Study: Most Users Experience Little to No Psychedelic Effects from THC-O-Acetate

A new study from the University of Buffalo examines the effects of THC-O, and spoiler: they’re not very psychedelic.

Understanding cannabinoids is a key element of understanding cannabis as a whole, and while even the most novice consumers are generally familiar with the staples like THC and CBD, the cannabinoid world has gotten notably more complex with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill and the booming hemp-derived cannabinoid market that followed.

A number of new synthetic and semi-synthetic cannabinoids have emerged—technically derived from hemp and not naturally occurring in nature, with the potential to still offer psychoactive effects. Among these new cannabinoids is THC-O, or THC-O-acetate. The cannabinoid is created by chemically converting CBD into delta-9 or delta-8 THC, then converting those cannabinoids into their acetate ester form.

It’s chemically very similar to delta-9 THC, though the effects of THC-O are often considered to be stronger than delta-8, delta-9, delta-10 THC or HHC, another synthetic cannabinoid. Claims online, on social media and on manufacturer websites have gone so far to claim that THC-O-acetate elicits a psychedelic effect, similar to drugs like LSD or psilocybin.

Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Buffalo (UB) has taken a closer look at the claims, examining the alleged psychedelic effects of THC-O-acetate and ultimately finding that the claims have been greatly exaggerated.

The First Study to Examine Psychedelic Potential of THC-O-Acetate

In the study abstract, researchers note the growing interest in semi-synthetic cannabinoids over the years. The rise of THC-O has raised questions among health professionals and industry leaders alike, but even other cannabinoids like hemp-derived THC have caused quite a stir as an unintended consequence of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Two researchers, lead author Daniel J. Kruger and co-author Jessica S. Kruger, had previously conducted a study on the effects of delta-8 THC. This study is the first to examine the claim that THC-O-acetate produces psychedelic effects. To test the claim, researchers developed an online survey for consumers who had tried the cannabinoids, assessing the experiential profile of THC-O-acetate and including questions from the Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ), which is designed to assess psychedelic experiences.

“THC-O-acetate has been getting a lot of attention because people are saying it’s stronger than regular THC and there are these claims that it produces psychedelic effects. We wanted to study this and see, is there really a psychedelic cannabinoid? Can we find evidence that THC-O-acetate has this effect? And the answer is, not so much,” said study lead author Kruger, research associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Professions and research scientist in the Department of Medicine, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB.

The survey asked nearly 300 participants to share the extent to which they experienced a number of symptoms when using THC-O-acetate, including altered sense of time, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, euphoria, hallucinations, pain relief, paranoia and relaxation. Participants also completed items from the MEQ and were asked which, if any, psychedelics they had used.

Don’t Buy the Hype

Respondents widely reported (79%) that the effects of THC-O-acetate were “not at all” or “a little” psychedelic. In regard to the MEQ, responses were significantly below the threshold for a complete mystical experience, and those who had previously used classic psychedelics score lower on all MEQ dimensions. Rather, the most widely reported THC-O-acetate experiences were moderate relaxation, euphoria and pain relief.

According to Kruger, there are three likely explanations behind the reports of psychedelic experiences among THC-O-acetate users: It may be because of expectations based on what users have read about the cannabinoid, some users may have experiences an intense high and mistaken it for a psychedelic experience or the product may have been contaminated.

“People have to be careful,” Kruger said. “It’s possible that some of these extreme effects are the result of some sort of contamination, and that’s one of the real dangers of these products if you don’t really know what’s in them.”

Kruger also harped on the need for consumers to verify that products undergo third-party testing and have results clearly posted for consumers.

“There’s tons of interest in delta-8 and THC-O-acetate, and lots of claims being made about them with virtually no research,” Daniel Kruger says. “They’re really new to the consumer market and cannabis still has this weird mix of policies where it’s illegal at the federal level, so we don’t have national regulations, certainly not the kind of testing you’d have with a prescription drug.”

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