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What Is THC-O, the “Psychedelic” Cannabinoid?

THC-O has been around for quite some time, but it’s recently made waves as yet another hemp-derived phytocannabinoid emerging in a legal gray area. However, just because it’s out there doesn’t make it the best choice for your goals. This guide explains what you should know about this so-called “psychedelic” form of THC, what we know about it, and the risks to be aware of when purchasing THC-O products.

What is THC-O?

THC-O, also known as THC-O acetate, THC acetate, or “ATHC,” is a synthetic type of THC derived from delta 8 THC, which in itself is present in cannabis plants in low levels.

THC-O is made by introducing a catalyst known as acetic anhydride1, which is essentially a dehydrated vinegar, to Delta 8 THC after it has been extracted from the hemp plant.

ATHC vs. THCA

Sometimes, you may see THC-O called ATHC, a nod to the “acetate” in the name. At first glance, it could be easy to mix this up with THCA, which is the acidic precursor to THC that appears in abundance in cannabis. There’s a world of difference between these two compounds: THCA appears naturally and converts to delta 9 THC when heated, while ATHC, or THC-O, is completely synthetic. You’ll also find THCA products like diamonds available at many licensed dispensaries.

Can you buy THC-O from a licensed dispensary?

It’s highly unlikely to come across THC-O in a licensed dispensary. Much of the manufacturing and distribution of THC-O comes from unlicensed and unregulated sources, and a licensed dispensary would not carry products that haven’t met the stringent testing required by state laws. Any THC-O purchased outside a licensed dispensary is unlikely to have been subjected to this testing and even the labeling may be misleading or inaccurate. There are few, if any, safeguards against unscrupulous retailers when it comes to purchasing THC-O.

thc-o-risks-graphic

What are the effects of THC-O?

THC-O is significantly more potent than delta 9 THC, the most well-known intoxicating cannabinoid found in cannabis, according to Canyon Hopkins, PharmD at Ethos-Pittsburgh and Ethos-North Fayette. This is because THC-O is far more water-soluble than most cannabinoids, making it highly bioavailable and increasing absorption, he said. Some estimates suggest that THC-O is three times as strong as Delta 9 THC2, prompting some observers to refer to it as a “psychedelic” cannabinoid.

“When you turn Delta 8 THC into THC-O, it goes from being a sedative, less potent THC to three times more potent and a much more euphoric version of THC,” said Hopkins.

While Hopkins noted few patients have reported their experiences with THC-O, he anticipates it could potentially be beneficial for consumers with high tolerance to delta 9 THC or those looking for a mood-boosting euphoria beyond what delta 9 THC offers. However, he said there are also serious risks that come along with such a high level of intoxication, such as balance impairment and the risk of severely heightened anxiety.

“It’s easy for that euphoria to turn into a bad time,” Hopkins said.

However, because THC-O is unregulated, the lack of license and tested products may mean that they are unsafe. Hopkins warns against buying THC-O products available at a convenience store, gas station, or similarly unlicensed location, as the test results may not be reliable.

Is THC-O safe?

THC-O is not a new discovery: The compound was discovered decades back3, but we don’t know much about the initial studies conducted on it. While it may not be inherently unsafe, we do know that the unregulated manufacture and distribution of these products can be unsafe.

THC-O product manufacturers are under no obligation to disclose what’s in their products or to test them before they go to market. This means that many products that don’t contain what’s on the label make their way to store shelves. Furthermore, THC-O products could contain contaminants, such as heavy metals or residual solvents, that are patently unsafe to consume. 

The only way to guarantee the safety of any cannabis product is to purchase from a licensed dispensary that must conduct rigorous testing according to state regulations. These products will always come with a certificate of analysis (COA) issued by a third-party testing laboratory. Buying an unlicensed product could result in receiving something that isn’t helpful for your needs at best or could be harmful at worst, Hopkins said.

“The companies producing these compounds are not monitored by any overarching authority; there is no one coming into these locations inspecting how everything is being made,” Hopkins said. “Whether the machinery is calibrated correctly, all the doses from batch to batch are consistent, the color is right, the temperature is right, the storage conditions are right – these are all things taken into consideration when a licensed product goes from seed to shelf.”

Is THC-O legal?

THC-O is not technically federally legal, though for now enforcement has been limited in most states. While a quick internet search may tell you otherwise, federal agencies would likely disagree.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in a letter written in 2021 regarding the legality of Delta 8 THC – the precursor of THC-O – synthetically manufactured analogs of THC are subject to Schedule I status under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA)4.


In the letter, the DEA explains that synthetic equivalents of cannabis compounds that elicit similar effects are subject to restrictions under the CSA. Since THC-O is synthetically derived from an extract from hemp and elicits heightened intoxication, these rules would seemingly apply. 

However, THC-O remains on sale in most states, primarily in unlicensed retail environments. This has made it especially popular in states that prohibit cannabis and have not set up a regulated market. As of January 2022, 12 states have banned THC-O, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, and Utah. 

Opt for safe products each time you shop

Your health and safety are your biggest priorities, and when consuming unregulated THC-O, you could put both at risk. When you purchase cannabis products from a licensed dispensary, those items are required to adhere to numerous quality standards to ensure that a product is safe for consumption by the time you bring it home.

If you’re looking for a cannabis product that offers the euphoric feeling associated with THC-O, communicate your goals to an Ethos associate or pharmacist. They can direct you to a tested product that can help you meet your goals without visiting the corner store. Thanks to this regulatory framework, you can be aware of what you’re putting into your body, rather than trying an unlicensed product and taking the label at face value.

  1. https://cbdtesters.co/2021/07/15/thc-o-potency-making-thc-o-acetate/
  2. https://www.leafly.com/news/cannabis-101/what-is-thc-o
  3. https://cbdtesters.co/2021/07/13/the-psychedelic-side-of-weed-thc-o-acetate-and-military-testing/
  4. https://cannabusiness.law/wp-content/uploads/DEA-letter-re-D8-to-Alabama.pdf

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