If you’re somewhat of an experienced cannabis user, you might be surprised to find out that there’s a substance that you haven’t heard of doing the rounds. This might make you feel a little ignorant, but don’t worry – you’re not alone. This substance, THC-O, doesn’t get a lot of attention within the community, as it isn’t really used in a do-it-yourself fashion like oils such as THC and CBD. There’s also some pretty intense chemistry involved, which can make it less accessible to casual users.
Because of this, most people either haven’t heard of THC-O or simply don’t bother with it. Despite this, increasing progressive attitudes towards cannabis all over the world is helping THC-O to emerge as a frontrunner within the community, in terms of both recreational and medicinal cannabis use.
To help you wrap your head around THC-O and how you might be able to benefit from it, we’ve put together a detailed breakdown of the science behind this mysterious compound. Keep in mind that we’ll be getting into some pretty serious chemistry, but we’ve done our best to simplify it as much as possible to help even the most scientifically-illiterate readers understand it.
THC-O is the shortened term for a compound called THC-O-Acetate. Confusingly, you might also hear it referred to as THC Acetate and ATHC, which is way too many names for one substance. Thankfully, the casual nature of the cannabis industry means that you’ll likely hear the shortened name more often than not, so for now, we’ll just refer to it as THC-O.
Keep in mind that the order of the letters in the acronym is important. Don’t get it mixed up with THCA, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, and is actually the parent molecule of THC. There are two major differences between THCA and our compound ATHC (or, THC-O). Are you still with us?
The first difference is distinct, and it’s that the ‘A’ actually stands for a different word in each acronym. As you can see, it stands for ‘acid’ in THCA, but in ATHC, the compound that we’re focusing on today, it stands for ‘acetate’.
Secondly and importantly, THC-O can only be produced in a laboratory environment – any old Joe can’t just take a trip to the hardware and knock it up in their garage. The process is actually quite dangerous, and it could result in huge flames and third-degree burns, to say the least.
So like we mentioned earlier, be sure to note where the ‘A’ sits in each acronym because getting them mixed up could be potentially disastrous.
To use a scientific explanation, cannabinoids are chemical compounds that affect certain receptors in your brain, giving you the ‘high’ that you’re so fond of, relieving your pain, and helping you deal with your anxiety. Like THC, CBD, CBG, CBN, THC-O is a cannabinoid.
The only difference? THC-O doesn’t occur in nature. It’s produced in a lab, using some seriously impressive (and dangerous) chemistry. This chemical process actually removes all of the beneficial compounds, leaving behind a very potent THC isolate. The beneficial compounds that get removed during the chemical process include terpenes and flavonoids, which results in the final product, THC-O, having no flavor and no aroma.
Essentially, all you’re left with after the process is complete is a heavy brown liquid that bears a slight resemblance to engine oil. This final product is known in scientific circles as an ‘analog.’ This means that it has a structure that resembles another compound but differs in regards to a certain aspect of it. In the case of THC-O, it is very similar to THC. This makes it an analog of THC or a ‘THC analog.’
Confused? Don’t worry – read on. We’ll break it down even more.
At the end of the day, we’re all visual creatures. We’ve found that the best way to explain complex scientific ideas is by using pictures. This is especially true for explaining the difference between THC and THC-O. Below we have a picture of a beautiful THC molecule:
Don’t worry – we don’t really understand it either. There are some lines, a few capital letters, and a couple of tiny numbers. Great. What do they mean?
Do your best to ignore the letters and numbers for now, and focus instead on the overall shape of the molecule. This whole thing will become clear when you look at the picture of the THC-O molecule:
Can you spot the difference? Aside from there being fewer letters and no tiny numbers, the upper right corner of the molecule is distinctly unique. The top picture of the THC molecule features the letters ‘O’ and ‘H,’ while the bottom picture of the THC-O molecule simply has an ‘O’ and a set of lines. These lines represent the ‘acetate’ molecule that we spoke of earlier.
This new acetate molecule is the main thing that makes THC-O different from THC. In fact, it makes it downright special. This is because adding a molecule of acetate actually makes THC-O much stronger than its regular THC counterpart.
Most cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD are known as lipids, or ‘fatty oils’ in layman’s terms. Since they are products that we can consume, they are also fat-soluble. This means that they dissolve in oil.
Fat-soluble substances undergo a different process in our bodies than water-soluble ones such as vitamins and fiber do. To put it in terms that we’ll all understand, our body puts fat-soluble substances through an extra filter before it draws the necessary nutrients into our bloodstream.
When you apply this information to the context of cannabis use, this extra filter means you’re actually getting less THC in your bloodstream and, as a result, your brain. Your brain is where the receptors are located, so that’s where you want the THC to end up!
As we mentioned earlier, water-soluble materials actually skip that extra filtering step, meaning they go straight into your bloodstream. This allows your body to use more nutrients from water-soluble compounds than it can from fat-soluble ones.
Unfortunately, THC-O is not water-soluble, meaning it goes through that filtering process in our bodies. This means that it doesn’t allow us to experience the effects as quickly. It also results in a lower potency, which isn’t exactly an attractive quality. Sadly, consuming a THC-O product means you’ll get a lower percentage of the molecules in your bloodstream.
Don’t panic though – we’ve got some good news. The molecules of THC-O are actually much stronger and therefore much more potent than regular old THC. So, even though that annoying filtering process means you’re getting fewer THC-O molecules to your brain, the ones that do get there will have the exact effect you’re hoping for.
And now, the moment we know you’ve been waiting for… Just how strong is THC-O? Well, lab tests have shown that THC-O is a whopping 300% stronger than regular THC! Remember that acetate molecule we spoke about? That’s where that strength comes from.
Look, we get it. That’s pretty strong. Why would anyone need anything that strong when good old regular THC gets you high just fine? Well, not everyone uses THC solely for recreational purposes. Many use it for medicinal purposes, and this is where the strength of THC-O really comes in handy.
Obviously, we’re all built differently, and as a result, our bodies are all biologically different. In many people, the medicinal effects of regular THC, such as pain and anxiety relief, just don’t cut it. They need something stronger to relieve their pain. For some, THC-O is exactly what they need.
For all intents and purposes, THC-O is simply a different version of THC. Due to this, it is able to stimulate the receptors in the brain in a far more effective way than regular THC. So for people who don’t experience adequate relief from THC pills or oils, a product made from THC-O might be the best possible alternative. This is the reason that THC-O is becoming increasingly popular: the potential medical benefits.
If you’re reading this and thinking about trying TCH-O for the first time, we’d recommend starting out small. If you find that you’re not getting the effect you want, you can slowly increase your dosage. Obviously, experiencing an overdose on cannabinoids is difficult, but you don’t want to take too much and end up having a bad trip. No one enjoys that.
We all know exactly what effect regular THC has on our bodies. THC-O is no different in that regard; however, it does result in a very specific type of high.
Many people who have used products derived from THC-O have described that high as incredibly spiritual and satisfyingly introspective. Some people have even said that the high is similar to that of hallucinogens such as LSD and mushrooms – which is something that you won’t experience with regular THC products.
One thing to keep in mind is that, similar to edibles; you will likely need to wait about 20 to 30 minutes before you experience any effects. This is because your body needs time to break down the famous acetate molecule from the THC before it gets sent to your brain.
If you’re thinking of trying THC-O but are sitting on the fence about whether you should, we’d recommend giving it a go. How else will you be able to decide if it’s right for you?
Before you try any THC-O products, make sure that you’re buying them from a reputable dispensary. Talk to the staff about what you want – they’ll be able to provide knowledge and experience to help you find the right product for you.
If you’re going to walk away with any piece of advice from this article, make sure it’s this one: Don’t attempt to make THC-O on your own. It is a very specialized process that requires special equipment and advanced training to perfect. The chemicals used in the process of making it are volatile, flammable, and explosive and should not be used by anyone without the necessary training.
If you plan on using any products derived from THC-O, ensure you always purchase them from a licensed dispensary.
We hope we were able to clear some things up for you about THC-O. If you do try it, we hope you enjoy it!