What is THC-O?

Discover more about this synthetic cannabinoid and what the potential risks are.

What is THC-O?
minute read

Medically Reviewed byDr. Caley Scott, ND

As cannabis products go mainstream and the industry evolves, it’s no surprise that certain products raise concerns about health and safety. This is bound to happen in gray-area markets where legalization is a work in progress, and consumers must use their best judgment to stay safe.

THC-O is a leading example of a synthetic cannabinoid that has flown under the radar of regulators due to technicalities about its origin and composition. 

While studies and knowledge are limited, we can offer some background info on the substance and share why you might want to seek natural cannabinoid options instead.

What is THC-O?

Also known as THC acetate or THC-O acetate, this is a potent cannabinoid, specifically a form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), derived from a chemical synthesizing process. The chemical structure is similar to delta-9 THC, which is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. 

The substance does not occur naturally in the hemp plant, but is instead created by breaking down THC into concentrated chemical compounds. The substance is typically a brown, oily liquid that can be vaped, but some products take the form of infused edibles like baked goods or gummies. 

Because the substance is synthesized, THC-O causes a powerful high when ingested and comes with a range of potential side effects.

The problem is that compared to hemp-derived cannabinoids like CBD, CBN, and THC, synthetically-derived compounds like THC-O are difficult to regulate. This presents legal challenges in addition to concerns about the health and safety of users.

Is THC-O legal?

Much of the controversy around THC-O has been due to its legal status. Until recently, the substance was not considered a controlled substance since the U.S. had no laws in place for “novel cannabinoids” that do not exist naturally in the hemp plant.

This meant THC-O producers previously had free rein in the sale and distribution of these products, selling them in smoke shops and ecommerce shops. It was difficult for the DEA and local officials to track and regulate these products, but the DEA clarified its stance on the substance in 2022.

Officially, the court decision found that THC-O doesn’t fall under the definition of hemp, since it must be produced through a synthetic chemical reaction. This has led to a crackdown on THC-O products, though some might remain in circulation as federal law enforcement makes up lost ground.

At this point, it’s best to stay away from THC-O. Not only is it illegal, but its safety has yet to be confirmed due to how it’s made. Because you may still find THC-O products online and in stores, some extra vigilance may be needed to stay safe. 

How does THC-O differ from other forms of THC?

THC-O shares a familiar name with compounds like delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC, but the use of acetic anhydride causes the chemical structure to shift into something novel and unique. The introduction of this flammable compound alters the THC molecule significantly, changing how it interacts with the body when ingested.

The main difference with THC-O is its potency. A typical serving of this substance is thought to be three times more potent than a standard marijuana dose. These effects are also harder to predict due to the unregulated, unnatural composition of THC-O.

Finally, THC-O is considered a “prodrug,” meaning it has high bioavailability and is metabolized very quickly. However, it can take longer to kick in compared to standard cannabis flower — sometimes up to 30 minutes or longer in edible form.

This combination of factors leads to a series of question marks and concerns surrounding THC-O.

What are the negative effects of THC-O?

With what we know so far, it’s easy to see why THC-O has lost legal status in the past year. This isn’t the THC you’re familiar with, and many other dangers aren’t worth the experimentation. 

The lack of testing and transparency should be enough of a red flag for anyone who tries to avoid consuming synthetics. Furthermore, the unpredictable nature of THC-O means that no two batches are alike, introducing new risks with each dose.

But what exactly can you expect in terms of negative effects when consuming THC-O? Here are some of the downsides and dangers of THC-O you want to remember.

1. Hallucinations 

The psychoactive effects of THC-O are not to be underestimated. Not only does the substance have triple the intoxicating effects of standard THC, but it is also known to produce hallucinations in users, even in smaller doses. 

While high doses of THC may provoke vivid visual effects in some cases, THC-O is known to cause significantly altered sensory experiences more often than not. This not only puts yourself at risk, but also has the potential to harm others if you are not cautious when and where you take THC-O.

With what we know about synthetic hallucinations and their effects on the brain —it’s probably not a good idea to pursue these experiences via THC-O or otherwise.

2. Paranoia

Cannabis users might be familiar with the feeling of paranoia that comes from THC consumption. It’s one of the well-known side effects of smoking cannabis or taking edibles and is thought to result from the overstimulation of the amygdala.

In short, paranoia can ruin the vibe of a cannabis experience as your mind starts to wander down negative or fearful pathways. With THC-O, reports of paranoia and negative thoughts are even worse since the potency of the drug is far more stimulating to the same receptors. 

You want a cannabis experience that keeps you calm and stable, especially if you have issues with anxiety. THC-O is one to avoid if you want to stay in control. 

3. Dizziness

Feeling dizzy means you’re feeling lightheaded, off balance, or disoriented in physical space. Since THC-O metabolizes quickly and hits all at once, it’s no surprise that the drug can cause dizziness for users who don’t quite know what to expect. 

It’s not just the THC factor that might cause dizziness in this case — other toxic compounds and additives that go into the production of THC-O might also be at play. Since lab tests are rare in the making of THC-O, we don’t know for sure what we’re consuming, which is always a red flag.

Cannabis is best used when it adds balance to your life (literally and figuratively). It’s wise to avoid any products that cause dizziness and work against your internal mechanisms of control and stability. 

4. Nausea and vomiting

Reactions to THC-O vary, but many users have reported instances of nausea and vomiting after ingesting the substance. This response may be attributed to the high potency of the drug, plus the combination of other effects like sensory disconnection and disorientation.

There’s also the possibility that nausea and vomiting are the body’s reaction to an unfamiliar and toxic chemical that enters the system unchecked. This can happen with tainted food or drinks, as well as medications with side effects. It’s a signal that the body doesn’t agree with the substance and wants to remove it.

Most users should be smart enough to realize that a nausea response to THC-O indicates something is wrong. If you take the substance and continue to feel nausea or vomiting, it might be time to rethink your THC approach and speak with a professional. 

5. Sedation

It’s common to confuse sedation with feelings of relaxation. You can feel relaxed and at ease while still having full control of your mind and body, and this doesn’t impact your daily life in a negative way.

Sedation, on the other hand, can be an issue with loss of motor skills and disorientation, both of which are associated with THC-O use. This indicates the suppression of the nervous system, along with a lack of alertness and other dangerous symptoms like reduced blood pressure or shallow breathing. 

This combination of effects can take a toll on your body, mind, or overall well-being. To get the relaxing effects of cannabis without risking the downsides, consider a live resin gummy product from Sunmed, with third-party lab results and no synthetics — ever.

Will THC-O show up on a drug test?

Because THC-O is a highly concentrated synthetic variant of THC, it is almost certain to show up on a drug test. This is because the chemical structure of the two compounds are nearly identical, with some minor differences resulting from the extraction and purification process. 

THC-O is metabolized by the liver and has a similar half-life to standard THC, meaning it may be months before your system clears out the molecules entirely.

Is THC-O safe?

The more we learn about THC-O, the more we can say with confidence that the substance is not safe—even when produced under optimal conditions. 

The problem is not only the high degree of potency and lack of natural foundations, but also the inclusion of toxic chemicals used in the preparation of the substance. 

Now that THC-O is on the way out, we are happy to see more people seeking natural cannabinoid solutions for a healthier, more happy lifestyle.

Does THC-O cause a more intense high?

The answer here is a definitive yes; THC-O definitely causes a high on par with large doses of THC. This might seem desirable for some users, but there are safer and smarter ways to get the effects of THC without the nausea, dizziness, sedation, and other downsides of THC-O.

In fact, many users find that lower milligram servings of THC are actually more pleasant because they allow for greater balance and control. We always recommend starting small with cannabis products, then slowly working your way up with a conscious approach. 

The bottom line

The worst of the THC-O saga is behind us, and we can all agree that’s for the best. THC-O is unregulated, unresearched, and presents dangers that goes beyond the parameters of a “bad trip” here and there.

At Sunmed, our focus is on transparency, trust, and cannabinoid education. We’re all about getting to the truth about hemp and sharing it with others through high-quality products and resources

In the meantime — stay alert about THC-O and other synthetic cannabis products. Stick to the natural goods, and your body and mind will thank you later.

To shop Sunmed's third-party tested, premium hemp wellness goods, shop the full collection here. For personalized guidance, visit your local wellness expert at one of our 400+ in-store locations nationwide. 


Vaping THC-O Acetate: Potential for Another EVALI Epidemic | NCBI

“Hallucinations” Following Acute Cannabis Dosing | NIH

Studies About Delta-9 THC-O Acetate are Limited | Poison Control

The Risks Involved With Using THC-O | Addiction Center

THC-O is not hemp and is illegal under Farm Bill, DEA says | MJBizDaily

New Study Raises Concerns Over Inhalation of THC-O | NORML