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What is THC-O? Effects and Abuse

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What is THC-O?
Picture of Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Mohsin Ali, MD

Dr. Mohsin Ali MD is board certified in Psychiatry and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Trained in Syracuse NY, he has worked in Tennessee for the last sixteen years.

Table of Contents

Recently, THC-O, a cannabinoid known for its potent psychoactive effects, has become increasingly popular. This compound is believed to be significantly stronger than THC, the primary psychoactive component in marijuana. Due to its elevated potency and the limited research regarding its health impacts, THC-O has raised concerns among users and healthcare professionals alike.

What is THC-O?

THC-O, or Tetrahydrocannabinol acetate, represents a synthetic cannabinoid, distinct from naturally derived cannabinoids like CBD and CBN which are extracted directly from hemp. Unlike its natural counterparts, THC-O cannot be found naturally in cannabis plants and must be chemically synthesized.

The production of THC-O involves the use of acetic anhydride, a highly flammable and colorless liquid used across various industries, including pharmaceuticals and plastics. This process starts with the extraction of delta-8 THC from hemp, which is then combined with acetic anhydride to create THC-O. Although research is sparse, it is generally believed that THC-O is up to three times more potent than THC.

Users often report that THC-O offers more intense effects compared to other cannabinoids, with some describing the experience as spiritually profound, which can be unsettling. In terms of legality, THC-O occupies a gray area. The 2018 Farm Bill, signed by former President Trump, legalized hemp and its derivatives with less than 0.3% THC on a federal level. However, this legislation also maintains that synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain classified as Schedule I substances, which are considered to have no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

In September 2021, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) clarified that delta-8 THC synthesized from non-cannabis sources falls under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) as a tetrahydrocannabinol. Following this interpretation, THC-O, derived from delta-8 yet containing synthetic elements, could be deemed illegal. However, as of now, THC-O has not been explicitly listed as a Schedule I substance under the CSA, leaving its legal status somewhat ambiguous.

Is THC-O Addictive?

The question of THC-O’s addictiveness remains open, necessitating further research to determine its potential for dependency. Initial findings, such as those from a study in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, indicate that THC-O may bind less effectively to the brain’s CB1 receptors compared to THC. These receptors are largely responsible for the psychoactive effects associated with cannabis use. Although this could suggest a potentially lower risk of addiction for THC-O, conclusive results are needed to verify these preliminary observations.

Is THC-O Legal?

As of February 2023, the DEA classifies THC-O as illegal under federal law, following the stipulations set by the 2018 Farm Bill, or the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This legislation legalized industrial hemp, which is cannabis containing no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC concentration. Although this led to the proliferation of numerous hemp-derived cannabinoids, including THC-O, the compound falls under the regulatory scope that still defines it as illegal due to its synthetic nature and the methods used in its creation.

Is THC-O Safe?

The safety of THC-O remains uncertain due to limited research on its long-term effects and potential risks. This uncertainty is compounded by the use of hazardous chemicals in its production process. Chemicals like hexane—a neurotoxin linked to organ damage in animals, petroleum ether—a solvent known for its toxic effects, and acetic anhydride—a compound used in various industrial applications, pose significant health risks. These substances can be extremely toxic and corrosive, and may even carry carcinogenic and reproductive risks.

The lack of stringent regulation and oversight in the manufacturing of THC-O raises concerns about the quality and safety of the final product. Improper handling and incomplete chemical reactions by inexperienced chemists could leave dangerous residues in the product. In 2021, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority highlighted these dangers following several hospitalizations linked to THC-O, where patients experienced severe symptoms such as vomiting, seizures, and speech difficulties—effects that mirror the toxicity of the chemicals used in THC-O synthesis.

Given its novelty and the associated health risks, the true impact of THC-O usage is not yet fully understood. This makes THC-O a risky substance, with potential adverse health effects possibly due to both the drug itself and the toxic compounds used in its synthesis.

What Does THC-O Look Like?

THC-O is typically found in various forms including tinctures, vape cartridges, pens, and edible gummies. Alone, it appears as a dark brown, oily liquid. These products are commonly sold by retailers offering THC items.

How Does THC-O Differ From Other Forms of THC?

THC-O, while sharing its roots with familiar compounds such as delta-8 and delta-9 THC, is fundamentally different due to the inclusion of acetic anhydride in its synthesis. This addition not only alters its chemical structure but also significantly changes how it interacts with the body.

One of the key distinctions of THC-O is its potency, which is estimated to be three times greater than traditional marijuana. This heightened potency, combined with its chemically altered composition, makes the effects of THC-O unpredictable and potentially more intense.

Additionally, THC-O acts as a “prodrug,” meaning it boasts high bioavailability and is metabolized swiftly by the body. However, its onset is slower than that of standard cannabis, particularly in edible forms where effects may take 30 minutes or more to manifest.

These attributes contribute to the growing concerns and complexities surrounding the use of THC-O.

Side Effects of THC-O

While some users turn to THC-O for its pain-relieving, appetite-boosting, and anxiety-reducing properties, this synthetic cannabinoid is often more psychoactive and potent than its natural counterparts, leading to a range of adverse effects. These include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Sedation or dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Increased tolerance
  • Elevated risk of mental health disorders
  • Psychosis
  • Cognitive impairment

The long-term side effects of THC-O remain largely uncharted due to its recent emergence and the scant research available. Its synthetic nature and unregulated production heighten its risk profile. Products labeled as pure THC-O may contain other undisclosed chemicals or contaminants, adding to the potential danger. Furthermore, THC-O could intensify existing mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety, or depression due to its potent effects, purported to be three times stronger than naturally occurring THC, though precise potency levels are currently undetermined.

Signs of THC-O Abuse

Can THC-O Be Abused?

Like marijuana and other cannabinoids, THC-O can also be misused. Due to its unclear legal status in the U.S., individuals unable to access legal marijuana or psychedelics might turn to THC-O. Signs of misuse include increasing usage frequency, taking higher doses, combining THC-O with other substances, or using it to self-medicate mental health issues like depression or anxiety without medical guidance.

Signs of THC-O Abuse

Identifying substance abuse, including that of THC-O, involves noting various behavioral and physical changes. The abuse of THC-O can manifest through several symptoms:

  • Persistent dry mouth
  • Coordination and balance difficulties
  • Increased appetite
  • Continuous drowsiness or lethargy
  • Red, bloodshot eyes
  • Impaired motor skills
  • Slowed response times
  • Continued use despite adverse effects
  • Secretiveness about personal activities or locations
  • Shifting social circles, often associating with new friends
  • Prioritizing THC-O use over personal relationships and important activities
  • Frequent, unexplained absences from work or school
  • Declining performance in professional or academic settings
  • Withdrawal from family and close friends
  • Possession of paraphernalia like rolling papers, water pipes, vape pens, or e-cigarettes
  • Reduced judgment capabilities
  • Memory issues
  • Decreased concentration and focus

More severe symptoms of THC-O abuse may include psychosis, characterized by hallucinations and delusions, which can lead to profound psychological distress. If you observe any of these signs in someone you know, it might be time to consider professional help.

Our Chattanooga drug rehab provides comprehensive addiction treatment and therapy programs tailored to support recovery from various substances. Contact us at 423-460-9766 or fill out our online form to discover more about our services and how we can assist in the journey to recovery.

Dangers of THC-O Use

THC-O, like many cannabinoids, is produced in an unregulated environment, raising significant safety concerns. Claims of natural composition notwithstanding, the synthesis of THC-O invariably involves synthetic chemicals, the specifics and proportions of which are often unknown to the user. This uncertainty makes it impossible to predict the substance’s potency and potential reactions.

THC-O also functions as a prodrug, meaning its psychoactive effects are not immediate but occur once the body metabolizes the substance. Users might not feel its impact for up to 30 minutes, potentially leading to overdose as individuals might consume more, thinking the initial dose was insufficient. This risk is even greater with THC-O edibles, where the onset of effects can be delayed for several hours, misleading users about the actual potency and prompting them to consume excessive amounts.

Will THC-O Show Up on a Drug Test?

THC-O, a synthetic variant of THC, is highly likely to be detected in a drug test due to its chemical similarity to THC. Despite minor differences from the extraction and purification processes, THC-O shares a similar metabolic pathway and half-life with standard THC. As a result, like THC, it can remain in the body for an extended period, potentially taking months to be completely cleared from your system.

Addressing THC-O Abuse in Chattanooga, TN

If you or someone close to you is grappling with THC-O abuse or marijuana addiction, seeking immediate professional help is crucial. The rising popularity of THC products has prompted an increase in rehab facilities offering specialized treatment for THC-related issues. As a result, those facing challenges with THC-O abuse have access to numerous rehab programs tailored to address marijuana and its derivatives.

Embarking on rehab can be intimidating, but many dual diagnosis centers offer comprehensive treatment approaches that consider all aspects of an individual’s health. These programs are designed to equip patients with the necessary tools for lasting recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with THC-O abuse in Chattanooga, TN, don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact us today at 423-460-9766 to learn how we can assist you in overcoming THC-O addiction and transforming your life.

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