A Guide to Delta-8 vs. THCOa: Extraction, Products, Safety, Legality, Testing & More

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized a new series of cannabinoids with similar molecular structures to THC. Manufacturers have been experimenting with novel hemp derivatives ever since. One of these compounds is Delta-8 THC, a mildly euphoric isomer of Delta-9 THC. Another is THCOa (THC-O acetate). Both compounds are psychoactive and sold legally (for now) nationwide.

Here we compare Delta-8 THC and THCOa’s chemistry, effects, potency, and extraction methods.

What Are the Key Differences Between Delta-8 and THCOa?

Delta-8 THC is a novel cannabinoid found in aged cannabis and hemp plants in trace amounts. It is a THC isomer that produces psychoactive effects like Delta-9 THC but has unique qualities due to its chemical variation. 

THCOa is an acetate ester of THC. Manufacturers produce it by heating THC and mixing it with a compound called acetic anhydride. Most operators use Delta-8 THC rather than Delta-9 to bypass legal concerns. As a result, THCOa products are typically “Delta-8 THCOa.”

How Do Delta-8 and THCOa’s Chemical Structures Differ?

Delta-8 THC has a chemical structure with a double-carbon bond on its eighth atom chain. It is almost identical to Delta-9 THC, except for its double-carbon bond location. This minor distinction makes Delta-8 about half as psychoactive as Delta-9.

Delta-8 THCOa shares the same base structure as Delta-8 THC. However, THCOa is manufactured with an acetate attached.

Acetylated compounds like THCOa are prevalent in pharmaceuticals.

What Are the Differences Between Delta-8 and THCOa Effects?

Delta-8 produces a mild psychoactive experience that many users describe as smooth, subtle, and calming. Many consider it suitable for evening use to relax and manage pain. Delta-8 provides many known benefits of THC that most consider “indica-like.”

THCOa is known to deliver a total mood lift, producing intense mental and physical euphoria. Users often describe its effects as happy and mildly sedating at lower doses, which can become borderline psychedelic and extremely sedative in larger quantities. At higher doses, most consider THCOa more of an evening substance. It is also known for anti-nausea, anti-anxiety, stress-reducing, and appetite-stimulating properties.

How Potent Are Delta-8 and THCOa?

Delta-8 appears to have a lower affinity for CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system, making it noticeably milder than Delta-9 THC. According to most consumers, Delta-8 has “indica-like” effects due to its sedative properties.

The lore surrounding THCOa indicates that the compound is three times stronger than traditional Delta-9 THC. Scientific studies do not verify this precise claim, but many people have confirmed THCOa’s powerful psychedelic-like high.

Some experts suggest THCOa’s unique structure could explain the anecdotal reports. For example, THCOa’s added acetate group makes the compound resistant to digestive enzymes, increasing blood and brain levels.

Another theory is that THCOa’s acetate group makes it more bioavailable than other forms of THC, allowing it to cross lipid-sensitive layers more effectively in the digestive tract and brain.

When the body metabolizes THCOA, it removes the acetate group, allowing the remaining THC molecule to bind to cannabinoid receptors, but at a much higher concentration than standard THC.

How Are Delta-8 and THCOa Made?

Delta-8 is a exotic cannabinoid that occurs in almost non-existent amounts. THCOa does not occur naturally in hemp or cannabis. As a result, manufacturers don’t extract these compounds from the plant directly. Instead, they chemically create Delta-8 and THCOa to have quantities large enough for mass production.

Delta-8 Production

Processors use a blend of chemical solvents (like heptane) and acids (like hydrochloric) in a process called “isomerization” to extract CBD from hemp and convert it into Delta-8 THC.

THCOa Production

To create THCOa, most manufacturers convert hemp-derived CBD into Delta-8 THC first. Then they add acetic anhydride, an extremely volatile chemical used to make fibers, plastics, pharmaceuticals, dyes, and explosives, to the Delta-8 compound. This process “synthesizes” or converts Delta-8 to THCOa.

Are Delta-8 and THCOa Legal?

The Farm Bill legally defines hemp as all parts of cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC, including isomers and derivatives. Delta-8 is an isomer and a derivative (made from CBD), and THCOa is created from Delta-8, so both are federally protected as of today.

However, due to their production methods and lack of comprehensive legislation, many states have introduced bills that explicitly prohibit Delta-8 and other CBD-derived psychoactive cannabinoids. So far, 17 states, including Colorado, Washington, New York, and Michigan, have banned Delta-8. Generally, if a state bans Delta-8, the language in the bill could also effectively ban THCOa.

What Kind of Delta-8 and THCOa Products Are Available?

Delta-8 is one of the fastest-growing compounds on the hemp market. It’s available in many cannabis and hemp-based products that consumers can inhale, ingest, and apply topically, including:

  • Distillate cartridges
  • Distillate syringes
  • Vape cartridges
  • Tinctures
  • Oils
  • Concentrates
  • Gummies and edibles
  • Beverages
  • Flower sprayed with Delta-8 distillate

THCOa is a relatively recent cannabinoid to hit the hemp market. Currently, the top THCOa products include: 

  • Vape cartridges
  • Gummies
  • Distillate
  • Flower sprayed with THCOa distillate

Delta-8 and THCOa Safety Issues

Delta-8 and THCOa production involves chemicals. The formulas could have residual reactants like acetic anhydride that can be hazardous to workers and end-users if not correctly washed. To prevent these issues, responsible producers must check off a few safety boxes first to ensure the conversion from CBD to Delta-8 is as clean as possible. 

Consumers concerned about residual chemical issues should only buy from trusted brands that thoroughly test their products and include a verified COA on their labels. Ultimately, every brand must verify its end products’ quality through full-panel testing with a verified third-party laboratory. 

ACS Laboratory recently developed a THCOa safety testing bundle to guarantee products are free from residual chemicals that could compromise human health.

Will Delta-8 or THCOa Show Up on a Drug Test?

Yes, Delta-8 and THCOa are chemically very similar to Delta-9 THC and will likely show up as THC on standard drug tests. 

Bottom Line

Delta-8 and THCOa are hemp derivatives that share THC’s euphoric effects and therapeutic benefits. Their production methods are similar, but THCOa’s added acetate alters its chemical structure. Only independent laboratories can confirm these popular hemp derivatives are free of residual solvents. 

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