The Dangers Associated With Using Cannabinoids Like THC-O

Cannabinoids with the ability to produce psychoactive effects have been gaining popularity recently. Among these compounds is THC-O which is reportedly more potent than the main psychoactive ingredient in Marijuana. Because of its possible high level of potency and lack of research on its effects on one’s health, many have concerns about this THC analog.

What Is THC-O?

THC-O, or Tetrahydrocannabinol, is a non-natural cannabinoid. Also called THC-O-acetate, this compound is not derived from hemp in the same way other cannabis products, like CBD, CBG, and CBN are. This means that THC-O is not found naturally in the hemp plant.

To synthesize THC-O, acetic anhydride is used. This chemical compound is a highly inflammable, colorless liquid that is typically used in making pharmaceuticals, dyes, fibers, plastics, and explosives. Because of the chemicals involved, production requires specialized equipment. This process begins by extracting Delta-8 THC from hemp. The acetic anhydride is then combined with Delta-8 molecules to create THC-O.

There has been very little scientific research done on the effects and dangers of using THC-O. It has been reported by some news outlets that THC-O can be up to 3x more potent than THC. Based on the experiences of consumers, this compound is capable of producing more psychedelic effects than other cannabinoids. It has also been said that these effects tend to have a more spiritual tone.

While not much is known about the effects of THC-O, those who use this cannabinoid believe it can help to relieve pain, boost appetite, and reduce anxiety. Consumers also report the following side effects.

  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Paranoia
  • Sedation
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

Public interest in THC-O has been growing across the US, especially in states where the sale of recreational Marijuana is still illegal. It is typically sold in vape cartridges, tinctures, and gummies.

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The Legality Of THC-O

In 2018, former President Trump indirectly legalized the production and sale of hemp on a federal level when he signed the Farm Bill. With the signing of this bill, hemp and low concentration derivatives were separated from the definition of Marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). This means that cannabis products with no more than 0.3% THC can legally be sold, transported, and possessed.

It may seem that THC-O would fit this description and therefore be considered legal, but it’s more complicated than that. Although THC-O is derived from a naturally occurring hemp compound (Delta-8), there are synthetic elements involved. The same 2018 Farm Bill stated that synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinol was to remain classified as a schedule 1 substance. The Federal Analog Act also can apply to the legality of THC-O. This 1986 act essentially declared that chemicals that are “substantially similar” to an illegal drug are to be treated as a schedule 1 drug.

In September 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), responded to an inquiry made by the Alabama Board Of Pharmacy about the legality of Delta-8. In their letter, the DEA wrote that “delta-8 THC synthetically produced from non-cannabis materials is controlled under the CSA as a tetrahydrocannabinol.” Following the logic presented in this letter, THC-O would also be considered an illegal tetrahydrocannabinol.

Despite these deductions, THC-O has never been listed by name as a schedule 1 substance under the CSA which makes its legal status still very questionable.

Dangers Of Use

Like most cannabinoids, THC-O is not regulated and is manufactured without any standards. For this reason, one should be very conscious when using THC-O. Despite most THC-O products claiming to be all-natural, synthetic chemicals are always used in its production. Knowing what chemicals were used and how much is next to impossible. This means you can never know how potent it is or how your body may react to the chemicals involved.

THC-O is also considered a prodrug. This means that the psychoactive effects will not be noticeable until the chemical has been transformed after use. For THC-O, it could take up to 30 minutes to feel the effects. This is dangerous because those who are unaware may think that they haven’t taken enough which may cause them to take a second dose. It is important to note that when taking THC-O edibles, effects are even more delayed. In these cases, one might not feel anything for several hours after taking the edible.

Current Restrictions

Some parts of the US, as well as some companies, are working to put regulations in place for synthetic cannabinoids like THC-O. Just this month, a Delta-8 focused bill was passed in South Dakota’s House and Senate. If this bill becomes law, only those who are over the age of 21 will be able to purchase products containing Delta-8, THC-O, and Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC). While supporters of this bill believe that these limitations are the best way to create a safe environment, there are concerns that it won’t be enough because of a lack of regulations throughout the US. Because there are no federal restrictions, unregulated THC-O can be sold from other states to those under the age of 21.

Shopify, an e-commerce platform with more than 2.1 million users, announced this month that cannabinoid products with more than 0.3% of THC must be removed from user’s online stores. For global shipping, products cannot exceed 0.2% THC. This applies to products with any form of THC, regardless of compound type, such as Delta-8, Delta-9, Delta-10, THC-O, and THCP. These restrictions have been made in compliance with FDA regulations for hemp derived products.

The THC-O Takeaway

Since synthetic Marijuana was introduced, a large number of similar cannabinoid agonists have been created. This makes it difficult to control these substances. Because there is very little research and few regulations, the risks that can come with using THC-O are virtually unknown. Lack of regulations and standards for production make it very difficult to know a product’s potency or what chemicals were involved during production. While most are advertised as being organic or natural, often dangerous chemicals are used when manufacturing THC-O.

It is possible that using these products can lead to a tolerance developing. In these cases, more of these substances are needed to feel the same effects. With so much unknown and the risk of building up a tolerance, it is best to avoid synthetic cannabinoids, like THC-O, to prevent an addiction from forming.

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Emily Murray

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  • Emily Murray is a Digital Content Writer at Addiction Center. She earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Behavioral/Social Sciences and Art concentrations along with a Journalism minor from the University of Central Florida. Dedicated to creativity and conciseness, Emily hopes her words can be of service to those affected by addiction.

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