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THC-O: A New Cannabis Derivative. But Is It Safe?



Since the 2018 farm bill passage, cannabis enthusiasts have explored the world of hemp-derived cannabinoids. Recently, a new and relatively unknown compound has emerged, and it’s in all the local smoke shops, quick marts, gas station stores, bodegas, and beyond: THC-O / THCO. 

THCO / THC-O acetate, this derivative of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is being marketed as a more potent and longer-lasting alternative to traditional cannabis products

But with limited research and even less regulation, questions remain about the safety and efficacy of the hemp-derived chemical substance.

What is THC-O?

THCO or THC-O is a synthetic compound derived from THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis plants.

Unlike traditional weed products, this man-made hemp product is produced and made in a lab and can be taken orally, vaped, smoked, or consumed via other methods. 

According to some consumers, the effects of the synthetic cannabinoid can be much stronger and longer lasting than those of traditional weed products, leading to increased feelings of euphoria and an altered sense of perception.

THC-O is still relatively unknown in the mainstream cannabis market. However, it has gained a following among some cannabis enthusiasts who are always on the lookout for new and exciting ways to get high. 

THC-O is sometimes marketed as a “legal” alternative to traditional cannabis products, although its legality remains murky in many jurisdictions.

Are Synthetic Hemp Derived Products Safe?

One of the primary concerns about THC-O is its potential for toxicity and danger. Because THCO is a synthetic compound, it has not been tested for safety or efficacy, and the processors may not be known, inspected, or regulated.

There is very little research available on the long-term effects of THC-O use. Furthermore, there have been few studies on the potential for toxicity or overdose.

Some users have reported negative side effects from THC-O use, including nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations.

Another concern about the hemp derivative is its lack of rules and regulations. Currently, THC-O is not checked by any government agency. This means there is no way to ensure that the product is safe or properly labeled.

Consumers may be at risk of purchasing products contaminated with harmful substances or containing inaccurate dosages of THC-O.

Delayed Onset

THCO is known as a prodrug. A prodrug implies that the drug’s psychoactive effects remain subtle or barely felt until after use and internal processing, following its internal chemical transformation.

THC-O may require up to 30 minutes before a user feels the effects. This presents a potential danger. Unknowing users may believe they have not taken enough, leading them to take a second dose. Kind of like when you think that edible you ate a half hour ago isn’t working.

It is critical to note that when using THC-O edibles, the effects are even more delayed. A user might not feel anything for several hours after ingestion.

Health Risks of THC-O

THC-O is created by chemically changing CBD into either delta 9 THC or Delta 8 THC. Those cannabinoids are then converted into their acetate ester form – THCO. Several studies revealed that when enough heat is applied to THC-O, the thermal breakdown can actually form a dangerous lung toxin called ketene.

Acetyl chloride plays a critical role in the synthesis of THC-O, also known as THC acetate. THC-O is not a natural cannabinoid. It is created by acetylating Delta-9 THC using the chemicals acetic anhydride or acetyl chloride.

This chemical conversion process involves adding an acetyl group to the Delta-9 THC molecule, increasing its potency and length.

Acetyl chloride is used in this process to react with Delta-9 THC and acylate it, producing THC-O acetate. The acetylation process allows THC-O to bypass the blood-brain barrier more rapidly. This provides a more potent and longer-lasting psychoactive effect than Delta-9 THC.

It’s not certain if the amount of ketene produced by a vape cart is enough to create an immediate danger to the user. It is possible that repeated small exposures could cause lung damage.

The Bottom Line

THC-O may be a new and exciting way for some people to explore the world of cannabinoids. But there are many unanswered questions about its safety and risks. With limited research and regulation, many long-term effects remain unknown.

Users may be at risk of experiencing negative side effects, unknown long-term effects, or accidentally taking too much of the product. We recommend sticking to the real stuff.

What Do You Think?

Should THCO be further controlled and regulated? Is it a substance we need to worry about? Or should more people embrace THC-O?

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