Despite causing borderline psychedelic highs, THC-O is derived from federally legal hemp.
Expand (Jack Kent)By Brianna WheelerSeptember 22, 2021 at 5:30 am PDTFor many cannathusuasts, a first reaction to learning about a cannabinoid reputedly three times stronger than THC might be blitheness, bemusement or straight-up bewilderment. For others, it might sound like a blessing. Either way, anyone with even a passing interest in therapeutic, alternative, hemp-derived or cutting-edge cannabinoids should know about THC-O, a cosmically powerful, borderline psychedelic derivative of cannabis that can be up to 300% more potent than even the most astronomical THC. Eager to map out the genesis of this relatively novel cannabinoid, WW took a deep dive into not just what goes into isolating a hemp-derived cannabinoid so potent it’s been compared to mescaline, but also how safe it may or may not be for consumers looking to legitimately medicate with something stronger than the standard dispensary fare. Curious potheads, proceed with caution; even though THC-O is available online for purchase, whether or not it is truly a safe synthetic is debatable. That said, the promise of a cannabinoid with such potency is a potential boon for more than just varsity stoners. There are many patients who might consider such potent variation of their medicine a divine panacea. What is THC-O? THC-O acetate, or THC-O, is a synthetic analog (or chemical twin) of THC. That means that although THC-O is indeed a cannabinoid, it’s not naturally occurring and can only be safely manufactured via contemporary cannabis tech. A series of extractions must take place to generate THC-O. First, cannabidiol (CBD) is extracted from less than 0.3% THC hemp (made federally legal by the 2018 Farm Bill). Next, delta-8 THC is extracted from the CBD. Finally, the organic solvent acetic anhydride is administered to the delta-8 THC molecules, a process that eliminates all terpenes and flavonoids, leaving behind a flavorless, scentless, motor oil-thick THC isolate with polarizing potency. Research, regulation and data around THC-O and its effects are scant, but researchers have concluded that THC-O is a “prodrug,” or a compound that must be metabolized to activate. Once THC-O is metabolized, what’s essentially left is a highly bioavailable variation of delta-9 THC, meaning the variation is absorbed and circulates well in the body. The bioavailability speculatively increases the potency. Which is all to say there’s at least a few somebodies out there eating THC-O getting higher than an eagle booty. Is THC-O legal? For the time being, yes, because THC-O is derived from federally legal hemp and contains no delta-9 THC. THC-O’s potency and chemical composition, however, do suggest an uncertain future. THC-O, though derived from hemp, is technically analogous to a Schedule I drug (cannabis), and could arguably be a Schedule I drug itself based on the 1986 Federal Analogue Act. As long as its supply chain can be traced back to federally legal hemp, though, THC-O exists in enough of a gray area to slip under the regulatory radar, for now anyway. That said, there are a number of reputable hemp brands currently displaying their THC-O products as available for purchase online. And though the cannabinoid’s potency may elicit curiosity from more advanced stoner types, even they should proceed with caution. THC-O isn’t considered a naturally occurring cannabinoid, and the process by which it’s produced can be volatile. Is THC-O safe? It depends on whom you ask. In the early 2000s, synthetic versions of THC like Spice and K2 became popular but were completely unrelated to naturally occurring cannabinoids and shared nothing in common, chemically, with actual cannabis. As such, the words “synthetic cannabinoid” rightfully provoke caution, but, unlike those non-classical synthetics, THC-O shares a similar chemical profile to delta-8 and delta-9 THC. They’re all derived from cannabis plants, unlike those dangerously nasty, questionably produced smoking blends of the ‘00s. Furthermore, most information around THC-O discourages smoking altogether, suggesting the cannabinoid is a prodrug, a chemical that must be metabolized in order to take effect. Anecdotal data advises that THC-O has considerable potential as a therapeutic when used in place of an edible tincture. For cannabis patients with the types of ever-increasing THC tolerances that challenge chronic pain management, THC-O products might fit in with their lifestyles far more elegantly than products with more recreational doses. But while there is no data to suggest THC-O is particularly dangerous, there’s none to suggest it’s as safe as other cannabis derivatives either, so anyone interested in auditioning THC-O should proceed with caution, to say the least. Who is THC-O for? I once met a cannabis patient who told me he ingested over 1,000 mg of THC daily in order to manage his chronic conditions, and that it was something of a hassle to easily access daily doses of that potency. Imagining a target audience for a cannabinoid of THC-O’s strength is less challenging after interacting with users such as these, who live with debilitating, paralyzing and sometimes mortal conditions, and rely on cannabis therapy to prevail for another day. Whether THC-O is a panacea for the extreme tolerance therapeutic user remains up for debate, but the existence of patients who rely on extreme doses of THC is undeniable. Data may be limited currently, but as companies race to commodify this new cannabinoid, new studies will surely emerge on its safety, efficacy and best applications. And I, for one, will be watching with eager anticipation.