Tetrahydrocannabinol, the reason why smoking a blunt makes you high, has many variants. The most well-known is delta 9 THC but forms like delta 8 THC are gaining popularity. While delta 8 THC is considered to be milder than delta 9, forms like THCP and THC-O are not. THCO is being advertised as 300 times stronger than delta 9 THC but what is it and where did it come from?

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What is THCO?

THCO (or THC-O acetate) stands for tetrahydrocannabinol acetate. It is a man-made analog of delta-9 THC. That means it doesn’t naturally occur in the Cannabis plant. 

THCO occurs through acetylation of THC (delta 8 or delta 9) or THCA. Acetylation is a chemical reaction where a hydrogen group is replaced by an acetyl group (CH3C=O).

The diagram below shows exactly what happens. 

synthesis of THCO

Acetylation of THC (Source: Science Direct)

The Origin Story of THCO

While many publications say THCO is new, it actually isn’t. The Edgewood Arsenal facility in Maryland between 1949 and 1975 used THCO in experiments. In these experiments, the researchers tested THCO on dogs and the dogs had ataxia. Ataxia refers to the lack of voluntary coordination of muscle movements. The experiments showed that THCO had a greater capacity to cause this.

Is THCO Better Than Delta 9 THC?

The word on the streets is that THC acetate is at least two times more potent than delta 9 THC. We can’t confirm or deny this. However, board-certified neurologist Ethan Russo, M.D, was quoted in Hemp Grower saying potent is not necessarily better. 

Russo’s premise is that “what is needed when you’re using a drug to stimulate the system is a gentle nudge, not a violent push that comes from something that is a lot stronger than THC itself.”

In addition to that, Russo pointed out that you may not need more potent weed for your needs. For example, for medicinal purposes, low doses of THC typically work. Higher doses of THC can sometimes cause negative side effects for some people

Opting for one over the other is a personal choice and a matter of what’s accessible. However, if you crave more potent weed to feel the same effects you used to, you may benefit from a weed tolerance break instead.

Is THCO Legal?

We’re seeing conflicting information on this. THC Acetate may be legal under the Farm Bill 2018. The Farm Bill states that all derivatives and isomers of Cannabis with less than 0.3% delta 9 THC is permitted. Matthew Guenther, Founder of the American Cannabinoid Association says that THC-O is legally protected because it is a derivative.

Guenther makes the note that some states like Florida have THC-O and Delta 8 legal while other states wrote additional legislature to ban delta 8.

However, Russo is not so sure the Farm Bill protects THC acetate. Russo mentioned the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. This act has marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug even though it’s legal in some states. Russo’s reasoning was that doing chemical extractions on or changing parts of the Cannabis plant was illegal according to the act. Therefore, THC acetate wouldn’t be legal. 

Russo also pointed to another act, the Analogue Act. The act basically says that analogues of Schedule 1 drugs are illegal. 

For those reasons, THC acetate may not be legal in some places. 

Is THCO Safe?

Russo says that people shouldn’t even bother trying THC acetate. He told Hemp Grower that “between the inherent danger of the process to make it, the potential toxicity of the product, and its illegality, I’ve got to recommend that people forget about it. It’s just not something that people should be trying.” He also mentioned that there may be harmful by-products, contaminants, and chemicals involved in the process that may be detrimental. 

When asked about potential applications for THC acetate, Russo said that it will need additional testing. He said it should be tested for toxicology in animals and then have clinical trials in humans.

Truthfully, we don’t really know the long-term effects of THC acetate or have a lot of information about its metabolism. 

Guenther also shared some concerns about THCO. He expressed concern about manufacturers acting too quickly and putting consumers’ lives at risk. There have to be tight controls during the manufacturing process to prevent some harmful chemicals like Acetic Anhydride from remaining. 

Guenther also said, “THC-O Acetate is a brand new innovation, and there is not one verified laboratory in the country with a qualified reference standard and method for testing it yet.”

So should be avoided at all costs? Well, Guenther says he enjoys vaping delta 9 THC because “I know for sure what I’m getting”. 

Conclusion

THCO is THC acetate or THC-O acetate. It is a man-made chemical that is said to be more potent than delta 9 THC. However, that has not been officially confirmed. There are THC acetate products being sold but use them with caution. There isn’t a verified lab in the US with qualified reference standards or even a method for testing it. Harmful chemicals can remain from the synthesis of the compound. This product requires more research and testing.

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