THC-O vs Delta 9

cannabis leaves on a bright green background

As marijuana becomes more accepted and widely available, new cannabinoids are exploding onto the cannabis scene, leaving traditional delta-9 THC to CBD in the dust. However, this era of cannabis discovery is leaving many consumers to wonder what they are and how they differ from the cannabis we're familiar with. For example, THC-O is several times more potent than its mainstream delta-9 THC cousin, but what else should consumers know about the two compounds? 

In this article, we compare the newly discovered THC-O with delta-9 THC, exploring their similarities and differences and helping people decide which cannabinoid may be best for them.

Key Takeaways

  • THC-O is federally illegal and not protected by the 2018 Farm Bill because it does not naturally occur in hemp.
  • THC-O was discovered before THC, but no research on the cannabinoid has ever been released to the public.
  • Delta-9 THC products are federally legal if they have less than 0.3% THC per dry weight.

What is THC-O?

THC-O, also called THC-O acetate or Delta 9o, is a synthetic cannabinoid analog to THC, meaning it doesn't occur naturally in the cannabis plant. Manufacturers must chemically alter delta-9 or delta-8 THC to produce THC-O in a liquid brown consistency often sold in vape products or infused in edibles.

Interestingly, THC-O has actually been around much longer than we've known about THC. The earliest research on THC-O dates back to American military experiments in the 1940s when research teams explored non-lethal ways to incapacitate enemy soldiers. Studies of THC-O tested on dogs found that animals significantly lost control of their motor functions when exposed to the cannabinoid…. but that's where the research stopped, and the results were never published. The little scientific literature claims that THC-O is two to three times more potent than THC.

Potential Benefits

To date, no research has examined the potential benefits of THC-O. Consumer anecdotes report its psychoactive properties, many of which claim that THC-O produces a 1-2 hour high on par with THC but that the side effects last longer. Other consumer reports say that the high is two to three times as strong as traditional THC, which may provide beneficial effects and better cost-effectiveness for individuals who require higher doses for relief.

Potential Risks

Just as we have no evidence of THC-O's potential benefits, the risks of the cannabinoid are entirely unknown. What we do know is that THC-O products, more often than not, come from dubious suppliers. The cannabinoid doesn't come naturally from cannabis plants, meaning that any THC-O is synthesized by producers and potentially from unconfirmed sources. While hemp-derived delta-9 THC products are legal if they contain 0.3% dry weight, there's no way to confirm that's where your THC-O is coming from.

Additionally, the DEA recently published a letter saying that THC-O products are not protected by the 2018 Farm Bill and thus fall under federal cannabis laws as a Schedule I controlled substance. The decision was based on the fact that THC-O is a synthesized cannabinoid that does not naturally occur in hemp, meaning it doesn't qualify for the law's protections.

Given the lack of human studies and clear illegal status, it's best to conduct proper due diligence into a product and your state's cannabis laws before purchasing THC-O.

What is Delta-9 THC?

Delta-9 THC, or plain THC, is the most abundantly produced cannabinoid in both hemp and marijuana varieties of cannabis. THC produces weed's intoxicating effects, with various cannabis cultivars containing more or less THC potency depending on several factors.

Conversely, the hemp plant features very low concentrations of delta-9 THC to meet federal limits. Hemp is typically cultivated for industrial or agricultural use and may contain no more than 0.3% THC, per the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Whether delta-9 THC comes from marijuana or hemp, it's the same chemical. 

Potential Benefits

There are many documented benefits of delta-9 THC supported by existing research and exemplified by the fact that nearly 40 U.S. states have legalized some form of cannabis. Potential benefits of THC use include treating:

  • Inflammation
  • Pain
  • Migraines
  • Sleep issues
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS)

Due to these benefits, the FDA has approved a synthetic version of THC called dronabinol to address nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy and to treat the weight loss and reduced appetite caused by HIV/AIDS.

Potential Risks

THC's highs produce several pleasant sensations but can sometimes result in unwanted side effects or symptoms, such as:

  • Anxiety/paranoia
  • Dehydration
  • Red eyes/dry mouth
  • Coughing fits
  • Fainting
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hallucinations

THC use has also been associated with learning impairment and impacted memory formation, particularly among teenagers. Additionally, THC is illegal under federal law, so users may only use and purchase delta-9 products if they're in a legalized state or using a hemp-derived delta-9 product that meets federal requirements.

THC-O vs. Delta 9: Similarities and Differences

Where They Come From

Whereas delta-9 comes from hemp and marijuana plants, THC-O is a synthetic THC analog that needs to be chemically manufactured. 


Consumer reports say THC-O is significantly more potent than delta-9 and other THC types. Some individuals claim the high feels more spiritual, with visual effects that can border on hallucinogenic. However, tolerance levels vary from person to person, and people can achieve similarly intense highs from plain THC depending on dose and consumption method.


THC and cannabis are illegal at the federal level. However, it's federally legal if a delta-9 THC product is derived from hemp with less than 0.3% THC per dry weight. 

Conversely, the DEA explicitly said the Farm Bill does not protect THC-O since it has to be artificially synthesized from existing cannabinoids. As such, even if it comes from hemp, THC-O is federally illegal. Depending on their local regulations, state laws may or may not allow for THC-O consumption, so it's important to do your own research.

The Bottom Line

Since THC-O acetate's production and sale are federally illegal and there are no regulations governing manufacturing processes, you never quite know if what you're purchasing is pure THC-O. Conversely, many companies producing delta-9 THC products comply with federal and state guidelines, which means the chance you're on the right side of the law is greatly increased. 

Additionally, those with lower tolerance may want to avoid THC-O until they know they can handle it, as it may result in unwanted and severe side effects. While the new cannabinoid is exciting, sticking to traditional delta-9 products may be best until regulations, research, and manufacturing standards increase for THC-O.

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