC are available, illustrating the danger."
THC-O acetate has gotten the attention of vendors wishing to sell it and lifestyle consumers seeking strong cannabis because it is reported to be 300 percent more potent than delta-9 THC. However, this potency claim is based on the 1977 book Marijuana Chemistry by Michael Starks, not peer-reviewed research studies.
"THC-O acetate has gotten the attention of vendors wishing to sell it and lifestyle consumers seeking strong cannabis because it is reported to be 300 percent more potent than delta-9."
Because delta-9 THC is more potent than delta-8, it is theorized that THC-O acetate derived from delta-8 THC will, likewise, feature a lower psychoactivity than that made from delta-9. Most THC-O on the market is derived from hemp-sourced delta-8 because it is a less expensive method. THC-O products produced from delta-9 THC should feature markedly stronger potency.
If the potency claims about delta-9-derived THC-O acetate are true, this molecule is a standout among alt cannabinoids. Delta-8, delta-10, and HHC all feature lower psychoactivity than delta-9 THC. THC-O acetate is the first alt cannabinoid to emerge that offers a more potent psychoactivity than its sibling cannabinoids.
How to Get THC-O Acetate
While the safety profile of this alt cannabinoid remains in question due to the lack of credible scientific research about it, many companies throughout the United States are selling products containing THC-O acetate. Consumers are warned to purchase THC-O products only from properly vetted and trusted vendors and to seek a certificate of analysis (CoA) from a certified laboratory.
"This cannabinoid is most commonly available as edibles in the form of gummies and 510 vape cartridges."
This cannabinoid is most commonly available as edibles in the form of gummies and 510 vape cartridges. Because THC-O is commonly derived from delta-8 THC, many products offering it also contain delta-8. Users should give special care with THC-O edibles because this consumption avenue can deliver the most potent dose (just as delta-9 edibles produce more significant psychoactivity than the same amount inhaled via smoke or vapor).
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