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What is THC-O and what are it’s effects?

Written by Sabina Pulone

The acetate ester of THC, THC-O, is the semi-synthetic derivative of THC. [1] It can be made, within other methods, by treating THC or THCA with acetic anhydride. Once isolated the starting material from cannabis plant, through a series of processes including refluxing, distillation and purification it is possible to obtain the acetylated analogue of THC. [2]

The acetylation reaction add to the starting material a methyl group connected to a carbonyl group (CH3CO-) through a single bond: this synthetic modification doesn’t change the properties of the molecule, but increases its potency. THC-O is the highly bioavailable prodrug of THC capable of improving how the molecule is absorbed, distributed, metabolized and excreted from the body. The acetate ester of THC-9 is the most known, but it is possible to make the acetate ester of other isomers like THC-8 or THC-10 and other kind of esters adding for instance a phosphate group or succinate moiety. Because of the acetyl moiety and the improved pharmacokinetic, THC-O is about two to three times stronger than THC-9 and five times stronger than THC-8: once metabolized, the acetyl moiety is removed and THC is delivered to the body at much higher dosages. To metabolize the prodrug THC-O it takes around half an hour, after which THC effects appears evident, leading to increased appetite, relaxation, euphoria, psychosis symptoms including reality aberrations. In medicinal chemistry, drug modifications have been successfully exploited to improve therapeutic treatments for patients and to increase the performances of medicines: for those suffering from chronic pain who developed tolerance to THC, THC-O can be the solution. Depending on the acetylated isomer of THC, the psychoactive action of the molecule can be significant, leading to concerns for end users in the recreational market. Other concerns are related to THC-O safety profile and quality control testing residues of harmful chemicals in the semi-synthesized product. More scientific researches should be done to ensure a proper use of THC acetate esters and exploit safely and completely the great therapeutic potential. [3]


[1] Starks M (1990). Marijuana Chemistry: Genetics, Processing, Potency. Ronin Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9141-7139-3.

[2] M.D. Valentine (1996). Δ-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol acetate from acetylation of cannabis oil. , 36(3), 195–197. doi:10.1016/s1355-0306(96)72595-9 [Impact Factor = 0.966] [Times cited = 3] [3] Drotleff L. “THC-O-acetate safety concerns: Q&A with scientist James Stephens” MJBizDaily



About the author

Sabina Pulone