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Cannabinoids have been gaining a lot of popularity due to their psychoactive effects. A major chunk of the population has been attracted to its use for recreation and medicinal purposes. Among different types of cannabinoid-loaded agents, THC-O is a newer substance claimed to be the most potent of all.  Because of the possibly high level of potency along with a general lack of how it affects the brain, many experts have been particularly concerned about THC-O side effects and risks to health and advise avoiding it until more information is available.
What Is THC-O? A Rundown
Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC-O is a synthetic cannabinoid which, unlike other cannabis products like BCBD and CBN, is not a derivative of hemp. In simpler words, the hemp plant does not contain THC-O as a part of its natural composition. Scientists have been manufacturing it in laboratories using acetic anhydride, a highly flammable liquid commonly used to manufacture explosives, plastics, dyes, pharmaceuticals, and fibers. Because of the chemicals involved in manufacturing THC-O, specialized equipment is needed to make it. The manufacturing process involves the extraction of Delta-8 THC from the hemp plant, which is then mixed with acetic anhydride to form THC-O. 
So far, there is very little scientific research available that quantifies and grades the nature and severity of THC effects and dangers. Some reports suggest that the compound can be up to three times more potent than regular THC. Based on consumer experiences, this compound can lead to more psychedelic effects than any other type of cannabinoid. Some people also consider these effects to have a more spiritual tone.
While not much is known about the THC-O effects, those who have been using it believe that it can boost appetite, relieve pain, and keep anxiety under control. Additionally, it may also lead to the following side effects:
Public interest revolving around THC-O has been significantly growing across the United States, especially in states where marijuana sales and use are still illegal. Such states have THC-O in various forms, such as vape cartridges, gummies, and tinctures.
Is THCO Dangerous?
Like most types of cannabinoids, THC-O is not currently regulated and continues to undergo manufacturing without any standards. Consequently, people must be very careful while trying it out. Even though most products containing this compound claim to be natural, synthetic chemicals are almost always used in production. Hence, for a person who wishes to use THC-O, it can be almost impossible to know what chemicals are in the product they are using, how potent it is, and how their body may react to it.
Many experts consider THC-O as a prodrug, which means that its psychoactive effects may not be noticeable until the chemical undergoes certain transformations after use. For people who use THC-O, it may take up to half an hour for this transformation to happen so that they can finally start feeling the effects. This is also dangerous because some people may think that they are not feeling any immediate effects and may take a second dose, leading to an overdose. For such people, it is imperative to remember that the delay may be much longer in the case of THC-O gummies effects. In such cases, a person may not feel anything for hours after consuming an edible and is at a very high risk of taking another high dose and putting themselves at risk of an overdose.
Does THC-O Get You High? The Addiction and Overdose Potential
Many people prefer using THC-O to other types of cannabinoids as it is stronger, which means that it can lead to a more potent and longer-lasting high. Due to this property, many people are likely to end up developing an addiction to THC-O, eventually requiring higher doses to feel the same experience. The risk of an overdose becomes particularly high in such individuals, which may prove life-threatening if not picked up in time. Following are some signs to look out for in case you are suspecting THC-O intoxication:
- Many people complain of developing a very dry mouth
- Problems with coordination and balance are also extremely common
- Reflexes often get very slow when someone has used lots of THC-O
- Bloodshot eyes remain a characteristic feature of THC-O use
- Many people face a difficult time holding a conversation at all
When used on a long-term basis, many users face lingering side effects and issues particularly related to the following:
- Relationships: People with underlying THC-O addiction start prioritizing the use of this drug over their relationships with friends and family members.
- Negative Outcomes: Individuals with an underlying THC-O addiction continue to use it despite experiencing the negative consequences of this persistent use.
- Legal & Financial Troubles: If someone continues to use THC-O even after developing significant legal and financial difficulties, it indicates an underlying addiction.
- Guilt: Many individuals with underlying substance abuse related to THC-O use often feel guilty about their use and may go to extreme lengths to hide their habits or how much of the drug they are using.
Despite being relatively newer in the market, many people have already developed substance abuse issues involving this drug. If someone suspects they have developed these issues, contacting a doctor must be the first thing to do before the symptoms take over their life.
Exploring the Legality of THC-O
In 2018, the former president of America, Donald Trump, legalized the manufacturing and sale of hemp at a federal level by signing the Farm Bill. When this bill became official, it separated hemp and other low-concentration derivatives from marijuana as a part of the Controlled Substances Act or CSA. What this meant was it became legal to sell cannabis products with less than 0.3 percent of THC in addition to possessing or transporting it.
Many believe that THC-O fits this description and is, therefore, legal, but the situation is much more complex. Even though THC-O is a derivative of Delta-8, a naturally occurring hemp compound, its production also involves many synthetic elements. The same Farm Bill that many people use to justify the legality of THC-O has labeled synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinol as a Schedule I substance. Moreover, the Federal Analog Act also applies to the legality of THC-O as it states that any chemical with a substantially similar composition to that of an illegal drug must be categorized as a Schedule I drug.
In 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration or DEA officially responded to the inquiry put forward by the Alabama Board of Pharmacy regarding the legal status of Delta-8 THC. The response stated that because delta-8 is synthetically manufactured from non-cannabis materials, it is a controlled substance under the CSA principles. Based on this response and the logic it gives, THC-O must also be treated and handled as an illegal tetrahydrocannabinol. Despite these discussions, THC-O has never been formally listed as a Schedule I substance under CSA, making its legal status highly questionable. However, authorities still discourage people from possessing or using it until its status becomes clearer.
Is THC-O legal in the United States?
Many people assume the chemical to be a derivative of the hemp plant and consider it legal, according to the 2018 farm bill. However, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has warned that all types of THC-O remain illegal and controlled substances as they do not naturally occur in the hemp plant, so they do not fall under the legal definition of what the agency considers hemp.
How is THC-O different from regular THC?
Regular THC is commonly available in the cannabis plant, whereas THC-O is a synthetic compound. The manufacturing of the latter involves the addition of an acetate to the THC molecule. This reaction makes the cannabinoid unable to bind to certain receptors in the brain that trigger the feeling of a high. However, this reaction makes THC-O more easily transferable into cells and the brain. Once the molecule enters the brain, the acetate wears off, and the THC left behind attaches itself to the correct receptors. If the acetate does not detach itself, the risk of the substance floating around and causing damage is high.
Does THC-O show up on a drug screen test?
Despite being physically different from other THC molecules, the human body metabolizes THC-O similarly to any other cannabinoid. What this means is despite the differences in how it affects the brain, THC-O will show up on a drug test like any other cannabinoid-containing substance.
How long does THC O take to kick in?
THC-O is considered biologically active until the body metabolizes it, meaning it has a delayed onset of action compared to CBD or THC. Overall, the effects related to THC O consumption take around thirty minutes up to an hour to kick in following its ingestion.
Is THC-O stronger than THC?
Most experts agree that THC-O is much stronger than regular THC or delta-8 THC found naturally in marijuana. The potency of the former is said to be two to three times higher than the latter.
1 Kruger DJ, Bone CC, Meacham MC, Klein C, Kruger JS. THC-O-Acetate: Scarce Evidence for a Psychedelic Cannabinoid. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. 2023 Jun 30:1-5.
2 Holt AK, Poklis JL, Peace MR. ∆ 8-THC, THC-O Acetates, and CBD-di-O Acetate: Emerging Synthetic Cannabinoids Found in Commercially Sold Plant Material and Gummy Edibles. Journal of Analytical Toxicology. 2022 Oct 1;46(8):940-8.