Article image

THC-O-acetate is not a psychedelic cannabinoid, according to scientists

Cannabis is a multifaceted plant housing about 100 cannabinoids, or compounds, that are yet to be entirely unveiled by science. Of these, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most known and studied. THC-O-acetate is a new and rising star.

As cannabis culture continues to evolve, numerous other cannabinoids are making their way into the market swiftly. THC-O-acetate is making the most noise in the marketplace.

THC-O-acetate is a compound rumored on social media, Reddit forums, and even manufacturers’ ads to have psychedelic effects akin to LSD or psilocybin mushrooms.

However, researchers have wildly overstated these reports of transcendental experiences. This, according to a new study led by the University at Buffalo and published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. This research is the first of its kind to inspect the alleged mind-altering effects of THC-O-acetate.

What is THC-O-acetate?

Researchers derive the semi-synthetic compound, THC-O-acetate, from delta-8 THC. This is another cannabinoid that has garnered substantial interest over the past few years among inquisitive consumers and cautious state legislatures.

In New Jersey, where cannabis is legal, lawmakers are presently mulling over a bill to outlaw delta-8 products.

Daniel J. Kruger, PhD, the lead author of the study, explains, “THC-O-acetate has been getting a lot of attention because people are saying it’s stronger than regular THC and there are these claims that it produces psychedelic effects. We wanted to study this and see, is there really a psychedelic cannabinoid? Can we find evidence that THC-O-acetate has this effect? And the answer is, not so much.”

Kruger, together with Jessica S. Kruger, PhD, initiated a study last year to examine user experiences with delta-8 THC. The scrutiny of THC-O-acetate was a natural progression.

The public health implications of this cannabinoid are vital, given that it’s an acetate. Heating acetates produces ketene, a toxic gas.

This issue rose to prominence in 2019 when vaping products containing vitamin E acetate led to over 2,800 hospitalizations and 68 deaths due to a condition known as “e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury” (EVALI).

Congress creates loophole with 2018 Farm Bill

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation federally. The bill defined hemp as cannabis with less than 0.3% THC, which is the compound responsible for the psychoactive “high”.

However, this legislation unintentionally opened the floodgates for manufacturers to produce and sell thousands of CBD-containing products.

These goods are often marketed with claims such as “sleep aid,” “pain relief” and “pet calming.” These assertions are usually unvalidated.

Retailers sell these products online, at gas stations, and in shops across the country. The danger resides in the fact that there is little research to confirm what’s truly in them.

Daniel Kruger says, “It opened up entire new markets for cannabis companies and created a sort of gray market pathway. It’s kind of like the Wild West. There’s a huge demand for CBD products and companies have jumped in to supply this demand. Of course, they want to make a product that will stand out and get attention. Everyone’s got CBD, here’s something else.” Hence, the emergence of THC-O-acetate.

How the THC-O-acetate study was conducted

In their research, Kruger and his team developed a survey involving nearly 300 participants. The researchers asked them to rate their experiences with THC-O-acetate based on various parameters.

These parameters included altered sense of time, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, euphoria, hallucinations, pain relief, paranoia, and relaxation.

They also completed the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ) to assess psychedelic experiences and indicated any prior use of classic psychedelics like LSD or psilocybin mushrooms.

Results of the THC-O-acetate study

The results revealed that a whopping 79% of respondents experienced THC-O-acetate as “not at all” or just “a little” of a psychedelic experience.

The experiences reported were mostly moderate relaxation, euphoria, and pain relief, falling significantly below the threshold for a complete mystical experience.

Participants with prior use of classic psychedelics showed even lower scores on all MEQ dimensions.

Why do some users report psychedelic experiences with THC-O-acetate?

Kruger points to three likely reasons. First, pre-existing expectations based on hearsay. Second, users confuse an intense high with a psychedelic effect. Third, potential product contamination.

The last point is especially concerning from a public health perspective.

“People have to be careful,” Daniel Kruger cautions. “It’s possible that some of these extreme effects are the result of some sort of contamination, and that’s one of the real dangers of these products if you don’t really know what’s in them.”

Many companies provide QR codes on product labels directing consumers to websites with detailed information on the product. But not all do.

He further comments, “There’s tons of interest in delta-8 and THC-O-acetate, and lots of claims being made about them with virtually no research. They’re really new to the consumer market and cannabis still has this weird mix of policies where it’s illegal at the federal level, so we don’t have national regulations, certainly not the kind of testing you’d have with a prescription drug.”

The research team comprised Carlton “CB” Bone, a graduate student who was studying online cannabis culture, Meredith C. Meacham, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and Charles Klein, PhD, a medical anthropologist at Portland State.

More about tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Scientists have widely recognized and extensively studied tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), one of the compounds, or cannabinoids, in the cannabis plant. THC primarily causes the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis use.

Here’s what we know about THC:

Psychoactive Properties

THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis. It’s the compound that makes people feel “high” when they consume cannabis. THC interacts with receptors in the brain, releasing dopamine and creating feelings of euphoria and relaxation.

Medical Use

THC has several potential medicinal benefits. It has been used to help with conditions such as chronic pain, insomnia, nausea and vomiting (especially in chemotherapy patients), appetite loss, inflammation, muscle spasticity, and certain types of mental health conditions like PTSD and anxiety.

However, the relationship between THC and mental health is complex and can vary greatly between individuals.

Consumption Methods

People can consume THC in many forms. You can smoke or vaporize THC, ingest it orally in foods, tinctures, oils, or capsules, apply it topically in creams or lotions, or use it sublingually under the tongue.

Side Effects

While many people use THC without adverse effects, some people may experience negative side effects, particularly with high doses. These can include anxiety, paranoia, dry mouth, red eyes, slowed reaction times, memory loss, and impaired motor skills. These effects are usually temporary and wear off as the THC leaves the system.

Chemical Structure

THC’s chemical formula is C21H30O2, and it shares this formula with its non-psychoactive counterpart, CBD (cannabidiol). However, the arrangement of atoms in the two compounds differs, leading to their unique effects.

Synthesis in the Plant

The cannabis plant synthesizes THC from a compound called cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Through the enzymatic process, CBGA is converted into tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), the precursor of THC. The heating process, called decarboxylation, converts THCA into THC.


The legality of THC varies by country and by state within the U.S. While some areas have legalized cannabis for medical and/or recreational use, in others, it remains illegal.

In the U.S., cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance under federal law. However, many states have chosen to deviate from federal law in their local jurisdictions.

Testing and Detection

THC can be detected in the body after consumption. The detection period can range from a few days to several weeks depending on the frequency of use and individual metabolism. It’s most commonly detected through urine testing, but can also be found in blood, hair, and saliva.

It’s important to remember that while THC has therapeutic potential, it can also lead to dependence in some individuals. This is especially true with chronic use.

Always consult with a healthcare provider for guidance if you’re considering using cannabis for medicinal purposes.

More about cannabidiol (CBD)

The cannabis plant contains a natural compound known as a cannabinoid, called Cannabidiol (CBD). It has gained substantial attention for its potential therapeutic effects.

These benefits can occur without producing the “high” associated with another cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

Here’s what we know about CBD:


Unlike THC, CBD does not have psychoactive properties. This means it doesn’t create the “high” or feelings of euphoria associated with THC.

This makes CBD a more appealing option for individuals looking for relief from various conditions without the mind-altering effects of marijuana or certain pharmaceutical drugs.

Medical Use

CBD is being studied for its role in treating a variety of health issues. These include chronic pain, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, and inflammation.

CBD is also known to help with neurological conditions. In fact, the FDA has approved a CBD-based drug called Epidiolex to treat two severe forms of epilepsy, Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome.

Consumption Methods

Like THC, CBD can be consumed in a variety of ways. These include oral ingestion (such as in capsules, edibles, or oils), inhalation (through smoking or vaping), sublingual administration (under the tongue), and topical application (creams or lotions).

Side Effects

Most people generally consider and tolerate CBD as safe, but it can cause side effects in some individuals. These can include dry mouth, reduced appetite, drowsiness, and fatigue. CBD can also interact with certain medications, so it’s important to discuss with a healthcare provider if you’re considering its use.

Cannabidiol and the Endocannabinoid System

CBD interacts with the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS), a network of receptors that help regulate functions like sleep, immune response, and pain. Unlike THC, which directly binds to these receptors, CBD appears to modulate these receptors and increase the amount of your body’s own endocannabinoids.

Legal Status

The legal status of CBD varies widely and can depend on whether it’s derived from hemp or marijuana. These are both varieties of the cannabis plant.

In the U.S., CBD derived from hemp (containing less than 0.3% THC) is legal at the federal level. However, some states have their own laws.

Quality Control and Regulation

Because the CBD industry is relatively new and lacks comprehensive regulation, product quality can vary greatly. Some products may not contain the amount of CBD they claim to.

Others may contain contaminants like pesticides or heavy metals. Some companies provide third-party lab reports for their products to ensure quality and transparency.

CBD and Drug Testing

While CBD itself wouldn’t show up on a drug test, many CBD products contain trace amounts of THC. Depending on the amount used and frequency of use, this could potentially result in a positive drug test for THC.

Remember, while CBD shows a lot of promise in the treatment of many conditions, much more research is needed to fully understand its benefits and potential risks. Always consult with a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement or medication, including CBD.

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day