What Is the Cannabinoid THCO?

Medically Reviewed By Naheed Ali, MD, PHD
What Is the Cannabinoid THCO? - Secret Nature

Also known as THCO acetate, THCO is an analog of delta-9 THC that works a little bit differently in the body. Scientists identified this cannabinoid more than 50 years ago but it has only become popular now as the delta 8 market has swelled.

Learn what THCO is, if it’s truly more potent than THC, if it’s legal, and if you can buy it online.

What is THCO?

THCO is a cannabinoid like Delta 8, Delta 10, and HHC that has many of the same properties as Delta 9 THC, which is the primary psychoactive constituent of cannabis. THCO is an acetylated form of THC that only activates after it’s processed by your digestive system. It is only available in synthetic forms and cannot be bred in hemp. It is not a widely used cannabinoid, but it is gaining popularity among cannabis users, particularly those in states where recreational cannabis is still illegal.

Ready for some chemistry? THCO is an acetate ester of THC, which means it has gone through a process called acetylation. To create THC-O, CBD from hemp plants is extracted and transformed into delta-8 THC. Then, delta-8 THC molecules are treated with acetic anhydride to produce THC-O acetate. In most substances, acetylation causes a massive potency increase, but in the case of THC, potency is only increased around 3 times since cannabinoids already bond with fats extremely well. 

Whether it’s written out as 300% or 3x, there’s a general agreement that THCO offers about triple the potency of THC. There’s no actual research to back up this position, however, aside from Army Chemical Corps experiments from the ‘70s that were done on dogs.

THCO overview

  • Synthetic analog of delta 9 THC
  • Believed to be 3x as potent as delta 9
  • Only kicks in after around an hour, though
  • Originally developed in US Army drug warfare experiments
  • Now sold online as a “legal” alternative to delta 9
  • Safety and effects are largely unknown
  • Only a few THCO sellers online
  • Lack of competition leads to reduced product quality
  • Most likely won’t last

How is THCO different?

In addition to having a considerably different chemical structure, THCO also behaves differently from normal THC. This cannabinoid only activates after being processed by your liver since it acts as a prodrug in the human body. Cannabis Alchemy: Art of Modern Hashmaking, written by D. Gold provided the synthesis instructions for THC acetate, which is said to be more spiritual and psychedelic than the regular product. The most notable feature of this material is that its effects do not become apparent for about 30 minutes. So, no matter which way you consume THCO, you won’t experience its effects for around an hour. That might not be what you’re looking for in a THC experience even if it's 3 times as potent once it eventually kicks in.

Is THCO synthetic?

Yes, THCO is a synthetic cannabinoid as opposed to cannabinoids like delta 9 THC and CBD that are naturally derived. That doesn’t necessarily mean all THCO is dangerous, it just puts this cannabinoid in an inherently separate class.

As far as synthetic substances go, THCO is only lightly synthesized. Acetylation isn’t a very complicated form of drug synthesis, and it doesn’t involve common dangerous substances often involved in the formulation of other synthetic drugs.

It remains a valid question, though, why consumers should accept the unavoidable reductions in quality that occur when a substance is synthesized at the same time that natural forms of THC are so plentiful. Even delta 8, which was originally only available in synthetic forms, is now bred in hemp in reasonably high quantities, something that can never be done with THCO.

What is THCO used for?

People use THCO for the same things they use THC for. These cannabinoids offer the same types of effects, THCO just takes longer to kick in and is more potent. THCO doesn’t appear to have special attributes that make it superior than delta 9 THC for any particular applications.

Due to its semi-protected legal status, THCO is mainly sold online as an alternative form of THC. The process of turning THC into THCO is relatively simple and safe, and a handful of manufacturers have started offering THCO products to the public.

Official uses of THCO

THCO was never seriously pursued for its original purpose, a non-lethal incapacitating agent. Research into this rare cannabis compound, which wasn’t plentiful to begin with, has become practically nonexistent over the last few decades.

It’s possible, but very doubtful, that interest in THCO will increase again. Right now, there’s huge demand for “legal” forms of THC that you can sell on the internet, but the moment the federal government gets its ducks in a row, many alternative forms of THC (yes, including THCO) will suddenly lose their relevance.

Is THCO legal?

The only form of THC specifically named under the Controlled Substances Act is delta 9, leading to a thriving online economy of delta 8 THC products. Technically protected under the 2018 Farm Bill’s definition of industrial hemp, alternative forms of THC usually aren’t considered illegal drugs in their natural forms.

The problem with THCO, though, is that it’s synthesized. The DEA views natural and synthesized substances differently, and modified forms of cannabinoids are not covered under the 2018 Farm Bill.

If there ever were to be a federal purge of non-delta 9 cannabinoids, THCO might find itself first on the list due to its synthetic status. You may have tried THCO recently and liked it, but don’t get used to it. It is also critical to conduct your own research to determine whether or not you live in a state that allows the use of non-Delta 9 products such as THCO.

Can I buy THCO online?

Yes, there are certain retailers who sell THCO online. From what we understand, these retailers ship across the country and have a variety of THCO products available.

It’s a fact, though, that THCO as a product is practically brand-new, and it can only be synthesized. It’s a sketchy time to buy THCO because extraction process is not yet standardized, and the lack of competition reduces product quality. Therefore, you may never want to buy it at all.

Where to buy THCO for sale

At the moment, there aren’t any THCO products we recommend, and we’re not sure if this is a cannabinoid we will ever fully endorse. It’s disconcerting that THCO is inherently synthetic, and there’s no chance of this cannabinoid ever being naturally bred in cannabis.

Ideal applications of THCO may one day be discovered, but we don’t think so. As far as non-delta 9 forms of THC go, options like delta 8 and even delta 10 are already available, and when it comes to boosted forms of THC, natural options like THCP seem the most viable.

Our advice would be to wait for THCP products to become available or stick with what you know. Delta 8 is the most competitive hemp-derived THC market right now, driving the highest product quality and ensuring the best consumer safety.

THCO cannabinoid FAQ

As a fascinating new cannabinoid, there’s always more to learn about THCO. Deepen your knowledge of THCO in this FAQ section:

1. Is THCO safe to smoke?

There is no indication that any aspect of changing THC into THCO causes this compound to become any less safe. Acetylation is a very common process — even over-the-counter caffeine pills have been acetylated. It’s very unlikely that acetylating THC would introduce any new dangers at the chemical level.

Regardless of the inherent safety of THCO, the safety of your particular THCO experience will depend on the quality of the product you use and the ingredients it contains. Especially with new, emerging cannabinoids, it’s unfortunately common to exploit ignorance and push low-quality products. Just like any other cannabinoid, though, THCO should be pure and free of contaminants.

2. THCO vs. delta 8: Which is stronger?

Between the two, THCO is certainly quite a bit stronger than delta 8. Exact estimates vary, but it’s generally accepted that delta 8 offers around 75% the potency of delta 9. Compare that to the 300% potency over delta 9 that THCO reportedly offers, and it’s clear that there’s no contest between delta 8 and THCO when it comes to pure strength.

Delta 8 still has a lot to offer, though: Some users prefer this cannabinoid’s reduced, relaxing effects. Getting overpoweringly high isn’t necessarily the end goal of every cannabis user, which is why it’s so convenient that cannabinoids like delta 8 exist.

3. THCO vs delta 9: Which is better?

While THCO is undeniably more potent than delta 9, it loses out to the conventional form of THC by not being entirely all-natural. True, nothing is added to THCO aside from a new acetyl group, but that’s still enough to make this super-powered form of THC technically synthetic.

If you want to get as high as humanly possible while spending the minimum on cannabis per month, THCO is a great solution. At this point, though, you can only get the genuine, all-natural cannabis experience with delta 9, CBD, or CBG, keeping the conventional form of THC from becoming irrelevant.

4. Is there THCO flower?

Yes, it’s relatively common to spray cannabis buds containing another cannabinoid with THCO distillate and call the resulting product “THCO flower.” It’s impossible, though, to produce cannabis flowers that naturally contain high concentrations of THCO.

This cannabinoid is inherently synthetic, meaning it cannot naturally occur in cannabis or hemp flower. Hemp flower that has been sprayed with THCO generally contains 5-15% of this rare and powerful cannabinoid.

5. Where can I buy THCO bud?

Hemp buds that have been sprayed with THCO distillate are widely available on the internet. Since THCO has a unique chemical structure compared to THC, it is generally considered to be industrial hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill. As a result, THCO products are commonly shipped all across the country, and a thriving THCO marketplace is beginning to emerge online.

6. Are there THCO reviews online?

Yes, there are now quite a few reviews for THCO products online. Some of them have been left by customers, and you can read others on external websites.

As you select a THCO product to buy online, looking over customer reviews is an absolutely essential step in the process. Blogs are often paid or otherwise incentivized to write positive reviews for companies, but customers are more honest. Keep an eye out for mentions of product quality, flavor, and side effects.

7. Is THCO acetate the same thing as THCO?

Yes, THCO acetate and THCO are the same cannabinoid. The “O” in THCO stands for “acetate,” so calling this cannabinoid THCO acetate is redundant. THCO is known by a variety of different names, including THC acetate, THC-OA, O-acetyl-THC, and ATHC. Most of these monikers, however, are only found in scientific literature.

8. What are the effects of THCO?

Most users report that THCO has effects that are similar to those offered by normal THC but much stronger. The effects of THCO are so strong, in fact, that they’re often referred to as “hallucinogenic,” but it’s unclear how accurate this terminology is.

Conventional THC can also cause some forms of mild hallucinations, but it is nonetheless not typically classified as a hallucinogen. Unless THCO operates in some as-yet unnoticed way in the brain, it’s highly unlikely that this cannabinoid offers any effects outside of the effect pool offered by normal THC. THCO is still the subject of peer-reviewed scientific research. More research is needed to fully comprehend the effects of the said compound.

9. Does using THCO have any risks?

Yes, it is inherently riskier to use THCO than it is to use conventional THC for two reasons: 1) The THCO industry is very new, and not all manufacturers can be trusted to follow appropriate safety guidelines; 2) THCO is much stronger than THC, so any inherent dangers involved in using THC are most likely equally magnified.

In some users, for instance, even normal THC can cause intense paranoia. Given its supposedly hallucinatory nature, THCO is even more likely to elicit these distressing effects. Use THCO with caution, and consider the possibility that this cannabinoid may only be appropriate for experienced smokers.

10. Can you make THCO at home?

No, THCO is not something you should ever make at home, a conclusion you can come to yourself by asking a couple of simple questions. Do you have access to large quantities of acetic anhydride? Do you have the proper equipment for handling highly corrosive chemicals that can eat through your skin? If — like most of us — you’re forced to answer “no” on both fronts, you have absolutely no business even thinking about making THCO at home.


Erickson BE. Delta-8-THC craze concerns chemists. Chemical & Engineering News. Published 2021. Accessed November 10, 2022.

kgb. THC Acetate - Kind Green Buds. Kind Green Buds. Published March 11, 2022. Accessed November 10, 2022.

Sabaghi D. What Is THC-O Acetate, And Why Is It Getting Attention? Forbes. Published October 12, 2022. Accessed November 10, 2022.

Safety concerns around THC-O-acetate: Q&A with scientist James Stephens. MJBizDaily. Published August 3, 2021. Accessed November 10, 2022.

Schmidt E. THC-O Acetate: Everything You Need to Know About THCOa Safety, Purity, and Effects. ACS Lab Cannabis. Published August 5, 2021. Accessed November 10, 2022.

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