Updated: May 7
The recent controversy involving cannabis- and hemp-derived minor cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC has alerted both industry professionals and consumers to the fact that there's more to the psychoactivity and potential health benefits of this herb than merely CBD and THC.
The THC-O-A molecule
Like delta-10 THC and unlike delta-8, THC-O Acetate (sometimes denoted as ATHC, THCO, or THC-O-A) is a fully synthetic cannabinoid that is not found in the wild. In other words, THC-O-A must be created in a laboratory setting. Unlike FECO (Full Extract Cannabis Oil) or water hash, THC-O-A cannot be created by people 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, technically speaking, an "acetylated form" of its chemical cousin delta-9 THC, the infamous cannabinoid that is primarily responsible for the psychoactivity delivered when people smoke or vaporize loose-leaf cannabis flower. Acetylated compounds, created by humans and not found in nature, are a common part of the world of pharmaceutical drugs (aspirin is an example).
Despite the recent emergence of this molecule in cannabis and vape products in the United States, it was studied as far back as 1949 by the U.S. military. Today, THC-O-A is most commonly available in the form of vape cartridges that attach to a battery and allow consumers to inhale the substance.
Despite the recent emergence of this molecule in vape, tincture, and edible products in the United States, it was studied as far back as 1949 by the U.S. military. Today, THC-O-A is most commonly available in the form of vape cartridges that attach to a battery and allow consumers to inhale the substance.
Often, THC-O-A oil is diluted and mixed with delta-8 THC or CBD. This is to reduce its viscosity and allow it to better maintain a clear airflow in conventional battery-powered vape pens. Reports indicate that THC-O-A cartridges that are not mixed with another cannabinoid or some type of diluting agent tend to cause clogging and other problems.
THC-O Acetate has gotten the attention of vendors wishing to sell it and lifestyle consumers seeking potent cannabis because it is reported to be 300 percent more potent than delta-9 THC (according to the 1977 book Marijuana Chemistry by Michael Starks).
However, readers should place marginal trust in this figure because it is a single source that features no confirmation from multiple outside peer-reviewed research investigations. Anecdotal testimonies from users, while sloppy and largely unreliable, have indicated that THC-O is double or perhaps triple the potency of delta-9, aligning with the Stark estimate from nearly fifty years ago.
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Regardless of potency, some users of THC-O-A report a more spiritual or psychedelic psychoactivity than other cannabinoids, such as delta-9 and delta-8 THC and THCV. One media outlet described the effects of THC-O-A as "borderline hallucinatory."
Like delta-8 and delta-10 THC, which exist in the grey zone of legality when derived from hemp biomass, THC-O Acetate is most popular in states where delta-9 THC and adult-use cannabis remains prohibited.
Like delta-8 and delta-10 THC, which exist in the grey zone of legality when derived from hemp biomass, THC-O Acetate is most popular in states where delta-9 THC and adult-use cannabis remain prohibited.
CBD > Delta-8 > THC-O
Much of the controversy surrounding THC-O-A centers on the fact that it is not naturally occurring, something that some in the cannabis industry claim makes this molecule somehow less healthy. This position, however, is not currently supported by science. A number of synthetic cannabinoids, including delta-10 THC, have been shown to deliver health benefits and are currently utilized by medical doctors for their patients.
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The synthesis of THC-O-A most commonly involves conversion of hemp-based CBD (cannabidiol) into delta-8 THC, which is then converted to THC-O-A via use of some very toxic and flammable chemicals, including sulfuric acid and acetic anhydride. The delta-8 THC used to create THC-O-A can also be derived from delta-9 THC (typically not the case due to the greater market value of delta-9 versus CBD).
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.
Lack of Research
Unfortunately, most of the information available regarding the safety and efficacy of this supposedly potent phytomolecule and isomer of delta-9 THC is via anecdotal reports from users or the potentially biased proclamations of the companies selling it. There remains a gross lack of peer-reviewed scientific research about THC-O-A and the potential harm or help it may provide to humans or mammals—especially when consistently consumed over a long period.
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