Medically reviewed by Abraham Benavides, M.D.
While cannabis is fully legal in a handful of states across the US, the majority of residents still don’t have recreational access to the plant legally. However, the delta-8 THC cannabinoid has started to become incredibly popular for those who cannot obtain recreational cannabis legally, as it provides unique effects and can be found in various forms.
But, what exactly is delta-8 THC? The cannabinoid has made a lot of waves in the industry lately, but not many people are familiar with the ins and outs of this distinct compound. So, let’s talk about delta-8 THC and if it’s a good choice for consumers outside of legal states.
What Is Delta-8 THC and How Did We Find It?
Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8 THC, Δ8-THC) is one of many cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. However, it’s found in trace amounts, making it difficult to extract among the mix of hundreds of other compounds.
This cannabinoid is well known for its mild psychoactive properties and strong therapeutic effects. Compared to its sibling cannabinoid, delta-9 THC, delta-8 is less potent and works quite well at promoting feelings of relaxation and tranquility. It’s these properties and more that have made delta-8 THC pique so many consumers’ interests.
RELATED: Does Delta-8 Get You High?
The chemical composition of delta-8 THC, C21H30O2, is nearly identical to delta-9 THC. The biggest fundamental difference is where the double-bond structure occurs on the molecules themselves. For delta-9, the bond occurs between the 9th and 10th atom, while it occurs between the 8th and 9th for delta-8 THC. Chemists believe that this slight difference in chemical composition is what makes delta-9 a bit more fond of the CB1 receptors than delta-8 is.
Although the cannabinoid has only become popular within the past few years, Roger Adams and his team first discovered it decades ago — back in the 40s at the University of Illinois. This THC variant was found around the same time that delta-9 THC was, but research into its applications and functionality didn’t gain attention until well after it was fully synthesized by Ralph Mecheoulam and colleagues in 1966.
Today, you can find delta-8 THC in various forms, including flower, pre-rolls, gummies, tinctures, concentrates, and more.
A Hot Debate: Is Delta-8 Synthetic?
Technically, delta-8 THC is naturally produced within the cannabis plant. However, it’s present in such small amounts that are hardly even detectable. This makes it nearly impossible for cultivators and extractors to organically grow delta-8-rich flower. So, they have to synthesize it and curate it in a lab, instead.
In order to make delta-8 THC cannabinoids, professionals first extract hemp-derived CBD and isolate it. Then, by using a process called acid-catalyzed conversion, these extractors will manipulate the chemical composition of CBD to turn it into delta-8 THC. This process requires acidic chemicals under certain conditions to create the compound, specifically p-toluenesulfonic acid, which means labs must be careful to not leave behind any residual solvents or unwanted byproducts.
“All commercial delta-8 THC is synthetic as opposed to having been isolated from hemp,” Dr. Richard Sams, a chemist from KCA Labs, one of the industry’s most reputable cannabis testing labs, states.
Thus, many do consider delta-8 THC, as a whole, to be synthetic. But, this is a hot topic and has been debated for a while now. You may often see delta-8 being referred to as “semi-synthetic” since it starts with a naturally occurring compound (CBD) but does rely on human manipulation to create.
It’s important to note that products like delta-8 THC flower are not buds that are grown with high amounts of D8. Instead, it is hemp flower that has been coated in a type of delta-8 distillate. Again, this is because we cannot crossbreed and create strains with high amounts of delta-8 THC.
Effects: Does Delta-8 Get You High?
Yes, delta-8 THC does get you high. Delta-8 effects are psychoactive and can cause you to feel blissful, euphoric, and a bit intoxicated. But, delta-8 THC does have a more mild psychoactivity level than delta-9 THC does. So, while it’s going to get you high, it won’t get you nearly as high as delta-9 products.
Delta-8 THC is best for those who have lower tolerances or those who are just starting to get into the world of cannabis. This cannabinoid produces comforting highs that are helpful for those who feel on edge or anxious, as delta-8 THC appears to be more gentle than delta-9.
A 2022 survey of delta-8 consumers found that the majority of trial participants enjoyed D8’s relaxing properties, favoring it over delta-9. In fact, 57% said they would substitute delta-8 for delta-9 and 59% used it to substitute pharmaceutical drugs. And these are numbers we shouldn’t take lightly, especially considering the current pharmaceutical drug epidemic.
With 74% of participants not experiencing any anxiety and 83% not feeling paranoid side effects, studies like these and others are helping to show potential applications for the cannabinoid, highlighting the overall more “gentle” results of delta-8 over other cannabinoids, particularly delta-9.
In terms of potential medical applications and the cannabinoid’s effects there, the results are still up in the air. Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor, researcher and triple board-certified Emergency Medicine and Medical Toxicology physician, wants people to understand that delta-8 THC doesn’t have any proven medical benefits as of yet. “However,” she says, “it has been studied for medical use in humans in at least one clinical trial. In 1995, a study was conducted on the use of delta-8 THC to prevent nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy administration in pediatric cancer patients.”
Arbor goes on to elaborate that, “this was a small study that only involved eight children, so we definitely need more research on this topic before using delta-8 for medical purposes in humans. But, it’s certainly possible that future cannabis research studies may show a role for medical use of delta-8 THC in humans.”
Potential Risks & Side Effects
With all cannabinoids, delta-8 THC does come with side effects that you should be aware of. However, this cannabinoid, in particular, poses additional risks that come from a lack of regulation, purity, and overall knowledge of delta-8 as a whole.
In general, there’s always an element of risk in consuming a compound that’s not regulated. Since delta-8 THC is unregulated in the US, low-quality products can sometimes slip through the cracks, causing unpleasant and sometimes intense reactions.
Susan C. Smolinske, PharmD and Director of the New Mexico Poison and Drug Information Center, makes serious points about delta-8’s safety.
She explains to us, “Safety is a huge concern with data evolving rapidly. There were more reported serious adverse events in the last year than in years past [with delta-8 THC]. An analysis of the FDA reporting database found 183 cases listing delta-8 THC, of which 60% were serious and 45% resulted in hospitalization.” These adverse events could be caused by various reasons, but in-depth evaluations show that delta-8 THC products seem to pose more danger than other natural cannabinoids.
Smolinske goes on to say, “The pattern of injury related to delta-8 was different than in delta-9 cases in the same database, with more respiratory related events from delta-8. There were also more seizures reported from delta-8 THC. This represents an early signal that toxicity may be different among isomers.”
Essentially, with delta-8 THC, you have to consume with caution. These are products that can produce desirable results, but they also bring an element of uncertainty and risk that may not be worth it for most. If you want to try delta-8 THC products, that’s perfectly okay — but you do have to be aware of the potential dangers that the experience may bring.
If you are concerned about the quality and purity of the delta-8 THC products you buy and consume, you can go to webpoisoncontrol.org. There, you’ll be able to key in the product’s brand name, age, weight, and dose. “[The app] will advise you whether you can stay at home, if you need to call a poison center, and what symptoms to watch for,” Smolinske explains.
Will You Fail a Drug Test Because of Delta-8?
Unfortunately, because delta-8 THC is a THC isomer, it will cause you to fail a drug test if it’s in your system. Even though delta-8 THC isn’t the same cannabinoid as delta-9, it is still metabolized and excreted in the same way meaning that you will still fail.
RELATED: How Long Does THC Stay in Your System?
Drug tests aren’t searching for specific cannabinoids in the body; they cannot detect them like that. Instead, these tests are attempting to pick up the presence of THC metabolites in the body. When your body consumes any kind of THC, it eventually breaks down into metabolites like Δ9-THC-COOH that linger in the system. Drug tests are looking for the presence of this metabolite. For delta-8, the metabolite is technically Δ8-THC-COOH but it is similar enough that basic drug tests find them to be indistinguishable.
RELATED: The Lowdown on Delta-8 and Your Upcoming Drug Test
So, if you’ve had delta-8 THC recently, you’ve likely got some amount of THC-COOH hanging out in the body. If you went to take a drug test, the test would pick that up and you’d test positive for marijuana.
Making the Distinction Between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC
Though the names may sound the same, delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC are actually two different compounds that you don’t want to mix up.
We’ve mentioned that delta-8 THC is a minor cannabinoid in the sense that it occurs in very low amounts naturally. Well, delta-9 THC is the opposite: D9-THC is a major cannabinoid, as it is the most abundant psychoactive compound found in cannabis.
RELATED: The Weird and Wonderful Differences Between Delta-8 and Delta-9
So, while you’re likely to see super high levels of delta-9 THC in your flower, this simply won’t be the case with delta-8. You’re also not going to experience as strong of effects in the same dose of D8-THC as you would with D9-THC. The first human study with delta-8 was done in 1973 with only 6 research participants. They subjectively concluded that delta-8 was about two-thirds as potent as delta 9.
When asked about D8’s potency compared to D9, Richard Sams commented to us, “The potency of delta-8 THC is approximately half that of delta-9 THC… Since they are both partial agonists that bind to the same receptor, the same magnitude of psychoactive effect can be achieved by administering more of delta-8 THC than delta-9 THC.”
Essentially, Sams is saying that delta-8’s lower potency means that you’d have to take much more of it to experience the same amount of effects as delta-9 THC. But, the lower potency makes the cannabinoid a better choice for those beginner consumers just dipping their toes into the world of cannabis.
Legality (And Illegality)
Along with potency, another big difference between delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC is legality. Delta-9 THC (marijuana) is currently federally illegal, and you can only buy delta-9 THC products in states that have legalized cannabis either recreationally or medically. Federally, any product with more than 0.3% THC by weight is illegal. The same cannot be said for delta-8, though.
RELATED: Where Is Delta-8 Legal? (State-by-State Map)
Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, delta-8 THC is federally legal in the United States. As long as it comes from hemp and doesn’t have more than 0.3% THC by weight, it’s legal for sale, consumption, and possession across the country. But, this decision has sparked a lot of debate, causing a need for further legal clarification.
Nathan A. Lennon, attorney at Reminger law office, told us that, “A growing body of opinions and law suggest that the federal government’s current position is that Delta-8 derived from hemp is not a controlled substance.” He went on to explain, “A May 19, 2022 federal appeals court decision from California, AK Futures LLC v. Boyd St. Distro, LLC, concluded that hemp-derived delta-8 was in fact legal under the plain language of the Farm Bill.”
This has made the cannabinoid more widely available than delta-9 THC, especially for those who cannot get medical cards or adult-use cannabis.
Unfortunately, some states have started banning this cannabinoid, so you’ll have to check with your state laws to see whether or not delta-8 is legal.
A Guide to Safe, Proportional Dosing
Whenever you’re trying a new cannabinoid, proper dosing is key to having an effective, pleasant experience overall. So, if you’ve never had delta-8 THC before, you want to make sure to start with a somewhat low dose to see how your body reacts.
Every person will be different, and there aren’t any formal dosing guidelines yet, but starting with about 10 mg of delta-8 is a good way to see how the cannabinoid affects you. If you take this dosage and find that the effects simply aren’t strong enough, you can increase the milligrams by a little the next time you go to consume delta-8. Then, repeat this process until you reach the dose that works best for your health and wellness. It might take some trial and error, but it may be worth it to discover what your mind and body enjoy the most.
Getting More Familiar With Delta-8 THC — and Other Minor Compounds
At the end of the day, delta-8 THC products are wonderful options for consumers of all ages, especially those who live in states where cannabis is not yet legal. But, you want to make sure you buy high-quality, lab-tested products from reputable manufacturers; this way, you’re consuming products you trust.
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