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Since hemp became federally legal in 2018, plant enthusiasts have been itching to go beyond CBD. After all, hemp contains hundreds of cannabinoids with different functions and effects. Why stop at CBD when US law specifies hemp, its extracts, AND derivatives are fair game? Plus, after CBD quickly saturated the market and diminished in value, many entrepreneurs looked towards the next big thing.
Enter Delta-8 THC, the most popular hemp product today, followed by Delta-10 THC, and now THC-O Acetate (THCOa). While not the sexiest of names, THCOa promises to rival the deltas for the hottest new hemp derivative that’s free from regulatory oversight (for now).
But not all industry experts are ready to accept THCOa’s as a retail-ready product yet. Matthew Guenther, Founder of the American Cannabinoid Association and Delta-8 Science, can’t wait to share his THCOa formula with the world. Still, he believes responsible producers must check off a few safety boxes first.
Here we sit with Matthew to get the inside scoop about this brand new THC ester, why he loves it, and what he thinks innovative brands must do before offering THC-O Acetate to consumers.
MG: It’s essential to note THC-O Acetate does not naturally occur in hemp or cannabis plants. It’s not a THC isomer like Delta-8 or Delta-10. It’s a derivative of hemp product.
The first time I saw THCOa produced was in the 1970s. But the process was different then. Scientists didn’t have access to the technology we have today. They were conducting what I might call “obscure street synthesis.” Since then, the compound has primarily gone unstudied–that is until the Farm Bill passed.
MG: Since the Farm Bill passed, hemp and cannabis enthusiasts have been eagerly playing with their equipment and experimenting with custom creations to bring to market. Forums like Future4200 reflect this community’s excitement and willingness to share ideas about producing different hemp-derived compounds.
You can produce THC-O Acetate from Delta-8 or Delta-9 THC. I recently read a Chemical Society write-up that described the process succinctly. Essentially, first, you need to create Delta-8, which is a THC isomer. You do this by “refluxing [hemp-derived] CBD in an organic solvent, such as toluene or heptane, with p-toluene sulfonic acid or another acid that serves as a catalyst.” Once you have Delta-8, you’re ready to convert it to THCO
According to the article, THC-O Acetate is an acetylated form of THC, meaning it does not naturally occur in cannabis plants. Acetylated compounds like THCOa are prevalent in pharmaceuticals. Chemical Society uses the example of acetylating morphine into heroin, but I think that’s an unnecessarily scary illustration. Another less frightening example is Aspirin, which scientists created by acetylating Salicylic Acid.
MG: The Farm Bill legally defines hemp as all parts of cannabis plants (that contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC), including isomers and derivatives. Delta-8 is both an isomer and a derivative. THC-O Acetate is not an isomer but is legally protected because it is, in fact, a derivative. I am personally very involved in the legal aspects of hemp, so I believe it’s essential to focus on the law’s language.
States like Florida have followed the USDA’s bill to a T, ensuring that hemp products like Delta-8 and THC-O A remain accessible to consumers. But other states have written additional language into law so they can ban Delta-8 despite the federal ruling.
Some States passed language that only banned Delta-8-THC, some States passed language that effectively banned both. That means, at least until next year’s legislative session, hemp brands have the opportunity to bring a newly legal product to market.
MG: I’m a hemp enthusiast, and I have a ready-to-go formula for THC-O Acetate. I believe in the product, I know we’re producing it with the highest quality standards, and I love how it makes me feel. I’ve already received numerous order requests, and I have COAs to prove it’s compliant.
But my ethics come first, and I’m going to wait to launch it until I can say with 100% certainty that the formula is clean. Sadly, however, I see others in the industry jumping the gun and potentially putting consumer health at risk.
THC-O Acetate is a brand new innovation, and there is not one verified laboratory in the country with a qualified reference standard and method for testing it yet. As a result, people could be selling formulas with large quantities of “questions marks.”
These questionable ingredients might be innocuous, or they could be dangerous. It’s pure speculation, but if I were in the business of speculating, I’d say there’s a chance some of these formulas contain unwanted byproducts like Delta-9 and other minor cannabinoids. Scarier, though, is that the formulas could have residual reactants like Acetic Anhydride if they’re not properly washed.
MG: I don’t have the definitive answer to that question. I think it’s vital that manufacturers start working with Universities to study THC-O Acetate’s precise metabolic processes. Some evidence suggests THC-O Acetate may behave as a prodrug orally, which means it could potentially convert to Delta-9 in the liver. But no one knows for sure.
MG: Everyone has a different biochemistry and experiences varied neurological effects. So I can only speak to my knowledge. But for me, THC-O Acetate vapes are significantly smoother than Delta-8. Don’t get me wrong, pure Delta-8 is very smooth, but THCOa is like inhaling nothing, and it delivers what feels like a more complete cannabinoid profile.
To me, Delta-8 is more supplemental. I take it for my shoulder pain, and I experience significant physiological relief. I also take it during the day because it helps contribute to increased focus. THCOa, on the other hand, delivers a total mood lift, in addition to its physiological impact. I would describe it as a classic euphoric effect, although not at all psychedelic. THCOa is also more of an evening substance because it is very relaxing. So for me, the formula feels very much like a true hybrid. I would compare it most aptly to the Pineapple Express cannabis strain.
MG: I’m not sure about that. I’m not a fan of comparing any cannabinoids using that language. I believe it’s dangerous to make those claims when scientists don’t fully understand the binding affinities of any cannabinoids. People talk a lot about CB1 and CB2 receptors, but they are not the only receptors that interact with these cannabinoids. It’s critical to investigate how these cannabinoids are functioning with other neurological receptors which will result in a more complete psychopharmacological profile for each specific molecule/formulation.
ACS: We have seen THC-O Acetate referred to as THCO, THC-O, THCOa. And noticed that the chat rooms and other forums call it THCO. What’s the correct term?
MG: I’ve heard people call it THCO as a shorthand but that’s wildly inaccurate from a chemical standpoint. The correct way to reference the compound is THC-O Acetate. You might be able to shorten it slightly to THC-O-A, but you absolutely must incorporate the A from a factual standpoint.
MG: I’ve seen it readily available in Colorado. I’m sure you can find these products in several other states as well, and online. However, I think selling these products is a big mistake.
To make THC-O Acetate, you need chemical reactants as well as a catalyst. And if you don’t produce the product with the utmost care, you can easily create a formula that leaves harmful chemicals behind. Before products go to market, verified laboratories like ACS must create verifiable reference standards to ensure purity, potency, and safety. Only then will I be comfortable launching this fantastic new hemp innovation to market.
Updated January 19, 2021
Since talking to Matt in August, our ACS team immediately began developing a THCOa safety testing bundle to guarantee high-quality products. The analysis includes precise methods to quantify THCOa potency and ensure products are free from non-compliant compounds like Delta-9 THC. The test also includes a method for a common residual chemical reactor that could compromise human health.
“When creating our THCOa Safety Bundle, we not only took the time to create a method for THCOa, but also a method for the potential harmful chemical, acetic anhydride, that is used as a reactor – to ensure safety and purity for the consumer and for ACS Laboratory to continue to be a good corporate citizen,” said Roger Brown, president of ACS Laboratory. “Although there is excitement surrounding this cannabinoid, safety is our main priority and we strongly encourage suppliers to take advantage of the bundle offering.”
[Learn more about the THCOa safety testing bundle in our recent press release.]