If you’re like most of the fine folks in the cannabis community, you’ve probably never heard of THC-O. But don’t feel bad. You’re not somehow an inferior pothead, and you won’t have your cannabis card (an analog of the man card) revoked.
For that reason alone, THC-O is a non-starter for most people. And that’s a shame because, with the legalization of cannabis sweeping the planet, THC-O is emerging from the shadowy fringes as a viable (and powerful) option for both recreational and medicinal use.
Fair warning: we will be dealing with a lot of chemistry concepts (not to mention plenty of multisyllabic words), but we promise we’ll do our best to make it as accessible as possible.
What Is THC-O?
THC-O is the shortened name (the slang term) for THC-O-Acetate, also referred to as THC Acetate and ATHC. That’s a lot of names for one substance. And, yes, it can be confusing.
But the nice thing about cannabis culture is that it leans more toward brevity than accuracy (thank goodness or we’d always have to say or write “tetrahydrocannabinol”). So you’ll probably come across THC-O or ATHC more often.
And while we’re on the subject of names, it’s important that you don’t confuse ATHC with THCA (or THCa). THCA is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid — the parent molecule of THC.
As you can see from the full name, the “A” in THCA stands for acid. THCA occurs naturally in raw cannabis and converts to THC through decarboxylation. In ATHC, the “A” stands for acetate. That’s the first major difference.
The second major difference is that ATHC can only be produced in a laboratory environment. You can’t pick up a few tools at your local hardware and whip a batch of ATHC in your kitchen. The results would be disastrous (that means flaming death, boys and girls).
So when it comes to ATHC vs. THCA, be sure to make note of where the “A” is in the name (and even whether it’s upper or lower case) because the two chemicals are completely different animals.
The thing about THC-O is that it is not a naturally occurring cannabinoid (like THC and CBD). It takes some pretty hefty — and volatile — chemistry to create THC-O in a lab. That processing strips away all the other beneficial chemical compounds (terpenes and flavonoids) and leaves behind a potent THC isolate with no flavor and no aroma.
In its natural state (or unnatural state, to be more precise), THC-O is just a heavy brown liquid more akin to motor oil than anything else. And when all is said and done, THC-O is what’s known in chemistry circles as an “analog.”
An analog is a compound having a structure similar to that of another compound, but differing from it in respect to a certain component. In this case, the original compound is THC. That makes THC-O a THC analog.
Let’s investigate what that means in a bit more detail (with pictures!).
What’s The Difference Between THC And THC-O?
The best way to understand the difference between THC and THC-O is with pictures (they really are worth a thousand words).
Here’s a picture of a regular old THC molecule:
Yeah, we know, it’s just a bunch of letters and numbers. But don’t worry too much about all the Hs and Cs and 3s. Focus instead on the lines and shapes. Trust us, it will make more sense when compared to the picture of THC-O.
The biggest difference between the two pictures (aside from the lack of Hs and Cs and 3s) is the upper right corner.
In the top picture (THC molecule), there’s an OH. In the bottom picture (THC-O molecule), there’s an O and a new set of lines. That new set of lines is the acetate molecule (the “A” in ATHC).
It’s the addition of that new molecule that sets ATHC apart from regular THC and makes it special.
So what exactly does that new molecule do? We’ll answer that question in the next section.
Why Is THC-O So Special?
The addition of the acetate molecule to the base THC molecule does one very important thing: It makes the THC molecule stronger.
We know you’re dying to hear about THC-O’s potency, but hold your horses. Let’s talk about water solubility first because there’s a bit of confusion in that regard.
THC-O Is NOT Water Soluble
Cannabinoids like THC and CBD are lipids (fatty oils) in their natural state. So, as a consumable product, they are fat-soluble (meaning they dissolve in oil).
In your body, the dissolution of fats and oils undergoes a slightly different process than water-soluble substances like vitamins and fiber. In simplest terms, there’s an extra filtering step before the nutrients pass into your bloodstream.
The difference in those processes means that, when it comes to cannabis consumption, less THC makes it into your bloodstream (because of the extra filtering) and, ultimately, to your brain (where all the magic happens).
But water-soluble materials bypass that extra filtering step and pass directly into your bloodstream. That means more of the nutrient is available for use by your body.
THC-O-Phosphate — a cousin of THC-O — is water soluble, but, because of its chemistry, doesn’t dissolve very fast. This results in slower onset of effects and decreased potency than the regular THC molecule. Why would anyone want that?!
Does that mean that THC-O is water soluble too? Unfortunately, no. THC-O is not water soluble. Your body subjects the molecule to the same filtering process it does other fat-soluble molecules.
Because of those filters, you get a lower percentage of the molecules into your bloodstream when you consume a THC-O product.
But there’s good news to this whole water-soluble/not-water-soluble confusion: THC-O molecules are much more potent than regular smoked, dabbed, or ingested THC.
That means that even though there are less THC-O molecules available to travel to your brain (because of the filtering process), the relative few that get through will knock your socks off.
How much more potent is THC-O? We’ll give you the numbers in the next section.
THC-O Is Strong
Hold on to your butts! Lab tests show that THC-O can be 300 percent stronger than regular THC. Yes, you read that right: 300 percent stronger.
All of that because of a tiny acetate molecule! It makes you appreciate just how powerful chemistry can be.
If you’re a thinking cannaseur, you may be wondering why anyone would need something that strong. And you’d be right. So let’s do away with the notion of using THC-O for recreational purposes — regular THC does just fine at getting you high — and focus instead on medicinal uses. That’s where THC-O really shines.
It goes without saying that everyone is different. The biology of one person’s body is different from the biology of another person’s body. So, in some people, THC doesn’t have the desired medical effects (pain relief, anti-anxiety, etc.).
THC-O, though, is, for all intents and purposes, a different version of the drug. Because of that, it can stimulate the cannabinoid receptors in your brain in a way that regular THC can’t.
So where a THC pill or THC oil might not provide the pain relief you’re looking for, a THC-O product might be a viable alternative. That’s why more and more people are talking about THC-O these days — because of its potential medical benefits.
So if you’re considering trying THC-O for the first time, start small (very small would be best) and increase your dosage slowly. It’s difficult to overdose on cannabinoids, but too much can take you way too high and give you a bad trip.
That defeats the purpose of the whole endeavor.
What Are The Effects OF THC-O?
The medicinal effects of THC are pretty well-known. THC-O doesn’t differ in that regard. Where it does diverge is in its recreational effects (its high).
Many describe the effects of THC-O as very spiritual and introspective. Some even liken the trip to LSD and shrooms — something regular THC products can’t claim.
One thing of note is that, like edibles, you’ll have to wait 20 to 30 minutes before you feel the effects of THC-O. This is because your body has to separate (digest) the acetate molecule from the THC molecule before it’s sent to your brain.
Should You Try THC-O For Yourself?
Absolutely! Especially if you’re looking for a specific medical benefit. THC-O may be just the thing for you.
Having said that, it’s essential to note that you should always buy your THC-O from a reputable dealer. Talk to the professionals at your local dispensary. They can help you find just the right product.
And please, please, please don’t try to make THC-O on your own. The process requires special equipment and advanced training to get right. And volatile, flammable, and explosive chemicals are necessary.
It’s not worth your life (or your home or your eyebrows) to do something that a lab can do better and safer.
If you want to use THC-O, always buy, never DIY.