Breaking Down Cannabis Acetylation for Cannabinoid Synthetics

by | Dec 9, 2020

Written by Deborah Agboola

The most recent advances in the phytochemistry of “cannabis sativa” and the medicinal chemistry of cannabinoids expose both the presence of compounds like CBD and THC within the plant and also the presence of naturally occurring receptors within the body which are a part of the endocannabinoid system(ECS) namely CB1 and CB2. Further research elucidates how these receptors react to the presence of external cannabinoids within the body.

Cannabis Acetylation and Cannabinoids

Over the past decade, research has allowed the isolation of some components of the cannabis plant. These compounds have been thoroughly investigated from biological, chemical, and medical perspectives and employed in several clinical trials to enhance their use and garner more understanding. Acetylation, a chemical reaction describing the introduction of an acetyl functional group(a methyl group single-bonded to a carbonyl with a formula CH3CO) into a compound, produces acetate esters or acetates.

The entire process is a crucial sort of modification used on proteins in cell biology, making waves within the cannabis industry by helping remodel present substances to supply a replacement drug with unique medical benefits. The process is an esterification reaction with ethanoic acid through which a series of processes like refluxing, separation, and boiling occurs, all of which result in the assembly of compounds like “acetates.”

minor cannabinoids and lab tech cannabis acetylation

Acetylation of Hemp with Vinyl Acetate

It’s a typical misconception that hemp and marijuana are two different species of plants. They both come from the cannabis plant, with only a fundamental difference in their tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. Hemp is cannabis containing 0.3 percent or less THC content by dry weight with a much higher CBD composition (cannabidiol). Hemp produces ethanoic acid(acetate) by works of modification leading to the formation of an ester bond when the hydroxyl groups on the hemp fibers react with acetic anhydride(AA) or vinyl acetate(VA) with potassium carbonate or pyridine as a catalyst. The AA-modified hemp fibers provide opportunities for more use of the therapeutic properties found in CBD.


Prodrugs are medications or substances that, after administration, are metabolized (i.e., converted within the body) into a pharmacologically active drug. Rather than administering a drug directly, a corresponding prodrug is often used to improve how the drug is absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted (ADME). Put simply, a prodrug may be a biologically inactive compound that will be metabolized within the body to supply a lively drug.

Acetylation of cannabidiol pushed the buttons for this derivative of THC, also known as THC acetate ester or THC-O-acetate, a compound that is synthesized from THC or THCA by a succession of distillation, salting-out assisted liquid-liquid extractions(SALLES), and solvent recovery techniques.

Acetylation, also referred to as ethanoylation, is utilized in several pharmaceutics; examples of acetylated pharmaceuticals include heroin and aspirin. THC-O-Acetate acts as a metabolic prodrug for THC and chemically works in an identical way that heroin does as a metabolic prodrug for morphine. It’s been reported to be up to 3 times stronger than THC.

Effects from Cannabinoid Acetylation Products

Synthetic cannabinoids are being employed by many today as a replacement for marijuana; we all know that THC is often a potent substance, especially in its concentrated form. THC-O-Acetate, a derivative that’s reported to be 300 percent stronger, could plunge consumers into a psychedelic state that no cannabinoid can compete with. Familiar effects like feelings of euphoria, increased appetite, relaxation, and psychosis symptoms, all these multiplied by three are basically what the consequences of modified cannabinoids could be, in theory. Studies show that effects kick in after about half an hour and may feel more “spiritual” because the “high” induces psychedelic effects, unlike its parent material.

Significance and Benefits of Cannabis Acetylation

The manufacture of “prodrugs” has been successfully utilized to develop better therapeutic treatments for patients. With examples like aspirin, prodrugs’ critical importance is the properties they seek to modify: drugs being absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and appropriately excreted (ADME). The top goal is the creation of a replacement entity that optimizes the performance of medicine. Acetylation brings the goals of those drugs to life by helping enhance their chemistry. Optimal solubility within the body, allowing selective targeting of medicine to specific organs, rapid metabolism, and elimination with reduction of toxic effects that a lively drug may wear on the body are several modifications that acetylation presents.

The Bottom Line

The products derived from the THC synthesis by acetylation aren’t natural but manufactured within the laboratories and are significantly under-researched. With so many unknowns in cannabis, adding another layer of chemical processing only leads to more questions and variables. Only time will tell how laboratory-modified or man-made cannabinoids will be used in the future.

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