THC-O: Whether you saw it in a headline or a store display, it's probably an unfamiliar string of letters. And if you surmised that it’s the latest form of THC made from hemp — correct! But you might still be wondering how it differs from other isomers, like delta-8 THC.
THC-O acetate is a psychotropic compound said to be three times as potent as THC.
It’s considered a “semi-synthetic” cannabis derivative. To make it, CBD is extracted from hemp and converted to delta-8 THC in a lab. Then, in a second process, the delta-8 is converted to THC-O by adding acid groups to the molecule.
THC-O can also be made from regular old delta-9 THC, but the current process is what allows it to be sold as a hemp derivative.
In a conversation with MJBizDaily, chemical engineer and microbiologist James Stephens said the chemistry involved in making THC-O isn’t complicated for a experienced chemist, but “getting it super clean – so it doesn’t have a bunch of side products in it – that gets much more difficult.”
There is currently no regulatory agency overseeing or the safety or purity of products with THC-O in them.
THC-O, Delta-8 and Legality
Like the delta-8 THC it’s made from, THC-O is not explicitly illegal under federal law.
When hemp was legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, lawmakers put a 0.3% limit on delta-9 THC specifically. This is the most naturally abundant and well-known tetrahydrocannabinol — and until recently it was known simply as THC.
Many states used the Farm Bill’s language verbatim in their own legislation. So as long as the delta-9 levels are below 0.3%, many enforcement agencies have been reluctant to act as if hemp-derived THC isomers are controlled substances. (The federal Drug Enforcement Agency has explicitly stated that only delta-9 THC is currently a controlled substance.)
Although several states have acted to restrict or ban these THC variants, in many states they remain unregulated.
One Difference May Be Key
As the story plays out, there may be one key difference between delta-8 and THC-O. THC-O doesn’t occur in nature. Delta-8, although made from hemp in a lab, is also produced by cannabis plants in small amounts.
“[T]he analysis is more complicated because THC-O is not naturally occurring in cannabis, including hemp,” wrote corporate and regulatory attorney Daniel Shortt for Green Light Law Group. “Therefore an argument can be made that THC-O is not a tetrahydrocannabinol in hemp despite being derived from cannabinoids in hemp.”
This may make it subject to the Federal Analog Act, under which any chemical that’s "substantially similar" to a controlled substance is illegal (if intended for human consumption).
Still, it doesn’t appear that enforcement agencies are taking any action on THC-O right now.
What About K2 and Spice?
As previously reported by Nothing But Hemp, the mind-altering cannabinoids in K2, Spice and other fully-synthetic cannabinoids are 100 percent made by humans. They have no source in nature. The exact chemical composition varies from product to product and even from batch to batch but, generally speaking, they are chemically designed to mimic THC and bind to the same receptors as naturally-derived THC.