In 2018, the Agricultural Act (also known as the Farm Bill) introduced a law that legalized hemp-derived compounds on a federal level. The loose verbiage stated that all derived compounds must be found naturally in the hemp plant and must contain 0.3% THC or less. Many states enforced their own legislature banning psychoactive compounds, but the majority of the 50 states welcomed the spike in revenue. The industry exploded with various compounds (most notably CBD and Delta-8 THC) and an entire market of edibles, sublinguals, and inhalable product types was created. Sales of these products skyrocketed as consumers had seemingly finally found a legal way to get high. Yet in February of 2023, a specific cannabinoid was outright banned: THC-O. In this article, we’ll be outlining just what THC-O is (or more accurately, was), why this particular compound met its shocking end, and what it could mean for future legislation.
What Was THC-O?
On the surface, THC-O seemed to be quite promising. A compound that was three times stronger than traditional THC, federally legal, and contained less than 0.3% THC. Seems legit, right? Not quite. It all boils down to how THC-O came into existence. While other compounds are naturally derived from the hemp plant (some in extremely low quantities), THC-O was actually a synthetic compound. Let’s explain.
In order to create (read: synthesize) THC-O, CBD must be extracted from federally legal hemp and extracted into Delta-8 THC. A highly flammable and colorless liquid called acetic anhydride is added to the extracted Delta-8 THC. Acetic anhydride is primarily used to create plastics, dyes, fibers, pharmaceuticals, and even explosives. The use of such a chemical required certified techs to operate specialized equipment, but companies managed to keep THC-O production costs low by producing massive quantities of all sorts of product types.
Why Was THC-O Banned?
Many companies that carried THC-O products interpreted the vagaries of the 2018 Farm Bill to mean that while THC-O doesn’t exist naturally in the hemp plant, it was derived from other naturally-occurring cannabinoids (CBD and Delta-8 THC). As long as it contained less than 0.3% THC and came from naturally occurring cannabinoids, no harm, no foul!
Unfortunately, the Drug Enforcement Agency argued otherwise. The DEA ruled that under the Controlled Substance Act, any and all synthetic cannabinoids are illegal. As of February 2023, all THC-O products were banned and immediately pulled from brick-and-mortar shelves and deleted from online websites carrying them.
But Aren’t Other Compounds Partially Synthetic?
It’s true that certain cannabinoids require chemical extraction to make the low quantities of specific compounds more readily available for commercial use. You may remember how HHC is made: hydrogenating a THC molecule, similar to how margarine is simply a hydrogenated form of butter. THC-O, on the other hand, is actually an acetate of THC and is not found naturally in the hemp plant. Even though it can be created using other naturally found compounds, the DEA argued that this was a blatant flaunting of the law and subsequently banned any forms of THC-O, including Delta-9 THCO or Delta-8 THCO.
How Does THC-O Differ From Delta-8 THC?
Here’s where it gets tricky. Delta-8 THC is one of over a hundred cannabinoids known to already exist within the hemp plant (albeit in very low quantities). Comparing that to THC-O, which must be completely created synthetically, it seems like Delta-8 THC is the better option. But there’s something unique, and possibly a gray area, about Delta-8 THC that you may not have known. Most Delta-8 THC that is commercially available is actually derived from CBD or Delta-9 THC. It is created by adding non-polar organic solvents and acids, making it viable to infuse into the vast variety of Delta-8 THC products currently in the market.
There have been some arguments regarding this method of obtaining Delta-8 THC. In fact, when questioned about the legal status of Delta-8 THC in 2021, the DEA had no clear answer on whether or not it should legally be allowed. There is still quite a bit of rulemaking and reviewing of comments going on regarding this particular cannabinoid, and it’s unclear what may happen to Delta-8 THC in the future, particularly since THC-O has met its unfortunate end. While Delta-8 THC effectively meets the criteria set under the 2018 Farm Bill (occurring naturally in the hemp plant and containing less than 0.3% THC), many states consider Delta-8 THC to be a controlled substance and have subsequently banned it.
What Should I Do With My THC-O Products?
If you currently possess or have been continuing to use THC-O products, you may want to reconsider. Two recent studies concluded that inhaling THC-O was similar to the 2019 epidemic of teens inhaling Vitamin E Acetate causing irrevocable lung damage and in extremely rare cases, death. When acetate is smoked or inhaled, it releases a dangerous toxin called ketene. THC-O has shown that when it is heated, the thermal degradation can potentially cause the formation of ketene.
There’s no concrete evidence that shows that every THC-O inhalable will create toxic doses of ketene, but the possibility of lung damage over prolonged (albeit small) exposure is simply not worth the risk. If you have old THC-O inhalables or are considering finishing the last few puffs, don’t do it. Discard them entirely. On a lighter note, it seems that THC-O gummies, tinctures, or other edible product types don’t pose the same risks. Since they are ingested and not actively heated, there is no formation of ketene and thus are considered safe to consume.
THC-O seemed to be a fantastic way to enjoy a potent high, but just like its effects, the compound was short-lived. The DEA has ruled that THC-O is not only dangerous to consume via inhalation, but also illegal in terms of how it is created. There’s also some concern on how the future of Delta-8 THC and other cannabinoids looks, as many must also undergo some chemical processing to make viable for commercial use. The 2018 Farm Bill brings concerns and questions for much of the cannabis industry, but for right now, it’s over for the synthetic cannabinoid known as THC-O.If you or your peers still have THC-O vape carts, disposables, or pre-rolls in your possession, toss them immediately. The possibility of ketene forming, even if you only occasionally inhale low amounts, is not worth the euphoric high. Other product types like edibles and sublinguals seem to be okay, but there are many other potent (and legal!) psychoactive cannabinoids available that will get you high in a matter of minutes.
Here at TwoHawk Extracts, we take safety very seriously. You may have noticed that we no longer carry any THC-O products and wondered why. Now you know! But rather than create a void, we decided to offer a brand new compound (along with several other familiar favorites) THCp! We currently carry THCp vape cartridges in three delicious strains, ready for your vaping delight! Check out these three THCp, Delta-8, 9 & 10 vape cartridges, each available in two grams. You can also browse our selection of Delta-8 THC, Farm Bill Compliant Delta-9 THC, and HHC products. Regardless if you prefer edibles like soft and chewy gummies, smooth tinctures, no-nonsense softgels or inhalables like vape carts or disposables devices, we’re confident there’s something for everyone on our shelves.
All of our products have been thoroughly tested by third-party independent labs for purity and potency. You can review the results of these tests by clicking on the embedded link in the product description or by scanning the QR code printed on the product packaging. In our next article, we’ll be comparing THCp with the famous Delta-8 THC compound: which one is stronger? Is one better than the other? Can we expect to see THCp edibles in the near future? Join us as we answer this and other fascinating questions regarding the wonderful world of hemp. We look forward to seeing you there!