Once upon a time, delta-9 THC was the most famous cannabinoid known for causing a high. Now? Well, there are other THC family members hogging the spotlight, namely delta-8 THC, famed for inducing a high similar to delta-9.
So, what are the main differences between delta-8 and delta-9? What are their chemical structures? How do they make you feel?
Delta-8 is a homolog (variant) of delta-9 — they’re very similar in terms of molecular structure and the euphoric high they induce
Delta-8 causes a milder high, has fewer side effects (generally), and is federally legal across the U.S.
Delta-8 is also very different from CBD — CBD doesn’t cause a high nor does it cause you to fail a drug test
There’s up to 35% delta-9 and approximately 1% (or less) delta-8 THC in cannabis — to make delta-8 products, producers convert CBD into delta-8
The main differences between delta-8 and delta-9
1. Chemical structure
On a molecular level, delta-8 and delta-9 look almost identical except for one very small but significant difference. Both cannabinoids carry double bonds in their respective molecular chains but in different positions.
As its name suggests, delta-8’s double bond is positioned on the 8th carbon chain. Delta-9’s double bond is on the 9th carbon chain. This might sound insignificant but it really isn’t. This small difference changes the way the cannabinoid interacts with your endocannabinoid system, specifically how well it binds to your cannabinoid receptors, resulting in similar but different experiences when consumed.
When consumed, delta-8 causes a less potent and arguably more enjoyable high. An old research paper suggests it’s less potent and sedating, though anecdotal stories are a little more insightful.
Some believe delta-8 is equally as potent as delta-9 with less of a euphoric “kick”, while others believe it actually falls somewhere between CBD and delta-9, resulting in a clear-headed body high without feeling too “heavy”. It’s really all dependent on the dose and strength of your delta-8 product.
3. Side effects
There’s a common misconception that delta-8 consumption causes no side effects. This isn’t true at all. It can induce similar side effects to delta-9 such as anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, increased self-awareness, and sickness. However, for side effects to occur, a larger dose is required — far larger than it would be required with delta-9.
4. Legality and accessibility
Delta-8 THC is far more accessible than delta-9 because delta-8 derived from federally compliant varieties of hemp is technically legal, as outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill. This means delta-8 is federally legal, not listed as a controlled substance, and available in most U.S. states.
The delta-9 THC situation is different. It’s not protected by the 2018 Farm Bill and is listed as a “dangerous” schedule I controlled substance. This means it’s federally illegal with very little evidence to verify its safety as a medicinal or recreational drug. Delta-9 products are only accessible if you live in a US state with legalized medical or recreational cannabis.
When consumed, delta-8 and delta-9 travel through your digestive system to be metabolized by your liver. When metabolized, they convert into separate metabolites, which then flow through your blood and store in fatty tissue and hair follicles for up to 60-90 days.
Because delta-8 and delta-9’s metabolites are practically the same, drug tests aren’t able to differentiate between the two. No matter which one’s consumed, your drug result will most likely be a false positive or positive.
What’s the difference between delta-8 and CBD?
Delta-8 and CBD are similar insofar as being federally legal, naturally occurring cannabinoids but their effects couldn’t be any more different. Delta-8 induces an intoxicating high, which is more noticeable as you increase the dosage. CBD doesn’t give you a high, no matter how much you consume. It encourages your body into a soothing state of physiological equilibrium, also known as homeostasis.
Are delta-8 and CBD a great combo when taken together? Absolutely. As a negative allosteric modulator of cannabinoid 1 receptors (the same ones delta-8 binds to), CBD is thought to reduce the potency and effects of all THC variants by changing the receptor’s shape, which partially disallows binding activity.
In other words, CBD not only balances out the endocannabinoid system but also balances out a delta-8 THC high, potentially making your euphoric experience more enjoyable.
Causes a “high”
Doesn’t cause a “high”
A minor cannabinoid, not abundant (up to 1%)
Abundant in hemp and marijuana (up to 20%)
Binds directly to cannabinoid receptors
Binds to other receptor sites (vanilloid + serotonin)
Shows up on drug test
Doesn’t show up on drug test
Good for pain, appetite, anxiety, depression, sleep
Good for anxiety, pain, inflammation
What is delta-8 THC?
Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8 THC or simply delta-8) is one of over 113 similar chemical compounds (cannabinoids) present in varieties of cannabis, including hemp and medical marijuana. It’s an intoxicating homolog or variant of delta-9 THC capable of inducing a euphoric high, albeit a slightly milder and arguably more enjoyable one with fewer side effects. Homolog means it shares an almost identical chemical structure with very minor differences.
Delta-8 also belongs to the family of “tetrahydrocannabinols”, which includes delta-10-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-10 THC), tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), tetrahydrocannibiphorol (THCP), and delta-9 THC.
As with all THC family members, delta-8 is a “minor” cannabinoid, meaning it’s only present in cannabis in small quantities (up to 1%). This forces producers to create delta-8 products by converting CBD into delta-8 via a structural isomerization process using lab-grade chemicals.
What is delta-9 THC?
Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, often shortened to delta-9 or just THC, is the primary intoxicating cannabinoid present in hemp and marijuana. It’s responsible for causing the famous euphoric high everyone talks about.
THC is also the most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana. Many marijuana strains carry over 12-15% THC, though the upper limit is roughly 35%. This isn’t the same for hemp, which is specially bred to contain the federally legal limit of 0.3% THC. Not enough to cause a high.
Despite what many think, delta-9 does have therapeutic benefits beyond inducing a strong euphoric high. Researchers suggest delta-9 has the potential to combat pain, muscle spasticity, reduced appetite, nausea, and glaucoma.
What is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol and is the second-most abundant cannabinoid present in varieties of cannabis behind delta-9 THC. In hemp, the quantity of CBD ranges between 10-20% on average. In high-THC marijuana, the CBD content varies. Some strains carry only 2-3%, while others reach as high as 10-12%.
Unlike delta-8 and delta-9, no percentage of CBD will cause a euphoric “high” nor make you feel like you’re on the moon. It’s totally non-intoxicating.
However, contrary to common belief, CBD is psychoactive insofar as altering brain chemicals and interacting with your central nervous system via the endocannabinoid system. This is how CBD’s analgesic, anxiolytic, and anti-inflammatory benefits occur within your body.
Why knowing the differences between delta-8 vs delta-9 is important
Knowing the differences between delta-9 and delta-8 is important for the type of high you want.
Delta-8 is best if you’re looking to experience a euphoric high without the increased risk of overwhelming side effects. Think of it as a good starting point, almost like training wheels before consuming delta-9.
The accessibility of delta-8 is also important. If you live in a U.S. state that prohibits anything related to marijuana, federally legal hemp-derived delta-8 is a great alternative.
Currently, all but 16 U.S. states allow delta-8, but this could change as the federal government begins to zero in on this legal high.