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Dangers of THC-O Abuse

Over the last decade, synthetic cannabinoids have grown increasingly popular. THC-O is a new synthetic cannabinoid that is extremely potent. Due to its chemistry, it is also exempt from many of the laws that are in place to regulate the majority of THC products. Due to both the potency and the legal classification of THC-O, it has been implicated in more and more adverse reactions and problems. If you or someone you know is struggling with THC-O abuse, the risks of continued use may be severe.

What is THC-O?

THC-O is a synthetic version of THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. While THC exists in the cannabis plant itself, THC-O does not. It is a man-made compound that is derived from natural components. THC-O is what’s known as an “ester” of THC. Esterification is a process in chemistry whereby parts of the original molecule are replaced by an acetyl group. This can change the way the molecule interacts with the body by changing the way it is metabolized. In the case of THC-O, the result is a potentially more potent compound than THC itself. While there is currently very little research available on THC-O, some initial reports have claimed it to be 3 times as potent as THC. Keep in mind that there is very little published research on THC-O as of this writing, and the truth of the matter is that nobody really knows just how much more potent it is yet.

How Is THC-O Made?

A point of concern regarding THC-O acetate is the number of differences in methods to produce this drug. Several different large THC product distributors are using the acetic anhydride method. This method was patented in 2019 by Nextleaf in the US and involves the chemicals acetic anhydride, hexane, and petroleum ether. This is a multi-step process that requires the addition of these potentially harmful chemicals in order to synthesize THC-O from cannabis oil. It has been claimed elsewhere that THC-O can be made in this manner from either Delta-8 or Delta-9 products.

Is THC-O Safe?

Because of how little research there is, the danger lies in the fact that we don’t know what the long-term effects may be and how this chemical will affect people. It could be more dangerous or addictive than regular marijuana. The fact that dangerous chemicals are used in the refinement and synthesis process is also an area of concern regarding these cannabis products. The lack of regulation and oversight of the manufacturing process can open the possibility of inexperienced chemists doing an improper or incomplete reaction, thereby leaving potentially deadly compounds in the “final” product. Some of the compounds used in the THC-O synthesis process that may be dangerous include:

  • Hexane: An industrial solvent and known neurotoxin. While this chemical is commonly used in the refinement of vegetable oils, this is done under very strict supervision with rigorous safety regulations in place. Hexane has been observed to cause testicular damage in male rats that had inhaled this compound. 
  • Petroleum Ether: This is a class of industrial solvents most commonly used in the printing and paint industry as well as the pharmaceutical industry in the manufacture of pills. It is known to have toxic effects in humans and studies on rats have also demonstrated organ damage and nervous system toxicity.
  • Acetic Anhydride: This is a chemical reagent that is commonly used in the manufacture of plastics, fiber, and explosives among others. While its name sounds unnatural, it is found naturally in the common grape vine. That being said, it can still be very toxic and corrosive to humans in the purities necessary for laboratory use. Acetic anhydride has also been shown to increase the risk of cancer and reproductive issues.

While under ideal conditions all of these compounds should be reclaimed from THC-O, the reality of the situation is that this is not always the case. In 2021, the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority released an advisory on the dangers of THC-O in response to multiple hospital visits due to THC-O adverse reactions. The health complications that led to these hospital visits included vomiting, seizures, and difficulty speaking. Vomiting is suspiciously similar to the negative health effects produced by ingesting any of the above chemicals and is normally inhibited by most other cannabinoids. 

That being said, it is still unknown what the negative health effects could be from THC-O use as this is still a fairly new recreational drug. These negative health effects may be due to the compounds used in THC-O synthesis or they may be due to THC-O use itself. At the end of the day, nobody knows enough about this drug yet to say for sure what the cause is.


Side Effects of THC-O

Though people typically use THC-O in order to relieve pain, boost appetite, or decrease anxiety, some other effects may also occur. This chemical is thought to be more psychoactive and potent than natural cannabinoids, causing symptoms like:

  • Hallucinations
  • Anxiety or Panic Attacks
  • Paranoia
  • Sedation or Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Increased Tolerance
  • Increased Risk of Mental Illness
  • Psychosis
  • Cognitive Impairment

Longer-term side effects of THC-O abuse are relatively unknown since it is a newer synthetic cannabinoid and there is little research regarding this substance. That is why THC-O is so dangerous. Though it is technically not illegal and it is assumed to be safe because of the little research, the fact of the matter is that we simply don’t know. THC-O is not naturally occurring and is manufactured in an unregulated setting, meaning that while the product may claim to be pure THC-O, there is no guarantee that other chemicals or drugs are not also mixed in.

There is also a serious concern about the ability of THC-O to escalate preexisting mental health issues. There has been a long and documented history of THC worsening mental health conditions that were already present in some form, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and major depressive disorder. It is also known that higher THC concentrations and potencies can increase this risk. While it is said that THC-O may be 3 times as potent as natural THC, the exact potency of THC-O is currently unknown. This may mean that THC-O could exacerbate pre-existing mental health conditions, but more research is needed to investigate this connection.

Treating THC-O Abuse

If you or someone you know is abusing THC-O, it is critical to seek professional treatment immediately. The increase in the overall use of THC products has generated the need for more and more rehab facilities with THC-specific treatment. Because of this, individuals who are struggling with THC-O abuse can find help at any rehab facility with marijuana treatment programs.

Rehab can seem daunting, but many dual diagnosis facilities address the entire individual as a whole in order to ensure that they are set up for success once the program has ended. If you or a loved one is struggling with THC-O abuse, give us a call today. See how we can help you break free from THC-O addiction and change your life for the better.

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