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What is THC-O? Benefits, Risks, and Legality

Dr. Saira Zulfiqar, PharmD

Written by: Dr. Saira Zulfiqar, PharmD

Updated on December 30, 2023

What is THC-O? Benefits, Risks, and Legality

Are you curious about what THC-O is? The new and famous cannabinoid is making rounds for its potential psychedelic properties. As people are coming across newer products every day, like THC-O gummies and edibles, there is increasing confusion as to what it is, how it works, or if THC-O is legal or not. Before you consider using any new hemp-derived product, you must understand how it will affect you and your body. So, here is everything you need to know about THC-O.

What is THC-O?

Let us hit the basics first. A few chemicals are known as THC-O; a few among them are THC-O acetate or tetrahydrocannabinol acetate in complete form. THC-O comes from different sources. It can be sourced from marijuana or a hemp plant and produced synthetically from Delta-8 THC.

Typically, the hemp-derived THC-O comes from a plant that has less than 0.3% THC, whereas the marijuana-derived THC-O comes from plants that have variable percentages of THC. However, the hemp-derived THC-O has a tricky legal standing. But more on that later.

First, Delta-8 THC is produced from the cannabis plant, which is later combined with acetic anhydride. The acetic anhydride itself is not fit for human use, but when combined with Delta-8 THC, it produces THC-O. THC-O, if used properly, does not have the same adverse effects.

Suppose you compare and see the properties of THC-O vs THC. In that case, you will notice that THC-O can be stronger and has a different effect on the endocannabinoid system, as the liver usually takes longer to metabolize it.

Consuming Form of THC-O

Now that we have established what THC-O is, let us look at how it can be used. There are multiple THC-O products available online. Here are some of the ways people may consume THC-O:

Form of THC-O How is It Used?
Vape Cartridges & Concentrates Usually inhaled, it provides rapid effects. This form of consumption is discreet and convenient.
Edibles Usually infused in food products like THC-O gummies, cakes, and lollipops. This form of consumption takes longer onset times but has prolonged action.
Tinctures Used by placing on the tongue and has a faster onset with precise dosing control.
Capsules Easy to consume and allows for precise dosing. Effects can be controlled through dosing.

How THC-O Affects the Body?

To understand THC-O’s effects on the human body, it is important first to know how it works and its interactions with different cellular systems. THC-O, like other forms and types of THC, affects the body through certain interactions with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS system is primarily a network of receptors with which specific molecules interact to produce changes in organs, brain, tissue, and cells. The ECS system affects how we perceive pain, mood, sleep patterns, and even appetite. When any THC molecule stimulates the receptors, it can produce a wide variety of effects.

The THC-O molecules have a more binding affinity with the CB1 receptors in the human body. The CB1 receptors, when stimulated, can affect how we perceive time, increase appetite, and induce feelings of euphoria. These THC-O effects can be beneficial or adverse, depending upon consumption patterns.

Another critical aspect of its use is how long THC-0 lasts. Its effects can last based on dosage, pattern of use, metabolic rate, and the form in which it is consumed. Usually, the effects can last anywhere between 3 to 8 hours, and the THC metabolites can be detected in hair samples for up to 90 days, in saliva for up to 48 hours, in urine for up to 30 days, and in blood for up to 36 hours.

Potential Benefits of THC-O

There is a lot of debate as to how beneficial THC-O effects are. Some studies have proven how many of the effects often associated with its use may be not so potent. It has been said that THC-O has psychedelic properties. However, researchers have shown that the actual effects may not be so strong and may primarily be restricted to increased relaxation, better mood, and pain suppression.

A lot of anecdotal and self-reported evidence suggests the following potential benefits of THC-O use:

Pain Relief

Some people have reported that its use may aid with pain relief in conditions where a person is suffering from chronic pain like arthritis, back pain, etc.

Increased Appetite

Similar to other forms of THC, an increase in appetite after THC-O use has also been reported among regular users.

Lesser Tolerance Buildup

People who have used THC-O often report that compared to other forms of THC, it has a lesser tolerance buildup over time. So, you need lesser quantities compared to other forms of THC to produce similar effects.

Relaxed State

THC-O may induce a relaxed and calming state of mind in those using it for stress management or anxiety relief.

What are the Risks and Side Effects of THC-O?

There are a lot of THC-O effects associated with its misuse, especially when you have no tolerance for it. Here are some of the side effects and risks associated with THC-O use:

Anxiety & Paranoia

Some people may end up suffering from psychedelic effects, which can induce feelings of anxiety, unease, nervousness, and even paranoia.

Dizziness

People have reported feeling lightheaded after THC-O use, inducing dizziness and causing them to experience spinning sensations.

Sedation

Users may have a deep sense of relaxation, which can cause drowsiness and sleep induction. So, it is advised not to drive after using THC-O products.

Vomiting

In some cases, people may have feelings of nausea and vomiting.

Seizures

Rarely do some people with sensitive nervous systems end up having seizures. This is why starting with low doses and building tolerance over time is crucial.

Lung Damage Due to Inhalation

Recently, it was reported that inhalation of THC-O acetate may be dangerous and associated with EVAI lung disease.

THC-O vs. Delta-9 THC vs. CBD

THC and CBD (cannabidiol) are two different forms of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both are naturally occurring and have distinct effects on the human body. However, where THC is known for the “high” associated with cannabis use, CBD is primarily a non-psychoactive molecule. THC has several different forms, such as Delta-8 THC, Delta-9 THC, and Delta-O, to name a few. THC-O, when compared to Delta-9 THC, is 4 times more potent.

Due to their varying properties, these chemical molecules can be used for different reasons. Different forms of THC also have different effects and mechanisms of action. Let’s see the variance in THC-O vs THC Delta-9 and CBD in detail here:

THC-0 Delta-9 THC CBD
Type Synthetic Natural Natural
Chemical Structure Acetate ester of THC THC variant Different from THC
Source Synthetic production Cannabis or Hemp Usually Hemp
Legality Illegal Primarily illegal (federal), legal (in some states) Primarily legal (Hemp less than 0.3% THC)
Psychoactive Effects Relaxed state Euphoria & altered perception Non-psychoactive
Potential Benefits Pain relief, Increased appetite Pain relief, nausea, appetite stimulation Anti-inflammatory, anxiolytic properties
Side Effects Paranoia, coordination issues Increased heart rate, memory impairment, coordination issues Drowsiness and appetite changes

What’s the Legality?

There are a lot of questions involving the legality of THC-O. With THC, it can be a complicated subject. When first manufactured, it was a way to get all the Delta-9 THC benefits without having to use it. But Delta-9 THC and THC-O are very different things. The 2018 Farm Bill clearly states that cannabinoids that are made from federally legal hemp are also legal (excluding some states that do not allow their sale and use). So, it was assumed that THC-O is legal as it can be derived from hemp plants with 0.3% THC content by dry weight.

However, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has concluded that THC-O is not a naturally occurring hemp plant derivative but is later synthetically made. This makes the THC-O a controlled substance that is illegal under federal law. This was first shared in a blog post by Rob Kight, an attorney who corresponded on its legal status with the DEA. But it is still widely available online, and no significant action has been taken against its sale.

How to Use THC-O for Optimal Effects?

As THC-O is more potent than typical THC forms, it is important to start small. For a person who is new to THC-O use, the dosage may differ from the experienced user. It also means that different people should try THC-O several times at different dosages before finding limits for themselves. Here are some of the critical considerations for every type of user:

Beginner

People who are first-time users and have no experience with any form of THC may be best served by first trying milder types of THC. If you have to start with THC-O, you may want to consider starting with only a 1-2 mg dosage once a day.

Some Experience with THC

People who have consumed THC before may begin with dosages as high as 3-5 mg once a day. Such users may begin to experience potent effects near 10 mg dosages, so staying beneath that is an excellent way to go about it.

Experienced THC User

People who have a lot of experience with THC can start with 5 to 10 mg per day. These people should consider a threshold of 25 to 40 mg per day.

Takeaway

Now that you understand what THC-O is and how it works, we will leave you with one piece of advice. Start low and go slow. THC-O can have amazing effects for those looking for a pleasant, mind-altering experience, but the best things come to those who wait. Let your body get familiarized with THC-O before you start experimenting, as it is a pretty potent form of THC. Listen to how your body responds and adjust accordingly.

Frequent Ask Questions

Dr. Saira Zulfiqar, PharmD
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