Understanding the Legality of Delta-8 THC, Delta-9 THC, and THC-O

Understanding the Legality of Delta-8 THC, Delta-9 THC, and THC-O

Posted by Justin Roberts on Feb 24th 2023

The cannabis industry has seen a surge in popularity over the past few years, and with that has come the development of new products and compounds derived from the cannabis plant. One such compound is delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC), which has gained attention for its potential therapeutic benefits and psychoactive effects. However, there is also another compound known as THC acetate ester, or THCO, that has been the subject of debate regarding its legality under federal law. In this article, we will explore the legality of delta-8-THC, delta-9-THC, and THCO, and the differences between them.

Delta-8-THC and Delta-9-THC 

Both delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC are cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, and they have similar chemical structures and psychoactive effects. However, the main difference between them lies in their legal status. Under federal law, delta-9-THC is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance, meaning it is illegal to manufacture, distribute, or possess it. Delta-8-THC, on the other hand, is not specifically listed in the federal Controlled Substances Act, which has led to some confusion and debate about its legality.

In 2018, the Agriculture Improvement Act, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, was signed into law, which legalized hemp and hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3% delta-9-THC. Since delta-8-THC can be derived from hemp, it is argued by some that it falls within the legal definition of hemp and is therefore legal under federal law. However, this interpretation of the law is still being debated and clarified by federal agencies, and it is important to note that some states have specifically banned delta-8-THC.


THC acetate ester, or THC-O, is a synthetic form of delta-8-THC or delta-9-THC that has been esterified with acetic acid. THC-O can be produced by synthesizing THC using a chemical reaction, and it is not found naturally in the cannabis plant. The DEA has stated that it is aware of only two forms of THC acetate ester, which are delta-8-THC-O and delta-9-THC-O.

Under federal law, THC, including its synthetic derivatives and isomers, is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. Therefore, both delta-8-THCO and delta-9-THC-O are illegal under federal law, regardless of whether they are derived from hemp or synthesized.

In a letter to lawyer Rod Kight, the DEA stated that THC acetate ester, specifically delta-8-THC-O and delta-9-THC-O, are controlled substances under the federal Controlled Substances Act and are classified in Schedule I, with the Controlled Substances Code Number (CSCN) 7370. The letter also stated that because delta-8-THC-O and delta-9-THC-O are already controlled substances, they do not meet the definition of controlled substance analogues under 21 U.S.C. ยง 813.

You can find a copy of the letter here

In conclusion, delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC are both cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, but delta-8-THC's legal status is currently being debated and clarified by federal agencies. THC-O, on the other hand, is a synthetic form of THC and is classified as a Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. It is important to understand the legal status of these compounds before purchasing or using any products containing them.