cannabis plants

Delta 8 THC: The Latest Craze in the Cannabis Industry

It’s hard to argue that CBD hasn’t become the most prominently discussed and commercialized cannabis component in the entire industry. Prior to the CBD boom, however, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, was the number one in the minds of cannabis users as it was the only commonly known component in the plant that provided a psychoactive effect for the end user. Like all things, however, the cannabis industry has changed and more cannabinoids have found their way into the spotlight including the latest popular and controversial cannabinoid: Delta-8 THC

What is Delta-8 THC?

The term THC is a familiar one for those with any involvement in the hemp and cannabis industry, but for all these years it has been Delta-9 THC that has claimed notoriety. So, what is Delta-8 THC? And, what makes it any different from its numerical counterpart? While the composition of this cannabinoid may be very similar, the effects and legal status of delta-8 THC are very clearly different. 

Delta-8 THC is an analogue of the commonly known Delta-9 THC that differs slightly in its chemical makeup and psychoactive effects. It is a cannabinoid naturally found in cannabis plants at lower levels than Delta-9 THC and CBD. Like most important cannabinoids, this distinctive hemp and cannabis compound is derived from CBGA (Cannabigerolic acid) once Delta-9 THC is generated through decarboxylation and can be oxidized, Delta-8 THC is subsequently created.

A more scientific understanding is that Delta-8 is an isomer, meaning it is a combination of two cannabinoids using isomerization. Most cannabinoids can be manipulated in construction by altering where bonds connect with this technique. Even though Delta-8 THC is formed naturally in the hemp and cannabis plant, a very small trace is found in the cannabis plant rendering typical extraction methods useless(see Supercritical Co2 Extraction for in-depth guide). Chemists use synthesis to fix this dilemma. By using this process, Delta-8 can be legally synthesized from CBD and used by those interested in its effects.

What are the effects of Delta-8 THC? 

Because of its relatively similar chemical composition, Delta-8 THC affects the same endocannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, as Delta 9 THC meaning that it is, in fact, psychoactive – it does produce a “high.” In using Delta-8 THC, similar effects are reported by users that are akin to the ever-popular Delta-9 THC effects. This includes euphoria, appetite stimulation, relaxation and other effects. Again, these are reported in using Delta-8 THC as well.

Apart from just a “feel-good” effect from Delta-8 THC, there are many purported health benefits that have come from research of Delta-8 THC. Many of these benefits are similar to Delta-9 including anti-nausea, anti-anxiety and pain remediating effects. The difference, however, in the effects of Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are often reported by those who have used both cannabinoids who say that Delta-8 is less intoxicating, or less potent than Delta-9 THC. This is important for those who want to avoid the psychoactive effects of Delta-9 THC, but would benefit from the potential relief that Delta-8 may provide. This may include those sensitive to THC, or younger individuals. 

The Legal Status of Delta 8 THC

Though increasingly popular in the hemp and cannabis industry, Delta-8 THC is not without its own controversy. Being that it is psychoactive, some believe this cannabinoid to be a loophole for those who would like to get high but are also afraid of the legal repercussions that using Delta-9 THC may bring. Despite this concern, there is no doubt that Delta-8 THC is currently federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. 

In the DEA’s list of controlled substances, tetrahydrocannabinols are explicitly listed as illegal, so wouldn’t that contain Delta 8? According to Section 12619(b) of the Farm Bill, it is stated that any kind of THC in the hemp plant using a Delta 9 material of 0.3% is lawful at the federal level. Though this is the case, certain state legislation does vary meaning Delta 8 and other cannabinoid based products might be illegal despite being derived from hemp. Because of this, it is critically important to assess and abide by state laws as both a manufacturer and a consumer.

A recent, interesting, and somewhat disconcerting development in the potential legality of hemp derived products like Delta-8 is in the DEA’s Interim Final Rule that has cast a shadow of uncertainty on the hemp industry. As was initially stated, any hemp derived product should not contain a percentage of delta-9 THC higher than 0.3% in order to comply with the legal definition of hemp. Now, some confusion comes from the interim final rules which states, “For synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols, the concentration of D9-THC is not a determining factor in whether the material is a controlled substance. All synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule 1 controlled substances.”

So, what does this mean for delta 8 production and use? The answer is ambiguous. Many interpret the Farm Bill to state explicitly that Delta-8 THC is a derivative of hemp, making federally legal without question. Others are concerned at the new verbiage used to explain the legality of tetrahydrocannabinol, afraid that it lumps delta 8 within the same jurisdiction. The fact of the matter is that there is no definitive answer as to the future of delta 8 THC, but is currently federally legal as of the time this is written. 

Final Thoughts on Delta 8 THC

Though the future of this cannabinoid is relatively foggy, it is undoubtedly the fastest-growing hemp product on the market currently. Due to its slightly less psychoactive effects compared to Delta 9 THC, this cannabinoid seems to be a middle ground solution for those looking for benefits that traditional cannabis would provide, but are leery of getting the stereotypical “high” associated with those products. With potentially similar effects capable of aiding in certain medical conditions coupled with federally legal status, it would seem that delta 8 THC could be considered an effective and safe alternative to the still illegal delta 9 THC. But, will we continue to see the regular production of this fascinating cannabinoid? Only time will tell. 
Jon Thompson, PhD, is a separations scientist and CEO of extraktLAB, an accredited engineering company for extraction, distillation and product formulation in the CBD, hemp and cannabis industries.