The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says Delta-8 and -9 THCO are controlled substances, even when derived from hemp. The DEA said that Delta-8 and -9 THCO “do not occur naturally in the cannabis plant and can only be obtained synthetically, and therefore do not fall under the definition of hemp.”

Since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, some manufacturers have been able to create synthetic highs from the cannabinoids found in hemp—this concerned attorney Rod Kight who inquired about their legal status.

U.S. producers and consumers have also been confused about whether these products are legal. Producers of delta-8 products may have used hemp containing no more than 0.3 percent of delta-9 THC. But, if they synthetically added delta-8 in a laboratory, it is not legal.

While a U.S. federal appeals court upheld that delta-8 is not a controlled substance if it’s derived from hemp, delta-8-THCO is an entirely different thing. Hence, as per DEA THCO is a controlled substance.

What’s the Difference Between THC & THCO? 

THCO is a Controlled Substance: DEA

When the DEA made their statement, it referred to Delta-8-THCO.

Delta-8 THC and Delta-8 THCO are two different compounds you can derive from cannabis plants. It’s important to know the difference, for some erroneously believe all delta-8 is synthetic while delta-9 is all-natural.

Delta-8 THC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in small amounts in cannabis plants, similar to Delta-9 THC, the primary psychoactive compound found in cannabis. 

Delta-8 THC has been gaining popularity as a legal alternative to Delta-9 THC due to its milder psychoactive effects and legal status in some states.

On the other hand, Delta-8 THCO is a synthetic cannabinoid. You can produce it by converting CBD or Delta-9 THC through a chemical process. The “O” in Delta-8 THCO stands for “oxide,” which refers to the compound’s chemical structure.

Unlike Delta-8 THC, a naturally occurring compound, Delta-8 THCO is a human-made substance.

Should We Be Concerned With THCO?

In response to the DEA’s statement, attorney Rod Kight said:

I have been concerned about the proliferation of THC acetate ester (THCO) for a while. It has always been my view that THCO is a controlled substance under federal law. Although it can be made from cannabinoids from hemp, THCO is not naturally expressed by the hemp plant. It is a laboratory creation that does not occur in nature, at least not from the hemp plant.

Adding,

From this perspective, and unlike D8, THCO is properly seen as synthetic THC, not “hemp.” For this reason, I have consistently advised clients not to create or distribute THCO. On a personal level, and based on a research letter published earlier this year in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, I routinely advise personal friends not to consume THCO due to the potentially serious medical consequences of vaping it.

Science-Based Decision or Reefer Madness?

THCO is a Controlled Substance: DEA
Does THCO Make You Insane?

One doesn’t think of “reefer madness” when one thinks of cannabis lawyer Rod Kight. But the scientific study he references is behind a paywall. So already, we’re off to a bad start.

(Don’t worry, the free full text becomes available after January 1st, 2024, after the DEA uses Science™ to create new regulations).

Fortunately, there are ways to climb over paywalls.

The authors of the study warn of lung damage by inhaling THCO. No argument there. A Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry test found acetate in some products, which, when heated, produces ketene.

The study says: “Clinical toxicity from vaping THC-O has not to the best of our knowledge been reported. However, we suggest that the use of THC-O be considered by health care providers when evaluating lung injury in people who have vaped cannabis products.”

However, the study mentions that THCO doesn’t pose the same risks when ingested orally.

How Dangerous Are Synthetic Cannabinoids?

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Of course, if America had a free-and-fair cannabis market, people wouldn’t need to consume THCO products. They could buy regular, natural, 100% organic cannabis. 

But suppose, for financial reasons or out of curiosity, you wanted to experiment with synthetic cannabinoids.

Should we discourage that?

Obviously, safety is paramount. But how much do we know about synthetic cannabinoids? How have false and biased media reports shaped our perspective?

The fact is the corporate press, the DEA, the FDA, and politicians have hyped up the dangers of synthetic cannabinoids (also called “Spice” or “K2”). But this hype has been driven by the same reefer madness that justifies their hatred of natural cannabinoids.

Notwithstanding possible lung damage, a serious issue, a common argument against synthetic cannabinoids is that they cause psychotic episodes and seizures.

But the fact is these effects are rare. They occur in a small minority of users. As well there is the issue of contaminants. As the paper Rod Kight refers to says, the problem is the acetate in the products. Not the THCO itself.

How many hospitalizations and deaths can we attribute to contaminated products? Is the blame entirely on “Spice” or “K2”? Or do people mix synthetic cannabinoids with other drugs like alcohol, antidepressants, or opioids? 

Legal Weed When?

Drug education is essential so adults can make their own decisions. Adults can use synthetic cannabinoids safely and responsibly. Although don’t misunderstand me. There are serious adverse effects of synthetic cannabinoids.

You’re better off just consuming the natural stuff.

But as typical, the DEA is basing their decisions on misguided views and moralistic attitudes rather than scientific evidence. 

Not only among the DEA and “public health” busybodies, but even among cannabis connoisseurs, we have a tendency to overstate the risks associated with synthetic cannabinoids.

But of course, if the DEA were serious about reducing issues and problems associated with synthetic cannabinoids, they’d lobby for recreational cannabis legalization.