Products containing delta-8 THC seem to be popping up everywhere we look these days. If you’re like most consumers, you may be wondering what this compound does and if delta-8 is even legal.
We’ve put together this short guide to help clear up some of the mystery surrounding delta-8 THC.
Discovered in the 1970s, delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of many compounds found in cannabis plants, known as cannabinoids. Cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are the two most abundant cannabinoids in hemp and cannabis plants. CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in high concentrations in industrial hemp plants. Delta-9 THC is the psychoactive compound in “marijuana” plants, which is famous for its ability to produce intoxicating effects.
Delta-8 THC is an analog of Delta-9 THC. Like regular THC, delta-8 is psychoactive, but to a much lesser extent. You might think of delta-8 as THC-Light. While typical cannabis plants can have THC levels reaching above 30%, delta-8 levels remain less than 1%. Moreover, delta-8 levels frequently range as low as .01%.
All cannabinoids, including regular THC, CBD, and delta-8, interact with receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is made up of a network of receptors designed to respond to our body’s own internal cannabinoids, known as endocannabinoids.
The ECS has two main types of receptors, CB-1 in the central nervous system and CB-2 in the immune system. Regular delta-9 THC has a molecular structure that is similar to one of our internal endocannabinoids, anandamide. This structure allows delta-9 THC to bind strongly to CB-1 receptors, producing the compound’s characteristically potent psychoactive effects.
Delta-8 creates a weaker bond with CB-1 receptors. The shift in the double bond from the ninth carbon to the eighth carbon modifies the molecule’s structure, making it more difficult to bond to the receptors. The result is a lighter psychoactive effect. Delta-8, like CBD, also inhibits regular THC from binding to the CB-1 receptor, lessening its effects.
In general, consumers of delta-8 THC report the same euphoric feelings they get with regular THC but with a marked reduction in uncomfortable feelings like anxiety or paranoia. Delta-8 consumers also report typical cannabis effects like increased appetite and physical relaxation. Like most cannabinoids, delta-8 THC has the ability to interact with both CB-1 and CB-2 receptors in our body’s endocannabinoid system, which may suggest that the compound has therapeutic potential.
Because cannabis plants contain less than 1% delta-8 THC, the cannabinoid is mostly available in extracted forms. However, some farmers have successfully bred hemp flower strains with higher levels of delta-8. Consumers can find delta-8 products in many of the same forms as CBD products, including:
You can enjoy delta-8 products in much the same way you would consume CBD products.
Although the effects of delta-8 and delta-9 THC are remarkably different, their molecular structures are surprisingly similar. Chemically, only one double bond separates delta-8 from delta-9 THC molecules. The word “delta” refers to this important double bond. Delta-9 THC has a double bond on the ninth carbon on the molecule’s chain. As delta-9 THC starts aging, the double bond moves to the eighth carbon, turning the molecule into delta-8 THC. Scientists refer to delta-8 as a degraded form of THC because it’s produced as delta-9 THC ages.
This small shift in the position of the double bond makes a significant difference in the effects between delta-9 and delta-8 THC. According to Dr. Peter Grinspoon from Harvard Medical School, “People report [delta-8] as being less anxiety-provoking, less sedating, and a little more clear-headed than [regular] THC.” Although delta-8 is less psychoactive than regular delta-9 THC, delta-8 imparts stronger effects than another lesser-known cannabinoid, THCv.
The legality of delta-8 THC can be a source of confusion. When the United States passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, Congress legalized industrial hemp and hemp-derived products containing less than .3% delta-9 THC. In essence, the law makes hemp-derived CBD and delta-8 products legal by federal law. While this is true, the other question on the Federal level lies in if delta-8 THC would fall under the applications of the Analogue Act of the Controlled Substances Act.
Delta-8 might be seen as illegal under the Analogue Act. While the DEA has not made any official statement about delta-8, a judge in a ruling would look at 2 areas to determine if delta-8 is an analogue of delta-9 THC. Firstly, they would look at how structurally similar it is to delta-9 THC. Delta-9 THC is very similar in structure to Delta-8. Secondly, the judge would look at how the psychoactive effects of the two substances compare. Delta-8 THC has similar effects but also very different effects to Delta-9 THC. This is all open to interpretation.
At this point, Delta-8 THC legality on a federal level remains unclear. While the DEA has not stated that it is illegal, these are very murky waters and they could certainly see it as illegal under the Analogue Act if it is interpreted that way. Some states such as Florida, have openly said delta-8 THC is legal. For these reasons, it is important to check with your local state laws to determine if delta-8 is legal as their is no clear answer on the Federal level.
Unfortunately, delta-8 will most likely show up on a drug screening. Typical urine tests for cannabis look for THC metabolites. Since delta-8 THC is produced when regular THC degrades, the compound is a specific target for drug screenings. The threshold for delta-8 metabolites is only 30 ng/ml.
We don’t recommend that you consume delta-8 products if you expect to be subjected to drug screening in the near future. Cannabinoids, including delta-8, can remain in the fat cells for 30 days. Hair and fingernail-based drug tests can detect cannabinoids that have been consumed at least 90 days prior to the screening.
While some local CBD shops may carry delta-8 products, the best place to buy delta-8 is online from a reputable vendor who sells hemp and hemp-derived products.
If you would still like to buy delta-8 locally, you may be able to find it at CBD stores or legal cannabis dispensaries. Keep in mind that many CBD vendors cannot tell you the exact source of the delta-8. Local CBD vendors and corner stores may also carry black market products, which could be hazardous to your health.
People who live in states where medicinal or recreational cannabis is legal may choose to buy delta-8 at a licensed dispensary. Dispensaries usually carry high-quality cannabis-derived products, but buying from dispensaries comes with its own set of challenges.
You’ll need to qualify for a medical ID card if you plan to buy from a medical marijuana dispensary. The process entails a visit to a qualified physician who can recommend cannabis to you for a specific condition. You won’t need a medical ID card for buying delta-8 in a recreational dispensary.
Buying from either type of dispensary has its drawbacks. Dispensaries carry products that contain regular delta-9 THC, often in high percentages. Consumers will need to double-check that the delta-8 product they buy contains no delta-9 THC. You’ll also need to be especially careful while traveling with dispensary-bought delta-8 or CBD products as they may not be federally legal.
Dispensary products are also more expensive than those offered by online vendors. Brick-and-mortar dispensaries need to pay higher costs for showroom space, staff, and security. Online delta-8 vendors typically only need a warehouse and a small staff. Online stores can pass those savings on to you, the consumer. Additionally, buying from a dispensary may involve waiting in long lines to purchase your products.
Whether you’re planning to buy delta-8 from a local CBD shop, a dispensary, or an online store, you should always ask to see the product’s Certificate of Analysis (COA). A COA is an official report from an unbiased third-party lab that has analyzed the product. The Certificate of Analysis can give you important information about the delta-8 product, such as:
Reputable online vendors usually display their COAs on the website. If they don’t, you can ask them to provide you with a COA via email. Customers should refuse to buy any hemp-derived product from a company that won’t provide third-party lab results.