What is THCO?
As the cannabis market grows, so too does the number of cannabis-derived products. With sales exceeding a billion dollars in 2020 the legal cannabis trade is flourishing. Profits are expected to nearly double by 2022. The new product lines aren't the only contributing factor to this rapid growth, however. New basic derivatives are also fueling the market. Cannabis-derived variants are being promoted and are finding wider acceptance. The products range in terms of potency, safety and availability. One of the stronger variants is THC-O-Acetate
(THCO). It is substantially stronger than other versions of THC and has a unique user experience that is generating wide appeal. As its popularity grows, THCO's newcomer status leaves many questions unanswered. Some basic facts about the variant are undeniable, however, and worth considering as its impact on the cannabis market spreads.
What Is THCO?
Three primary aspects of THCO determine its nature.
● Composition – THCO is a synthetic analog of THC. It is extremely
psychoactive, with psychedelic effects in larger doses. Tetrahydrocannabinol
(THC) is the naturally occurring psychoactive element in cannabis that
produces its famous "high". In particular, it is the Delta-9 THC version that we
mean when we speak commonly of "THC". Another THC variant is Delta-8
THC. It is usually derived from hemp and has a less potent effect then Delta-9.
THCO can be made from either Delta-9 or Delta-8. The most common method
involves isolating Delta-8 from Cannabidiol (CBD), then using sulfuric acid and
acetic anhydride to convert it into THCO. The conversion process hydrolyzes
the carboxylic group of THC and bonds the psychoactive element with an
acetate group, transforming its nature. Both sulfuric acid and acetic anhydride
must be used in concentrated forms to achieve this result. Such chemicals are
extremely corrosive and dangerous. It is strongly suggested that only the most
qualified chemists attempt any manufacturing of THCO.
● Potency – THCO is an extremely intoxicating variant. It was originally
created by the Army Chemical Corps at the Edgewood Arsenal facility in
Maryland. Between 1949 and 1975 it was tested for use as an incapacitating
agent for guard dogs. The substance isn't naturally occurring but is capable of being manufactured in bulk. It is practically three times as potent as Delta-9 THC, though in low doses it may appear to be less potent than Delta-9. In larger doses it can disable its user, even causing loss of muscle control and
● Effects – Though THCO is three times the strength of regular THC, that
characterization comes with a caveat. When THCO is metabolized, what
reacts in the body is essentially Delta-9 THC. The difference between the two
compounds is mainly one of chemical 'availability'. Because of its acetate bonding, more of the intoxicating reagent of THCO is exposed to the system than with normal THC. The effect of this is a concentrated impact that has been called everything from "inspirational" to "spiritual". Whether you ascribe to metaphysical terms or not, one thing is certain: THCO has a powerful physical and psychological impact.
Is THCO Legal?
Information on the legality of THCO is a mixed bag. The substance created by the Army Chemical Corp was never regulated. There is no controlling law that specifically governs it. The 2018 farm bill legalized the growth and distribution of hemp-derived cannabis products.
The stipulation was that these products must contain no more than a .3% concentration of Delta-9 THC. The farm bill prohibits sales of products whose ingredients are hybrids or variations of the legal products. For technical reasons, THCO skirts the specifics of the law on most of these counts. The process that creates THCO isn't quite what the law describes, and neither is the THCO itself. Since individual states were given the right to regulate the nuances of the Farm Bill legalization for themselves, the nation has a mixed bag of permissiveness. Some states leave the door open for legalization of THCO, while others shut down the possibility altogether.
Is THCO Safe?
Very little hard research has been done on THCO. Its long term effects in humans is almost completely unknown. Reports of current uses are anecdotal and non-professional. There are countless online comments about the "feeling" of the high, but no broad-based medical information. Some industry leaders are worried about the gap, while others note that more widespread usage has led to no reported tragedies or dangers. In the publication Hemp Grower, board-certified neurologist Ethan Russo warned of problems arising from manufacturing error due to the possibility of unregulated practices. He warned against even trying the substance, even as popular usage increases.
How Does THCO Compare To Other Cannabinoids?
As a final checklist it's worth doing a quick comparison and contrast between THCO and other cannabis-derived substances.
● CBD – this non-psychoactive hemp-derived product is the best selling
cannabis substance on the market. It is found in gummies, salves, tinctures
and oils. It has a reputation as a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory and anti-
nausea remedy. CBD also is said to be an anti-anxiety aid that can calm the
mind and help relieve stress. THCO has little market crossover with CBD.
The only comparison between the two may be the availability of both
substances as smoking products and edibles.
● Delta-9 THC – THCO is seen as a possible "replacement" for the classic
intoxicant. Delta-9 is illegal in every state, and THCO is an attractive, more
potent alternative. THCO is more sedative than Delta-9 and much more
hallucinogenic. It also has more affect on muscle co-ordination and memory
functions, so out and out replacement has been slow to manifest in large
● Delta-8 THC – This variant is less intoxicating than Delta-9. It is considered
a "smooth" high. Most THCO on the market is directly derived from Delta 8.
● Other Substances – There are other cannabis-derived substances on the
horizon or just making their way to market. Compounds such as Delta-10,
THCP and HHC have various properties, from being true synthetic versions of
Delta-9 or in being thirty times stronger then THC.