chemistry professionals in the cannabis industry

THC-O-Acetate: A Quest in Cannabinoid Chemistry

by | Jan 4, 2020

chemistry professionals in the cannabis industry

Written by Kristina Etter

Kristina is a digital content creator and designer. She has a talent for creating engaging and informative content that resonates with our professional audience. Kristina’s passion for the cannabis industry stems from her belief that it has the potential to revolutionize the world in many ways, and has a personal testimony of cannabis success.

In the decades-old mission to increase potency in cannabis, mastering growing techniques to improve the cannabinoid expression of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, has led to some of the most potent strains of cannabis sativa the world has ever seen. Additionally, methods for extracting the essential oils and cannabinoids from the plant have provided some of the purest and most potent THC products known to man.

Science and technology in cannabis are leading to innovations never before imagined. Through extraction and laboratory processes, like chromatography, producers provide pharmaceutical-grade cannabinoid extracts like distillates and isolates. Similarly, in the quest for potency and purity, other producers are turning to lab processes and chemistry to biosynthesize cannabinoids from yeast.

Last week, Cannabis Tech spoke with Serge Chistov at Honest Marijuana about their nano-encapsulated THC-O-Acetate products coming soon to dispensaries in Colorado.

Honest Marijuana Sets Innovation Standards

After commercializing organic cannabis cultivation and production using living soils and brewing teas, Honest Marijuana moved on to perfect their packaging to deliver perfectly preserved products from the farm direct to the consumer with nitrogen flashed, food-grade tin containers. Today, their mission is cannabinoid delivery improvements through nano-encapsulation technology called Nanobidiol.

Chistov confided, “Smoking is an old habit… inefficient and dangerous. We’ve learned combusting anything near your esophagus is not good.”

However, as many consumers learned, eating THC may not produce the most beneficial outcome either, as the liver metabolizes THC, the compound changes to 11-Hydroxy-THC. This newly formed, THC metabolite generally produces a relaxing, sedative, body effect. While this is good for some consumers, others may avoid edibles and resort to the more damaging methods of smoking or vaping to avoid the sedative effects of the metabolite.

“I might want to eat a gummy and go skiing, but after eating the gummy, I’m suddenly more interested in Netflix and ice cream,” Chistov admitted. So, armed with a team of experts, Honest Marijuana set out to do the impossible – create a more cerebral, energetic cannabis edible.

THC-O: The Unnatural Cannabinoid

Phytocannabinoids like THC, CBD, and CBG occur naturally within cannabis and hemp, and endocannabinoids arise naturally within the body. However, THC-O-Acetate is not a naturally occurring cannabinoid, which likely causes concern for some whole-plant cannabis advocates. Man-made, THC-O is a cannabinoid produced by using specific chemicals to acetylate THC.

Acting as a metabolic prodrug for THC itself, THC-O works in the same manner as heroin does as a metabolic prodrug for morphine. While the process itself may sound intimidating, Chistov claims his team of chemists has developed a method to acetylate THC using safe, approved solvents and chemicals. In fact, as a first in the US, Chistov said his team developed the analytical standard for testing for THC-O, as well, and they are in the final stages of introducing products to retail outlets.

THC-O: The Spiritual Cannabinoid

THC-O-Acetate, or ATHC, is supposedly two to three times as potent as THC and reported by consumers as being more spiritual and psychedelic than the more common form of the cannabinoid. However, historically, the process of creating the acetate version of THC was extraordinarily dangerous, using highly caustic chemicals, making this man-made cannabinoid extremely rare, until now.

With a potency estimated to be about 300% that of THC, the acetate version of the drug is considered to be very psychedelic and introspective. But, like other isolates, due to the processing required to make this substance, all the other beneficial compounds found in the plant have been stripped away. There’s no flavor and no aroma to THC-O.

Similar to eating THC-infused edibles, THC-O-Acetate takes time to metabolize in the body. While enzymes in the liver metabolize delta9-THC into 11-Hydroxy-THC for that potent, long-lasting edible high, ATHC must also be metabolized. The body must “de-acetylate” the product before it is activated and can create an effect. This process, like edibles, is said to take between 30 minutes and an hour.

However, with Honest Marijuana’s dissolving mints, sublingual absorption speeds up the process allowing the THC-O-Acetate to enter the bloodstream nearly immediately or within just a few minutes. Chistov stated, “Nano formulation allows us to take the active ingredient (THC-O, in this case) and make an edible option for people who prefer the more cerebral experience of smoking or vaping.”

A Historical Perspective on THC-O

Seven decades ago, at the Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, the U.S. military started conducting experiments using THC acetate in tests on canines for use as a non-lethal incapacitating agent for warfare. In other words, the military attempted to weaponize cannabis. Research shows the acetate version of the cannabinoid had twice the strength of THC to impair the muscle function of the dogs.

In 1978, a man in Jacksonville, Florida, was making the drug, but as an isolated incident, the push to make it illegal never materialized. In this case, a cannabis extract had been obtained by Soxhlet extraction. The extract had been acetylated with acetic anhydride, and in the final step, the excess acetic anhydride was removed by distillation.

The compound is not listed as a scheduled drug in the United States. However, in 1986, the US Government made all analogs of THC illegal, so this substance falls into that category. Not surprisingly, there has only been this one instance of the synthetic cannabinoid being found in the United States.

Outside the US

The United Kingdom and New Zealand both found incidents of THC acetates in 1995 when they outlawed them. In both cases, the manufacturers were using acetic anhydride and instructions from a book titled Cannabis Alchemy: Art of Modern Hashmaking by D. Gold.

Future Potential

Although these products are not available on the market yet, Chistov and his team have been working to introduce the synthesized cannabinoid to Colorado and hope to see it come to fruition in early 2020. Through Honest Marijuana’s processes, the new cannabinoid offers:

  • Water Solubility – cannabinoids in their natural form are lipids, which means they are fat-soluble or dissolve in oil, decreasing bioavailability. Using Honest Marijuana’s patented nano-encapsulation technology, THC-O comes in a powder and can be easily added to many products.
  • Chemical Alternatives – Acetate versions of cannabinoids may help in cases where the natural cannabinoid doesn’t have the desired effect. Due to differences in human biology, some patients may need a different version of the drug to stimulate the receptors appropriately.

Although synthetic cannabinoids may raise a few eyebrows within the cannabis community, some consumers may prefer the effects of THC-O, as compared to naturally derived THC. As research continues to uncover the mysteries of the compounds found within the leaves of hemp and cannabis, we can only anticipate further advances in technology to provide improved delivery and bioavailability.

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