Delta-8 is a cannabis compound that has become popular because of its similarity to THC, the main compound in cannabis that gets you high, causing euphoria, happiness, sedation, symptom relief, and much more. Large amounts of THC are found in a majority of cannabis strains.
The similarities between the two cannabinoids lie in their chemical structures and their names. THC’s scientific name is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9 THC, or just delta-9. Delta-8 is short for delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-8 THC. Delta-8 THC can cause effects similar to regular delta-9 THC—but they will be much less potent.
Delta-8 and delta-9 are both forms of THC. In common usage, when people refer to THC they are talking about delta-9 THC. (In this article, when we use the term “THC” without a modifier, we are referring to delta-9 THC.)
Currently, the legality of delta-8 is hazy. It can be extracted from either hemp or cannabis. Because of the 2018 farm bill, hemp can be legally grown and used for extractions all over the United States, making delta-8 legal in states where delta-9 THC is illegal—sometimes.
Nearly all delta-8 THC on the market today is manufactured from hemp-derived CBD, which makes it, in theory at least, part of a federally legal chain of origin.
People in states where THC is illegal crave cannabis products and are now looking to delta-8 because it may be legal in their state, even though it is less potent than regular THC. Many extractors are ramping up delta-8 production to meet this new demand and shipping it all over the US.
Delta-9-THC vs delta-8-THC: similarities and differences
You can compare these two compounds in a few different ways.
Chemical structure. From a chemical or structural perspective, delta-8-THC differs from delta-9-THC due to the location of a critical chemical bond. Both forms of THC contain double bonds in their molecular chain. Delta-8-THC contains that bond on the 8th carbon chain, while delta-9-THC contains the bond on the 9th carbon chain. Although it seems like a subtle difference, it has a major impact on the shape of these molecules. This shape directly determines how well the molecules are able to bind to the body’s endocannabinoid receptors.
Molecular stability. Delta-9-THC is less stable than delta-8-THC. Delta-9-THC is easily oxidized to become cannabinol (CBN) or delta-8-THC. Delta-8-THC is stable, does not oxidize to become CBN, and boasts a prolonged shelf life. Such stability is desirable in a medicinal compound.
Affinity for cannabinoid receptors. Delta-8-THC, when inhaled, binds to the CB1 receptor like delta-9-THC, but its affinity for the receptor is different due to its slightly altered molecular structure and related shape. The CB1 receptor is responsible for mediating most of the psychotropic effects of THC. This differential binding may be responsible for delta-8-THC’s reportedly producing a clearer high with less anxiety than delta-9-THC. It’s also possible that delta-8-THC’s molecular structure affects how it interacts with other receptors and neural pathways.
Effects from consumption. Plenty of clinical and anecdotal evidence points to delta-9-THC having intoxicating effects when consumed via inhalation or ingestion. We know much less about the effects of delta-8-THC. Some say delta-8-THC produces a milder, clearer high than delta-9-THC even at higher doses. However, pharmacologically, delta-8-THC edibles function very similarly to delta-9-THC edibles, with both molecules converting into 11-hydroxy-THC in the liver. Because there is so much we have yet to learn about delta-8-THC, and because the effects are very different depending on whether it’s ingested or inhaled, it’s wise to treat these products with the same caution you would treat THC products.
Reasons to Try Delta-8 THC
Delta-8’s unique properties lend themselves to a variety of uses and situations. For the cannabis-curious, it can act as a bridge to acclimating to other cannabinoids. Especially in today’s market, many nascent cannabis consumers find delta-9 can sometimes be too intense to enjoy. This is especially true in the case of edibles, but for flower and vapes as well, depending on the consumer. As Delta Effex explained, “Delta-8 offers a way to try some of the effects of delta-9, without diving headlong into a full high experience.”
Delta-8 might be ideal for when a cannabinoid lift is desired, but the full potency of delta-9 is too much for the occasion.
While many people use cannabis to help with social anxiety, delta-9 effects tend to be too racy or hard to focus under certain circumstances. When clarity is higher on the priority list, a regular cannabis consumer might reach for delta-8 above delta-9.
Also, as mentioned, delta-8 is available to consumers who might not otherwise be able to try delta-9 THC. While some states may have individual restrictions, Delta-8 cannabinoids are completely hemp-derived and thus fall under the legislation of the 2018 Farm Bill. In accordance with the bill’s guidelines, delta-8 preparations contain less than .3% delta-9 THC.
Legality of Hemp-Derived THC Compounds
The differences in name and how it is sourced may seem like small details, but they change how delta-8 is handled legally. In the United States, the hemp derivation and lack of delta-9 THC ideally put delta-8 preparations into the same class as CBD products.
Currently, there is some debate underway about proposed guidelines that would alter the definition of permitted hemp preparations if the precursor ingredients have higher THC levels than allowable. Comments are ongoing at this time, so check back with PotGuide as the matter develops. Currently, this matter does not appear to affect delta-8 preparations.
Unlike delta-9 THC, delta-8 itself currently has no federal scheduling. However, it is possible to fail a drug test from use of delta-8, as those tests do not test for specific types of THC, but rather THC metabolites. THC metabolites are the result of the body processing any form of THC. Think of it as finding a Popsicle stick: you know someone ate a Popsicle, but can’t tell the exact flavor. Is the red from strawberry or cherry? If you need to pass a drug test, just be aware.
Regardless, always do your own research and vetting on the legal standing of any cannabinoid in your area before consuming or purchasing a product. Laws are varied and complex, and we at PotGuide are in no way giving legal advice.