Brightfield Group specializes in sizing emerging markets that are difficult to track. We tackled sizing the delta-8 and emerging cannabinoid market in late 2022. THC-O is one of the cannabinoids analyzed from a market, consumer, and product point of view. Many questions are circling around regarding this substance, and we have the answers.
Is THC-O Banned?
In February 2023, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) clarified its stance on a popular hemp-synthesized cannabinoid. Regarding THC-O, the DEA declared it does not fall under the definition of hemp because the cannabinoid is not naturally occurring in hemp and must be synthesized to exist.
This has left many wondering - is THC-O legal? While previous DEA comments on delta-8 helped strengthen the legitimacy of the industry, this stance opens the door for state enforcement. THC-O products could be treated like a schedule 1 substance, with businesses at risk of being raided and prosecuted if found selling or manufacturing it.
What is THC-O?
Also known as tetrahydrocannabinol acetate, this substance is a synthetic cannabinoid not found naturally occurring in hemp. The compound is created by extracting CBD from hemp, converting it into delta-8, and then further modifying the chemical structure. Naturally occurring delta-9 can also be modified into an acetate form.
Is THC-O stronger than delta-9?
According to brands, its psychoactive effects are similar to but stronger than delta-9 THC, with some asserting that the effects of THC acetate are three times as potent.
Early on in its inception on the market, online blog writers construed “300% stronger than delta-9 ” to be “300 times stronger.” This mistake made its way around the internet, making it seem like a super psychoactive form of THC. This likely contributed to its relative popularity among these emerging psychoactive cannabinoids.
How big is the THC-O market?
Of the hemp-derived cannabinoids Brightfield tracks*in our Delta-8 & Emerging Cannabinoid Market Sizing, THC-O had the fourth-largest share of the market. In 2022, the cannabinoid captured 8% of this market. It is most commonly available in vapes, with nearly two-thirds of available THC O products falling into this category.
Sold on its own and in formulations containing many cannabinoids, it’s unclear how the sale of THC acetate will be tangibly affected by the DEA’s clarified stance. Psychoactive, hemp-derived vapes are expected to see continued growth in 2023. THC-O was expected to be a larger part of that vape market than it likely will be given the DEA’s February 2023 announcement.
*Other THCs included in this market sizing include hemp-derived delta-9, delta-8, delta-10, THCP, Delta-9O, THCV, HHC-O, and a small percentage of others identified for sale on the market.
How popular is THC-O?
At the end of 2022, nearly 3% of the U.S. general population said they used THC-O in the past six months. That’s more than report purchasing any CBN or CBG, and even several CBD products like drinks, disposable vapes, and topical patches.
Who is using THC-O?
Consumers of this hemp-synthesized cannabinoid tend to be male, live in a city, and be Gen Z or millennials. This is similar to the overall user profile of all psychoactive, hemp-derived THC users. These consumers are much more stressed than the general population, with 32% of them saying they’re “very stressed.” THC-O users’ main stress reliving tactic is to use cannabis, with 44% of them doing so compared to only 14% of the general population.
Is THC-O safe?
In Brightfield Group’s White Paper on Delta-8, we warn companies and consumers of the potential risks of unregulated, psychoactive cannabinoids from hemp. With the exception of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol naturally derived from hemp in less than 0.3% concentration, creating all other psychoactive cannabinoids from hemp requires a chemical reaction. Improper or imprecise techniques will result in high amounts of reaction byproducts. The health effects of consuming such impurities are unknown.
THC-O takes an extra chemical process to create, as delta-8 is turned into the cannabinoid. While many companies test their products to provide certifications of analysis (COAs) to consumers, labs can only test for known byproducts. Without standard operating procedures nor a regulated market, consumers risk consuming unknown chemical byproducts when using any psychoactive, hemp-derived cannabinoids.