June 14, 2022 5 min read

THC-O is slowly paving its way through the hemp THC market, and its remarkable potency and federal legal status make it a hot commodity for avid THC consumers. Before you hop on the THC-O bandwagon, though, you should be asking some important questions–how is THC-O made? Is it synthetic? And is the manufacturing process safe and consistent?

Like Delta-8-THC, THC-O holds a federal legal status because it’s made from hemp. That's why it can be extracted and used to make a variety of products that you can now find in stores and online all over the U.S.

To help you better understand how the extraction process unfolds, we'll break down how THC-O is made below:

Key Takeaways

  • THC-O can be synthesized from Delta-8 through a process called “isomerization.”
  • Because THC-O exists as a natural hemp isomer, it is legal by the definition used to legalize hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • THC-O products should be accompanied by third-party lab tests to prove potency.
  • You should not attempt to make THC-O at home. Leave hemp extraction and isomerization to the experts.
Fully developed hemp flower just before harvest where it can be used to extract the material necessary for making THC-O

THC-O is Made From Delta-8

To put it simply, THC-O is made from Delta-8-THC, which is made from CBD. When the CBD is extracted from hemp material, it makes it legal according to the definitions used to legalize hemp and it's extracts in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The process used to make Delta-8-THC is pretty straightforward, although it needs to be carried out by experienced extraction technicians in a lab environment. Here’s a breakdown:

Hemp is Grown and Harvested

First, the hemp is grown and harvested at peak cannabinoid concentration. There are a variety of different methods and techniques used to grow hemp both indoors and outdoors. Some of these specifics are mostly a matter of preference (like whether the hemp is sustainably or organically produced). However, organic hemp that is grown in the U.S. is generally superior to hemp sourced from overseas due to enhanced soil quality and stricter growing regulations.

CBD is Extracted

After harvest, one of various extraction techniques is used to extract CBD (and sometimes other cannabinoids) from the raw plant material. This CBD extract is carefully refined to remove unwanted plant materials, like various waxes, chlorophyll, or residual solvent.

The Extract Undergoes Isomerization

Next, the CBD extract needs to undergo a process called “isomerization" to convert it to Delta-8-THC.

As defined by Britannica, isomerization is

“the chemical process by which a compound is transformed into any of its isomeric forms, i.e., forms with the same chemical composition but with different structure or configuration and, hence, generally with different physical and chemical properties.”

To put this more simply, isomers are molecules that contain all of the same components, just arranged in a different order.

That means that one molecule can be rearranged into an isomer molecule without adding or subtracting anything. This means that cannabinoids can easily be changed from one cannabinoid to the next, a phenomenon that happens naturally in the hemp plant as it grows.

To transform CBD into Delta-8, the CBD has to be dissolved in glacial acetic acid. This chemical process first converts some of the CBD to Delta-9-THC, but after 72 hours over half of the original CBD material will become Delta-8-THC.

If you're making Delta-8-THC products, the isomerization process stops there. However, manufacturers can take this a step further and use the same isomerization process to convert Delta-8 into THC-O.

The Extract is Refined

Finally, the extract is carefully refined to concentrate the THC-O material and remove any unwanted chemicals, including leftover acids or byproducts.

A THC-O vape cart being mechanically filled with THC-O extract

A Final Product is Made

Thus, through this method, CBD eventually becomes THC-O extract that can be used to make a variety of different products, like vaporizers, edibles, and everything in between. To create a final formula, the manufacturer may add carrier oils, flavoring, additional cannabinoids, terpenes, or other ingredients to create a unique THC-O product.

The Product is Batch Tested

Batch testing is not always a requirement for the manufacturer (depending on the state and local legislation where the product is being made), but we highly recommend that you purchase only THC-O products that have been batch tested. A trustworthy manufacturer will utilize a third-party lab to batch test either the final extract or the final product to ensure that it is clean and potent.

Is THC-O Synthetic?

It’s true that THC-O is not a naturally occurring cannabinoid, meaning you can’t just extract it straight from the hemp plant. However, it doesn’t quite fit the same profile as other synthetic cannabinoids, and many experts agree that its much safer than the many synthetic cannabinoid formulations circulating the streets.

If THC-O met the requirements used by the DEA to classify synthetic cannabinoids, it would be a pretty big issue since synthetic cannabinoids (aside from a few FDA approved pharmaceuticals) are listed as Controlled Substances.

However, synthetic cannabinoids, like K2 or spice, typically contain no real plant material and are instead completely synthesized in a lab. The isomerization process used to make THC-O makes it a hemp isomer, not a synthetic drug.

According to the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, or the bill that officially legalized hemp in the U.S., hemp is “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

In other words, THC-O is a hemp isomer and falls under the federal definition used to legalize hemp.

How to Make Sure THC-O is Legally Made

It's worth noting that hemp industry regulations are still inconsistent from state to state, which put some pressure on consumers to ensure that the hemp THC products they purchase are legally and safely made.

Vida Optima THC-O Vape Cart

The main priority is ensuring that the THC-O products you choose are made from hemp material and not high-THC cannabis. Thankfully, this is almost always the case since the necessary CBD material is much more abundant in hemp.

Still, you should double check the hemp source before purchasing any THC-O products. In general, organically grown, U.S. sourced hemp is best. Also check the final test results to ensure that both the hemp material and the final product are U.S. Farm Bill compliant, meaning they contain less than 0.3% Delta-9-THC.

At Vida Optima, all of our hemp-derived THC products are 100% Farm Bill compliant and are accompanied by lab tests that prove label accuracy. For legal THC products you can buy online, check out our Elev8 Collection.

Resources

  1. “H.R.2 - Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018” https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2/text
  2. “Isomerization” https://www.britannica.com/science/isomerization

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