Cannabinoids synthesized from hemp are exploding onto the market. For cannabis-savvy consumers, this new wave of cannabinoids can provoke curiosity. For cannabis users in US states where delta-9 THC is illegal, synthetic psychoactive alternatives provide an alternative means of getting high.
Delta-10 THC and THC-O (short for THC-O-acetate) represent two of the newest THC variants that are climbing quickly in popularity. But what differentiates Delta-10 from THC-O? To the unpractised eye, both appear to elicit similar effects to Delta-9-THC; both are derived from CBD in hemp, and both are synthesized in a laboratory. A deeper dive, however, reveals fundamental differences, as well as similarities.
Leafreport spoke to Masha Belinson from ACS Laboratory, a cannabis lab that tests hemp-derived products from 48 states, and Dr. Jordan Tishler MD, leading expert in cannabis therapeutics at InhaleMD, to learn more about Delta-10 and THC-O.
When it comes to comparing these four variations of THC, many focus on the effects they have on the users. Some consumers find it useful to locate THC compounds as points along a spectrum: Delta-8 is seen to offer more sedative effects, Delta-10 THC delivers more uplifting and energizing effects, and THC-O delivers a high that some experience as a very relaxing, mild hallucinogenic.
Delta-9 THC can sometimes deliver a mixture of these qualities–some strains may be relaxing, while other strains can promote creativity and lift mood. It’s vital to note, however, that how each individual experiences these THC compounds may vary, depending on their personal tolerance, metabolism, and perspective.
Another major point of difference between these THC variants is their origin. Delta-8, Delta-10, and THC-O must all be synthesized in a laboratory. Delta-8 and Delta-10 can occur in some cannabis strains in very trace amounts–but not enough for extraction. THC-O, on the other hand, is not a naturally-occuring cannabinoid. Delta-10, Delta-8 and THC-O are therefore all known as semi-synthetic cannabinoids as they can be derived from industrial hemp but are ultimately created in a laboratory. Delta-9 THC is the exception, since it naturally occurs in high concentrations in many cannabis cultivars.
Masha Belinson also emphasizes that the semi-synthetic cannabinoids–Delta-10, Delta-8 and THC-O–all have different molecular structures, formulation, and effects.
“Delta-10 THC and THC-O are very different,” explains Belinson.
“First, THC-O-acetate does not naturally exist in hemp or cannabis plants, nor is it a THC isomer like Delta-8 and Delta-10. THC-O is a derivative of hemp products that must be made in a laboratory through a process called acetylation.”
Acetylation means that the THC molecule has an acetic acid added to its molecular structure, so it becomes an acetate. Belinson points out that another example of an acetylated product is aspirin. In the case of THC-O, the acetylation process appears to significantly increase its potency.
Delta-10 and Delta-8, in contrast, don’t have any additional chemical compounds integrated into their structure. They’re known as isomers, because the location of one of the double electron bonds has swapped its position on the chain of the molecule.
“In the case of Delta-10 THC, the double bond that is usually in one position in Delta-9 has been moved to an adjacent location,” says Tishler. For Delta-8, the double bond has moved to the eighth carbon on the chain.
Delta-10 THC is a semi-synthetic variant of Delta-9 THC. In simple terms, it is almost identical to Delta-9 THC in molecular structure. Since the cannabinoid is structurally very similar to Delta-9 THC, it also has psychoactive properties–or in other words, the ability to get the user high. However, Delta-10 THC is derived from federally legal industrial hemp.
For cannabis consumers in states where Delta-9 THC is not legal, Delta-10 represents a way to maneuver around issues of legality (though the legality of the cannabinoid is questionable). The cannabinoid thus holds huge appeal as it is perceived to be a legal means of achieving a mild hemp high. But the problem is, users often don’t know what they’re getting.
Anecdotal reports from Delta-10 THC users are varied. Some argue that Delta-10 delivers a very mellow and light high, or is comparable to “diet, diet weed”. For others Delta-10 is associated with a mild yet uplifting high.
The reason for the confusion may be because many of the products that retail as Delta-10 THC contain other cannabinoids. As ACS Laboratory points out, products often advertised as Delta-10 THC contain concentrations of other cannabinoids. Some contain as little as 2% Delta-10, while others claim to contain as much as 40% of Delta-10, or even more. These products commonly have Delta-8 and Delta-9 (regular THC) in the formulation.
”Delta-10 dominant strains do not exist in the market, nor do naturally extracted oils, vapes, and edibles,” explains Belinson.
“Instead, most companies produce Delta-10 by chemically altering CBD isolate or crude CBD using solvents and acids to make the final product.” The process to formulate Delta-10 is complicated, and requires considerable technical skill and knowledge. While some manufacturers can achieve this, others lack the expertise. The resulting product is a blend of different synthetic cannabinoids–that may also contain residual solvents.
Predictably, an ensemble of different THC isomers will mean that the psychoactive effects can vary wildly across products. This mix of different THCs also means that consumers who are using Delta-10 as a legal alternative to Delta-9 must check the product’s Certificate of Analysis (COA) to see what other cannabinoids are contained in the formulation. If you’re subjected to drug tests at work, or for competitions, Delta-10 may show up as a banned substance in a urine analysis test.
THC-O is also a semi-synthetic version of Delta-9 THC. Unlike Delta-10, which can be found in trace amounts in cannabis, THC-O is formulated in a laboratory.
“This is not a naturally-occurring variant and it must be synthesized by chemists,” explains Tishler.
TCH-O-A has captured the imaginations of cannabis consumers who are looking for a super-intense high. The cannabinoid has been described to be up to three times as potent as THC (though this hasn’t been clinically substantiated.)The effects of THC-O are also often described as mildly psychedelic.
“We have spoken to people who have tried THC-O,” says Belinson. “Some of the feedback is that THC-O delivers a mild psychedelic experience–like euphoria and relaxation without the visuals. In a recent interview we conducted with a THC-O manufacturer it was described as a “true hybrid.”
Tishler warns, however, that the potency of THC-O may lead to more intense side effects, a concern that has been echoed by another renowned cannabis expert, Dr. Ethan Russo. THC can cause anxiety, paranoia, or temporary psychosis–THC-O may intensify these unwanted effects.
While THC-O may hold mass appeal for those seeking a potent high from hemp, it is also plagued with the labeling and purity issues that presently characterize Delta-10.Similar to Delta-10, there’s also the risk of residual compounds in THC-O formulations, particularly if the product has been made by an unscrupulous manufacturer.
Another additional concern associated with THC-O is its potential toxicity. The synthesis of THC-O involves acetic anhydride, which is highly toxic. It’s therefore incredibly important to thoroughly check the Certificate of Analysis if you’re purchasing THC-O, and ensure the batch numbers on the product and the test match up.
Both Delta-10 and THC-O represent a source of concern to cannabis therapeutic experts such as Tishler, who emphasizes how little is known about them. Delta-8 represents a similar source of concern.
“Until we have better (or some) science on THC-0-A and Delta-10, we should assume they could be dangerous,” says Tishler. “Furthermore, if the people making these molecules are doing so to avoid legal issues, what is the likelihood that they have your safety and best interests at heart?”
At present, there are no clinical studies of either cannabinoid, documenting its short or long-term effects. There’s no knowledge of how either cannabinoid is metabolized by the liver when ingested, or their effects on the lungs when vaped or inhaled. Most critically, the improper or unsafe synthesis of either cannabinoid could result in the residual solvents or acids lingering in the final formulation.
For consumers thinking of purchasing Delta-10 or THC-O, reading and understanding the Certificate of Analysis is essential.
Many consumers are excited about Delta-10 and THC-O because they are hemp derivatives, and therefore perceived to be free from regulatory oversight. While it is true that hemp, its isomers, and derivatives were legalized with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s other legislation that pre-dates the Bill, suggesting that both Delta-10 and THC-O
may, in fact, be illegal.
The 1986 Federal Analogue Act states that the analogues of Schedule I drugs also qualify as Schedule I drugs. Since Delta-10 and THC-O are both analogues, or variants of THC, both would be considered a Schedule I drug.
Delta-8, which has been around a little longer, has already been banned by several states. It may be a matter of time before Delta-10 and THC-O are facing similar crackdowns.
At present, both THC-O and Delta-10 are characterized by a lack of regulatory oversight. What’s more, there’s currently no clinical information or research exploring their short or long-term effects on users. Tishler suggests steering clear of both. Delta-8 has already been banned in several US states, with commentators suggesting that THC-O and Delta-10 may follow suit.
Our understanding of these THC-0, Delta-10, and even Delta-8 may change in the future as new data emerges, or manufacturers develop safer, more reliable ways to formulate these cannabinoids. At present, Delta-9 THC represents the safest variant of THC as there is a repository of clinical knowledge and studies about its effects.
In the meantime, however, it’s vital to exercise caution if you’re thinking about purchasing or using Delta-10, THC-O, or Delta-8 products. Ensure you buy from trustworthy manufacturers, and thoroughly check their Certificates of Analysis (COAs).