Differences Between THCO and THCA

Cannabis Flower Growing from a Cannabis Plant

The world of cannabis is vast and full of intriguing compounds, offering a rich field of study for those eager to explore. Among the many cannabinoids with therapeutic potential, THCO and THCA stand out for their unique characteristics and effects on the body.

We have a comprehensive guide on THCA featured here, but what about THCO? This article aims to dive deep into the nature of THCO and THCA, exploring their properties, potential benefits, and how they compare and contrast with each other. By the conclusion, you’ll gain a comprehensive insight into THCO and THCA, two of the most fascinating cannabinoids with potential health benefits.

Key Takeaways

  • THCA is the go-to for those looking for an option to avoid psychoactive effects as long as the product remains unlit. THCA is versatile and can also provide a high when heated. 
  • Meanwhile, THCO is known for its stronger psychoactive properties, leading to a more intense euphoria. 
  • THCO is similar to Delta-9 THC, but has stronger effects that can last much longer than traditional THC. 
  • When deciding between THCO and THCA, it boils down to what you’re looking for and your personal preferences. It’s key to have a good understanding of both to ensure you get the desired experience from your cannabis use.

THCO Explained

Tetrahydrocannabinol-o-acetate (THCO) is a synthetic variant of THC that has been turning heads in the world of cannabinoids for its potent effects.

Its molecular makeup is close to that of Delta-9 THC, but the addition of an acetate group means it can more easily cross the blood-brain barrier. This characteristic gives THCO its strong psychoactive abilities, with users often comparing its effects to THC, though noting a slower start and more intense experience.

The unique structure of THCO also means it breaks down slower in the body, extending its duration beyond that of regular THC. Additionally, it has a higher affinity for CB1 receptors, enhancing the pleasurable feelings associated with cannabis consumption.

Does THCO Get You High?

Yes, THCO is a psychoactive component found in cannabis that is responsible for creating the sensation of being “high.” This occurs when THCO attaches to the brain’s CB1 receptors, initiating a state of euphoria by stimulating the brain’s reward system.

By activating this system, THCO prompts the release of dopamine in amounts surpassing those triggered by natural rewards such as eating or socializing. Consequently, this is what makes the experience of cannabis particularly enjoyable for many users.

Collection of Cannabis Flower Already Separated from the Plant

Photo by Laura Jaramillo Bernal on Unsplash

THCO vs. THCA: Similarities

Chemical Structure and Origins

THCO and THCA are both cannabinoids that occur naturally in the cannabis plant. While they share similar chemical structures, it’s the presence or lack of a specific chemical bond that differentiates their psychoactive effects.

THCA contains an extra carboxylic acid chain, making it non-psychoactive. Conversely, THCO possesses an added hydroxyl group, contributing to its strong psychoactive properties.

Biological Activity

Both THCO and THCA engage with the endocannabinoid system within our bodies, a crucial system that regulates various functions like appetite, pain sensation, sleep, mood, and memory.

Upon entering the body, these cannabinoids influence the endocannabinoid system, which can lead to outcomes like alleviating pain, diminishing inflammation, and offering various potential benefits.

Formation Process

As the cannabis plant develops, both THCA and THCO emerge, with THCA forming initially from the transformation of its precursor, CBGA, through decarboxylation. This step involves stripping away a carboxyl group from CBGA, leading to THCA’s creation, a process that can be expedited by exposure to heat, light, or oxygen.

Following this, the formation of THCA, transforms into Delta-9 THC via isomerization, which rearranges its chemical structure further.

The journey to produce THCO from Delta-9 THC involves an extra step: Delta-9 THC is combined with an acetate molecule, culminating in THCO’s formation. This additional stage enriches Delta-9 THC with an acetate group, creating THCO.

General Safety

THCO and THCA are typically deemed safe and non-toxic for human use. However, as is the case with any cannabinoid, it’s important to use them responsibly and follow recommended dosages to minimize any potential side effects or adverse reactions.

The safety of these cannabinoids largely depends on the quality and strength of the product consumed. Therefore, it’s crucial to buy THCA diamonds and other related products from trustworthy sources that use high-quality ingredients and offer clear, honest details about their items.

THCO vs. THCA: Differences


In early 2023, the DEA announced that THCO had been classified as a Schedule I substance, rendering it federally illegal across the United States. The core of their rationale was that THCO does not occur naturally within cannabis plants and is exclusively produced through synthetic methods.

On the other hand, THCA continues to be federally legal, given its natural presence in marijuana and hemp plants.

Psychoactive Properties

The key distinction between THCO and THCA centers on their effects on the mind. THCO is recognized for its exceptionally strong potency, far surpassing that of Delta-9 THC, leading to profound psychoactive impacts.

Conversely, THCA is known for being non-psychoactive, lacking the capacity to induce euphoric or intoxicating sensations upon consumption until heated and transformed into traditional delta-9 THC.


THCO boasts a greater bioavailability and a quicker absorption rate in the body compared to THCA. Its ability to rapidly cross the blood-brain barrier means users can experience effects sooner and with more intensity.

The bioavailability of THCO and THCA varies with the consumption method. For example, the absorption rate of THC through edibles is relatively low, around 5-10%, due to its poor solubility in water and the slow pace of digestion.

In contrast, inhalation significantly enhances absorption, reaching up to 30% or more, especially when cannabis is vaporized.

Since THCA does not produce psychoactive effects and suffers from low bioavailability because of its poor water solubility and slow digestion, THCO is effectively more bioavailable. This difference greatly influences the onset and intensity of their respective effects.

Stability and Shelf-Life

THCA is naturally unstable and can quickly transform into THC when exposed to heat, light, or over time. THCO, however, demonstrates superior stability and is less likely to change into different cannabinoids with correct storage.

THCO’s longevity outpaces THCA’s, retaining its cannabinoid composition and strength for as long as two years if stored appropriately. In comparison, THCA generally remains stable for about six months before it begins converting to THC.

Addiction Potential

Addiction arises when an individual becomes physically or psychologically reliant on a substance. Like many psychoactive compounds, THC-O has the potential to lead to addiction if used in excess or over extended periods.

On the flip side, THCA does not produce psychoactive effects until transformed and thus presents a significantly reduced risk of addiction compared to THC-O. Long-term consumption of THCA typically does not lead to physical or psychological dependency.

Scientific Bottles and Tubes Used in Chemistry

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

THCO vs. THCA: Potential Benefits

Both THCA and THCO can offer medical advantages, yet their mechanisms of action in the body differ.

THCO, is noted for its reported abilities to:

  • Relieve Pain
  • Prevent Nausea
  • Reducing Stress/Anxiety
  • Easing Discomfort
  • Suppressing Nausea

THCO also targets the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, triggering a range of physiological effects depending on which receptor it activates. THCO’s stronger affinity for the CB1 receptor contributes to its more pronounced psychoactive effects compared to THCA, influencing mood and cognitive processes more significantly.

THCA, in contrast, is recognized for its versatility in targeting singular benefits, such as: 

  • Anti-Inflammatory
  • Antioxidant
  • Neuroprotective Properties

Studies continue to explore its capability to ease symptoms associated with diverse health conditions, but initial research continues to look promising. THCA also engages with the body’s endocannabinoid system by binding mainly to the CB2 receptor, though it also interacts with the CB1 receptor. This interaction is crucial for modulating many bodily functions and could be harnessed in treating diverse medical conditions.

THCO vs. THCA: Potential Side Effects

Like all cannabinoids, THCA and THCO come with their potential side effects. While many people turn to these substances for relief from various health conditions, it’s important to be aware of the risks involved.

THCA and THCO use may lead to: 

  • Dry Mouth
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Impaired Coordination

However, THCO can also have more severe impacts due to its stronger psychoactive nature. These might include feelings of anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, and can even carry a risk of addiction for some users.

For both THCA and THCO, starting with a small dose and gradually increasing it is wise to gauge how your body responds. Stay alert to any adverse effects while using these compounds, and if side effects become serious or persist, consulting with a healthcare provider is advisable.

Final Thoughts – THCO or THCA, Which One is Better?

Honestly, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here. THCO and THCA each bring something different to the table in terms of potential, and the right choice depends on what you’re looking for.

For those keen to steer clear of THC’s high, THCA might be the way to go as products using THCA are much more diverse. THCO, with its extremely strong psychoactive effects, can significantly boost mood and create a sense of euphoria, all the while offering similar anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, and pain relief benefits.

Reminder – The latest DEA regulations classify THCO as illegal.

**(Disclaimer reminder: This article is not medical advice. It is based on anecdotal user experience alone. If you are thinking about incorporating cannabis (delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, CBD, etc) into your medicinal routine, please consult a healthcare professional. Do not stop taking any prescribed medications without first consulting your doctor.)** 

Disclaimer: This article was written in March 2024 and reflects the United States’ laws that were current at that time. Because cannabis laws in the United States laws are subject to change at any time, please make sure that you are always staying up to date on your federal, state, and local county’s cannabis laws. Additionally, we are NOT encouraging anyone to break the law––we are simply showing people ways to legally and discreetly bring their cannabis products along with them on their travels so that they may have access to those products when they reach their intended destination.

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