THC-O Acetate: Is it Safe?

Learn more about what this THC derivative is.


The 2018 Farm Bill not only opened the floodgates for a fully legal hemp industry to finally take shape in America, but it also led to what for many was the unintended consequence of hemp-derived psychoactives. Faced with an extensive biomass of CBD hemp, enterprising entrepreneurs began synthesizing a dizzying array of hemp-originated THC derivatives, beginning with Delta-8 and spinning off into several new varieties: THCP, HHC, Delta-10 and many others you’ve probably seen online.

Perhaps the most significant one is THC-O Acetate due to its unique backstory and particularly strong effects. The Federal Government has known about it for quite some time; the infamous Edgewood Arsenal experiments in the 1950s and ‘60s tested different types of psychoactives on enlisted soldiers in a quest to determine a specific substance that could incapacitate enemy troops. And while little is known about the program’s details, it’s speculated that THC-O Acetate was among the substances tested. Today, THC-O Acetate is created by chemists from a base of either Delta-9 or Delta-8 combined with a chemical reagent called acetic anhydride. THC-O is usually vaped or eaten in the form of gummies.

However if you are inhaling THC-O, watch out: a paper published in December, 2022 in the Journal of Medical Toxicology (JoMT) found that when heated, THC-O Acetate produced in its thermal degradation process a particularly toxic chemical called ketene. The JoMT further indicates that Ketene as a gas is a toxic substance which reportedly can restrict alveolar passages and may even lead to death by pulmonary edema. Ketene production apparently happens whenever acetates are heated — as you may recall, vitamin E acetate was implicated in the EVALI outbreak of 2019, which claimed 68 lives in 2019 before finally subsiding.

It's uncertain whether enough ketene gas is created by a THC-O Acetate cart to stimulate EVALI, and it should be noted that THC-O edibles are not implicated by the JOMT’s research. EVALI is a lung disease, not a gastrointestinal one. However, the consumer advocacy group NORML were alarmed enough by the findings to release a warning at the beginning of 2023. “NORML has long cautioned against the ingestion of these novel, unregulated products, and has called on the US Food and Drug Administration to act expeditiously to provide regulations overseeing their manufacturing and marketing,” it said on its website. “NORML has further suggested that consumers desiring certain less prominent cannabinoids, like plant-derived Delta-8, CBG, CBC, THV, etc., obtain products containing them from state-licensed dispensaries – not from the unregulated market.”

THC-O’s Allure

Those adventurous sorts who do choose to use it speak of a stronger, more psychedelic effect than standard cannabis products. Studies on the effects of THC-O in humans are practically non-existent, however, on its website, the National Capital Poison Center cites a study performed in animals that suggests that THC-O is twice as potent as delta-9.

Like its delta-8 relatives, the legality of THC-O Acetate is likely to shift. While still legal in Oklahoma, a warning by the State’s Medical Marijuana Authority in 2021 cautioned its patients of its presence in a product labeled as “Platinum OG Sugar.” New Jersey State Senator Declan O’Scanlon has gone even further, suggesting that the 2023 Farm Bill should close the loopholes and make the creation of hemp-derived psychoactive products illegal.

While he appears skeptical that this will happen, he introduced legislation to regulate the sale of such products in his state. “This is the bathtub gin of the cannabis space, it impairs people, it’s a growing problem, and it’s reckless to do nothing about it,” he said of the issue. “These substances are not made by hemp farmers but rather by clever chemists essentially reverse engineering and synthesizing these compounds. Lots of New Jersey businesses have invested in these products, they may very well have therapeutic value, but not recognizing the public safety concerns is irresponsible as legislators and local elected officials.”