For a couple of months, the THC-O vape cart lay on my desk, unopened. From time to time I’d eye it warily, tempted to take a few puffs. I was, in a word, intimidated.
THC-O—also known as THC acetate—is drastically more potent than other synthetic cannabinoids like delta-8 THC or HHC: Research suggests it’s three times stronger than conventional THC, earning it the nickname “the spiritual cannabinoid.”
If there was even the slightest chance that THC-O would affect me like other, more “spiritual” substances like LSD or psilocybin, I knew I’d only want to experience it outdoors, not cooped up at home or around lots of people.
So on a moody afternoon in early spring, with much of the winter’s snow and ice finally melted, I brought the THC-O cart on a hike near Missoula with my good friend and fellow cannabis connoisseur Ariana. It was time to put the spiritual cannabinoid to the test.
What is THC-O?
Although THC-O only began to generate consumers’ attention in the past two years—sold primarily in vape carts and edibles—the US military began studying its effects as long ago as the mid-20th century. Researchers wanted it to see if it would induce ataxia in dogs—a condition that damages the nervous system. Their hunch was correct: It eroded the dogs’ muscle coordination twice as much as conventional THC, or delta-9.
Just like other synthesized cannabinoids, THC-O comes from hemp. To generate the molecule, CBD is first extracted from raw hemp, which—thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill—is now fully legal. Then delta-8 THC is extracted from the CBD. Finally, a highly flammable compound called acetic anhydride is added to the delta-8 THC molecules to make THC-O acetate. Don’t try this one at home.
Don’t forget: Just because it is derived from legal hemp, THC-O is not legal in every state. Some have fully banned the sale and production of synthetic cannabinoids, and the federal government continues to send mixed messages about their legality. Our recommendation: Do your research before purchasing synthetic cannabinoid products.
Beginning the THC-O journey
NOTE: The following account is purely anecdotal and shouldn’t be considered scientific or therapeutic evidence. Consumption results will vary.
As Ariana and I began our maiden THC-O voyage at a trailhead just south of Missoula, I felt a mix of anxiety and excitement: This was something new. Neither of us knew what to expect.
As we made our way up a series of switchbacks in the quiet, cool woods, I took a baby puff of the THC-O cart, from Bearly Legal Hemp Co. The package listed it as Green Crack, but that only referred to its terp profile: primarily myrcene, followed by alpha-pinene. The cart wasn’t terribly terpy, but it didn’t give off the brittle tang of some synthetic vapes, either. It tasted like pear-infused water.
In very small doses, THC-O proved to be mild, nearly innocuous. An eternal lightweight, I was relieved to not be battered by gale-force stoniness. Ariana has a much higher cannabis tolerance than me; she started with two solid puffs, and reported feeling similarly unimpacted.
Meet THC-O, a hemp-derived compound three times stronger than THC
Thirty minutes later we emerged from the woods onto a bluff that looks north to town, and southwest to Lolo Peak. Light snowfall shrouded the summit, even as the sun emerged from the clouds to bathe us in warm afternoon light.
It felt like the right time to go a little deeper with the THC-O. I took one big puff; Ariana took three or four. We walked out on the bluff, took in the view, and turned around, back towards the trail.
And that’s when the THC-O kicked into high gear.
THC-O felt like a tiny hit of acid
THC-O initially delivered an airy head high similar to Jack Herer but without any of the raciness that many consumers get from strong sativas. It also brought on a light, almost buttery body high that I could feel in my thighs as we made our way slowly down the muddy trail.
But its most noticeable effect proved to be much more akin to a small dose of LSD than any marijuana I’ve ever tried. In other words, the THC-O made me feel like a wide-eyed kid: epically curious, playful, keen to touch and feel and stare at everything in wonder.
The sun began to set behind us and threw the pines and shrubs into gorgeous and sharp relief. We both ran our hands through the soft pine needles on either side of the path as we passed and took in deep gulps of crisp, fresh air. Weed had never hit me like that; Ariana agreed.
Every few minutes we’d pause to marvel at the views of the snowy peaks, framed by the lush trees. I found myself staring intently at knots and whorls in the tree bark, at the texture of the shrubs and grasses, and at the puffy Pixar-esque clouds drifting above.
Who invented delta-8 THC? A history of hemp-derived cannabinoids
The high evolved as we made our way back towards the car, and we became a tad spacier. Ariana and I both stumbled a tiny bit on the path. It seemed like the military’s dog research applied to us, too…
And then the munchies came on strong. We spent the last twenty minutes of the hike discussing nothing but warm cookies. Arriving back at the car, we made a beeline for the nearest restaurant, hopeful they’d have something to sate our sweet tooths.
A pleasant and slow comedown
We were both surprised by the duration of the THC-O high. Nearly two hours after our big puffs, we still felt giddy. The experience faded slowly and gently: I didn’t feel fully re-tethered to reality until a good four hours after we had first smoked.
I’m really happy that I finally gave this notoriously potent cannabinoid a try. I recommend trying it for yourself. Definitely go slow.
Is THC-O actually three times more potent than THC? It didn’t feel that way to me. But no matter, it offered an experience that was much more impactful than insanely strong weed. To me, that’s more interesting, more exciting, and honestly, just better.