THCO Correspondence with DEA Explained

THCO Correspondence with DEA Explained

On February 13th, a private email response from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to an inquiry from Rod Kight, an international Cannabis lawyer, regarding the status of certain cannabinoids under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), was leaked on a blog.

According to the DEA's response, "delta" cannabinoids, including Delta-8 THCO and Delta-9-THCO, synthetically derived from hemp, do not qualify as hemp and will be considered Schedule I drugs.

After posting the personal email correspondence to a website that he owns, Kight received an influx of publicity. However, this letter does not rewrite the 2018 Farm Bill Act, which is currently the legislative ruling at both the State and Federal levels. Therefore, this email leak does not change any legislation but does provide free marketing for Kight’s services and blog.

The 2018 Farm Bill Act clearly outlines the definitions of marijuana and hemp and legalizes hemp if it contains less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC (on a dry-weight basis). However, if a cannabis product contains over 0.3% Delta-9 THC, it is considered marijuana and therefore defaults to State-level legislation. 

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and hemp-derived products, including cannabinoids such as CBD that contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the "high" typically associated with marijuana. 

The DEA's opinion on CBD (cannabidiol) has evolved over time. In the past, the agency considered all forms of cannabis, including hemp and CBD, to be Schedule I controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act, which means they were considered to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse.

In August 2020, the DEA issued an Interim Final Rule (IFR) stating that all synthetic cannabinoids, including Delta-8 THC, were Schedule I controlled substances. However,  Delta-8 THC derived from natural sources, such as hemp, is not "synthetically derived" and is legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. 

The DEA's position on medical cannabis use is complex and multifaceted. On the one hand, the agency still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act, which means it is considered to have no medical use and a high potential for abuse. This classification makes it difficult for researchers to conduct studies on the potential medical benefits of cannabis, as it restricts access to the drug for scientific research.

On the other hand, the DEA has acknowledged that some components of cannabis, such as CBD, may have potential medical benefits and has taken steps to clarify the legal status of CBD derived from hemp (cannabis with less than 0.3% THC). Additionally, the agency has approved certain medications that contain components of cannabis, such as Epidiolex, which is used to treat seizures associated with two rare forms of epilepsy.

Overall, the DEA's position on medical cannabis use is nuanced and depends on the specific circumstances and context. The agency generally supports research into the potential medical benefits of cannabis but maintains a strict regulatory stance on the drug due to its Schedule I status.

Gold Spectrum’s CEO, Zack Green, spoke with the lab director from our third-party testing DEA-accredited facility, Sunflower wellness, and the SD Farms lab director, who discussed this letter in depth. Their conversation heavily stressed the differences between synthetic hemp and hemp that have been through a synthesis process. The terminology is critical to the legality. 

Synthetic hemp is something made entirely from chemicals. They can make cannabinoids through the use of chemicals that allow them to work backward and make molecules. The legal issue with this is their base materials are not CBD, and it did not begin as hemp. 

However, synthesis is when CBD is put into vessels and by using pressure, temperature, and solvents to rearrange the molecular structure of the CBD to develop the other cannabinoids, accelerating the process that initially occurs in nature. Doing so makes it more bio-available. The bottom line ingredient is CBD, making the final product still a derivative of hemp. 

The second page of the DEA response shows the chemical makeup of Delta-9-THCO (Delta-9-THC acetate ester) and Delta-8-THCO (delta-8-THC acetate ester). THC-O is created by chemically converting CBD into either Delta-9 THC or Delta-8 THC and then converting those cannabinoids into their acetate ester form, which is called THC-O for short.

Kight mentioned in his article that he routinely advises “friends not to consume THCO to the potentially serious medical consequences of vaping it.”

But a study by Robert Strongin, Kaelas Munger, and Robert Jensen investigated potential ketene (a toxic gas) formation from Delta-8 THC acetate, as well as other cannabinoids acetates, CBN acetate, and CBD acetate, under vaping conditions. The study identified a potential health risk associated with vaping CBNO, a synthetic cannabinoid, which can produce a toxic gas called ketene when vaped at very high temperatures. 

Yes, this study does confirm that CBNO, in particular, creates ketene when burned at approximate temperatures of 378 degrees Celsius (712 degrees Fahrenheit). However, the temperature conditions of their experiment were not as concerning because vape pens, and even blow torches for dabbing, rarely reach even 500 degrees Fahrenheit.  

The study could not confirm the creation of ketene when Delta-9 THCO or Delta-8 THCO was utilized under the same conditions, only CBNO.  Additionally, this potential health risk is removed when THCO is ingested in, say, edibles instead of vaping at those specifically high temperatures. THC-O gummies and tinctures are not a health risk.

Kight claims that his concerns with the potentially harmful results from the consumption of THCO led to his inquiry to the DEA. However, it's important to note that the DEA's response is not legally binding and does not have the force of law. The legality of Delta-8 THC and other cannabinoids will likely continue to be debated and may vary from state to state. Therefore, it's essential to stay informed about local laws and regulations regarding cannabis and cannabinoid products.

However, any changes to drug laws or regulations ultimately require action by Congress or other government agencies with authority to make such changes. The DEA's role is to enforce the laws and regulations as they currently exist and to provide input and recommendations to other government bodies as needed.

 “A change would most likely happen by legislators looking at the 2018 Farm Bill Act at the end of 2023 and revising it by adding further definitions of hemp/marijuana. Other changes could come from state legislators or federal, but until someone makes a law, it continues being hemp.  Since nothing is being talked about legally changing, it is business as usual,” says Green. 

While this does not change the current legal status of Delta-8 and other cannabinoids, it does suggest that there will be a change in compliance and other regulatory action for the cannabis industry. For example, in January, House bill 403 was filed for introduction in Tennessee to introduce regulations for the manufacturing, distributing, and selling of hemp-derived products. Read more on the article here

At Gold Spectrum, we pride ourselves on the transparency of what goes into our products and provide a certificate of analysis (COA) for each one we sell. A COA includes information such as the concentrations of each cannabinoid and where and when the batch was produced. Should you have any questions, please feel free to chat with us on our website or email us at


Kight, R. (2022, February 17). THCO is a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, says DEA.

Strongin R, Munger K, Jensen R. Vaping Cannabinoid Acetates Leads to Ketene Formation. ChemRxiv. Cambridge: Cambridge Open Engage; 2022;
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