Legal ambiguities surrounding THC analogues have precipitated a rise in popularity among certain cannabinoids over the past few years. Accordingly, interest in a little-known compound called THC-O-acetate has spiked recently.
Said to be three times more potent than THC, this rare cannabinoid is purported to produce psychedelic-like effects. However, with few verifiable accounts of its properties, large gaps remain in our understanding of this enigmatic substance.
What Is THC-O-Acetate?
As its name suggests, THC-O-acetate shares a chemical structure with THC but has an acetate group attached. According to some sources, this added feature allows the compound to penetrate certain barriers in the digestive tract and the brain, thus potentiating its effects.
Technically speaking, THC-O-acetate is a metabolic prodrug, meaning it only becomes psychoactive after being metabolised. In this case, the body must “de-acetate” the molecule by removing the acetate group to potentiate the compound.
Much of what we know about THC-O-acetate stems from research carried out by the US military between 1948 and 1975. In an attempt to determine whether or not the molecule could be weaponised as a non-lethal incapacitating agent, army researchers measured its effects on dogs. Results suggested it impairs muscle coordination about twice as much as regular THC.
Data regarding the effects of THC-O-acetate in humans, however, is pretty scarce. According to certain sources, the compound is 300 percent more potent than THC and generates trippy experiences similar to those occasioned by psychedelics. However, this has not been widely corroborated.
This lack of information is largely because THC-O-acetate is not easy to manufacture and is not readily available. Creating the molecule involves using highly corrosive, flammable, and explosive solvents, all of which must be handled under laboratory conditions. The result is a heavy brown oil devoid of terpenes, flavonoids, or other cannabinoids, meaning no taste or aroma. Because it must be metabolised to become psychoactive, the cannabinoid can take up to 30 minutes to produce its effects.
What’s the Difference Between THC-O and THC?
The easiest way to compare the two is by comparing imagery of the molecules:
I’m not a scientist either, so don’t worry if it doesn’t need to make a lot of sense. The differences will become clear when you look at this image of the THC-O molecule:
In the THC molecule, you’ll see an ‘OH’, and in the THC-O molecule take note of the ‘O’ and the new set of connecting lines. Those lines are the acetate molecule. It’s this addition that makes it special and increases its strength.
This tiny acetate molecule can increase the strength of the THC by 300%!
Is THC-O-Acetate Legal?
Like many similar compounds, THC-O-acetate exists in a legal grey area, particularly in the US. This confusion is primarily thanks to the Farm Bill, which legalised hemp in 2018. Because THC-O-acetate can be manufactured from hemp, it can be considered legal under certain interpretations of the law.
The compound can be created by extracting CBD from hemp and converting this into delta-8-THC. Finally, an acetate group must be added, resulting in THC-O-acetate. Whether or not this renders the substance legal is a matter of debate, as other laws state that all synthetic analogues of THC must be prohibited.
It’s a different ball game in the UK, however, as not only is recreational cannabis fully illegal but the Psychoactive Substances Act of 2016 places a blanket ban on all non-approved compounds. As such, THC-O-acetate is automatically illegal without the requirement for a specific law against it.
Legal loopholes aside, however, it’s unlikely that the substance will become widespread any time soon, as the difficulties involved with manufacturing it render it somewhat impractical.