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Learn / What Is THC-O? Understanding the Risks

What Is THC-O? Understanding the Risks

By 
Hannah Friedman
|
 September 1st, 2023|   Clinically Reviewed by 
Rajnandini Rathod

THC-O is one of many new cannabis products. Since it’s so different from other types of marijuana, like THC and CBD, you might wonder what THC-O is in the first place. Is it safe, regulated, or even legal? And can it lead to addiction?

All drugs can potentially lead to addiction—even marijuana. To keep yourself safe, you can learn more about THC-O and how it works. 

THC-O vs. THC

You may have heard of THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol,1 the chemical compound in marijuana that gets you high. THC-O, also called THC-O acetate,2 is a synthetic compound similar to THC. 

Compared to some of the natural compounds in cannabis, THC-O produces profound psychoactive effects. THC-O is almost 3 times stronger than regular THC. People who use THC-O call it a “spiritual cannabinoid.”3 Some also use it for anxiety, nausea, sleep, and pain management.

How Long Does It Take For THC-O to Kick In?

The onset time of THC-O varies depending on several factors, including your metabolism, dosage, method of consumption, and tolerance. According to an analysis of social media discussions on THC-O,4 “Multiple users reported a relatively lengthy onset of effects and/or a lengthy duration of effects:” 

‘Thco also takes ab 45 mins to fully hit you n last considerably longer than thc.’

‘Takes an hour to fully kick in then for me the high lasts several hours’ 

‘The high from thc-o lasts SIGNIFICANTLY longer than d8/even d9. like, way longer.’ 

THC-O typically takes longer to kick in when you ingest it orally (via edibles or capsules) compared to inhalation methods like smoking or vaping. That’s because digestion through your GI tract takes longer than absorption through your lungs, which happens rapidly. Onset time can also vary depending on the specific product. 



How Is THC-O Made?

THC-O doesn’t occur naturally in marijuana. Instead, manufacturers derive THC-O from hemp plants. This chemical process takes place in a lab: 

  1. Manufacturers extract CBD, a naturally occurring cannabinoid, from the hemp plant.
  2. Next, they use special equipment to extract Delta-8 THC, another synthetic compound. 
  3. Finally, they add a highly flammable chemical—acetic anhydride—directly to the Delta-8 THC molecules. This results in THC-O. 

Is THC-O Safe?

THC-O is relatively new, and scientists are still gathering data to determine if it’s safe. But some studies paint an alarming picture. 

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) warns against THC-O.5 According to their website, this compound “has never been tested for safety in human studies.” But the little data we have suggests that THC-O can cause serious health problems.6 For example, THC-O vapes often include toxic chemicals. These additives can cause lung injuries and digestive issues. 

Research on other synthetic cannabinoids7 like Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 THC further points to the potential dangers of THC-O. Studies link these cannabinoids to psychosis, chronic vomiting, and addiction when used at high concentrations.

The Risks of THC-O

The potential risks of THC-O are unclear8 for a few reasons. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp at a federal level, opening the door for hemp products like THC-O. The DEA only designated THC-O as a controlled substance in 2023. 

With this lack of regulation, there’s no standard procedure for producing THC-O. So its strength and quality vary drastically depending on how it’s made. When you try a new THC-O product, there’s no way to predict whether it’s safe. 

What Are the Side Effects of THC-O?

The side effects of synthetic cannabinoids9 can be unpredictable and dangerous. While we still need more data, current research points to several side effects of THC-O. 

Hallucinations

Some experts call THC-O a psychedelic drug,10 much like LSD or psilocybin. It’s so powerful that, according to the Chicago Sun Times, the military once researched it as a “nonlethal incapacitating agent.” In high doses THC-O may produce hallucinations, making you see, hear, or feel things that aren’t there. 

Dizziness

Many synthetic cannabinoids can make you dizzy.11 THC-O is no exception. This can make it dangerous to work, drive, or engage in other routine activities. 

Sedation

Many people use cannabis products to improve their sleep. And in moderation, THC-O might help you relax. But if you take too much, you might fall asleep by accident or sleep longer than you intended. And with unregulated drugs like THC-O, that’s easy to do. You might not know how strong it is until you feel its effects.

Vomiting

Overconsumption of cannabis—and most drugs—can make you sick to your stomach. Since THC-O has stronger effects than natural cannabinoids, these symptoms are likely to be more intense.

Paranoia

Like many cannabinoids, THC-O can bring on severe anxiety and paranoia, especially when you take too much. Paranoia, in turn, can affect other aspects of your mental health. For example, some data shows a link between paranoia and low self-esteem.12

The laws surrounding this drug are complicated at best. For example, in the U.S., THC-O is illegal at the federal level.13 However, it may be legal in some states that permit recreational marijuana use. Since THC-O doesn’t naturally occur in hemp plants, federal law enforcement officials have classified it as a Schedule 1 drug. In other words, THC-O is a federally controlled substance.

Understanding THC-O

With so much uncertainty about THC-O it’s hard to weigh the risks of this new chemical. It’s also important to account for your personal health history. For example, if you know you’re vulnerable to addiction, this drug could be even more dangerous. 

Browse rehabs that treat marijuana addiction to learn about their treatment approaches, insurance options, and more. 


Frequently Asked Questions About THC-O

What is THC-O and how does it differ from THC and CBD?

THC-O, or THC-O acetate, is a synthetic compound similar to THC found in marijuana. It produces profound psychoactive effects and is almost 3 times stronger than regular THC. While THC and CBD are natural compounds, THC-O is a synthetic drug.

Is THC-O strong?

THC-O is significantly stronger than regular THC. It produces profound psychoactive effects and is almost 3 times stronger than regular THC. However, the strength of THC-O can vary depending on the specific product, as there’s no standardized procedure for its production.

Is THC-O safe and legal?

THC-O is a relatively new substance, and its safety is still being studied. However, data suggests significant health risks, including lung injuries and digestive issues from toxic chemicals often found in THC-O vapes. THC-O is illegal at the federal level in the United States, classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Its legality may vary in states that allow recreational marijuana use.


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