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What Is Delta-8?

What Is Delta-8?

Delta-8, also called delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol or delta-8 THC, is another cannabinoid found in hemp and marijuana plants. Although the compound was first discovered and described back in 1974, delta-8 has in recent years seen a surge in demand due to its unique characteristics and effects that differentiate it from both CBD and delta-9 THC.

Jacob Dooley
September 27, 2021

You may have been led to believe that the most important compounds in the cannabis plants are THC and CBD, or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol, but there are many other cannabinoid compounds out there related to these two that have different and beneficial effects.

Delta-8, also called delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol or delta-8 THC, is another cannabinoid found in hemp and marijuana plants. Although the compound was first discovered and described back in 1974, delta-8 has in recent years seen a surge in demand due to its unique characteristics and effects that differentiate it from both CBD and delta-9 THC.

What Is Delta-8 THC?

Although this compound can be found in varieties of both hemp and marijuana plants, it is found in slightly higher concentrations within the hemp plant. Because each of these plants produce such low quantities of delta-8 compared to CBD and delta-9 THC, deriving this compound takes special plant breeding along with unique extraction and processing techniques. Because of the amount of work that is required to collect and refine this compound, it has recently been referred to as the “designer drug” of the cannabis world.

Delta-8 is often considered to be a sort of middle ground between THC and CBD, producing a weaker high than THC while also having many of the therapeutic and medicinal qualities of CBD along with other characteristics that make it its own unique compound. 

How Does Delta-8 THC Work?

Delta-8 THC has been shown to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system in a unique way. It works by bonding with the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors in the body, similar to how delta-9 THC does. However, delta-8 produces much less of a psychoactive effect on the body. And out of these two receptors, delta-8 bonds more readily to the CB2 receptors that are located throughout the immune and digestive systems rather than the CB1 receptors that are found in the brain. 

This means that the effects of delta-8 primarily occur in the body with minimal effects to the cannabinoid receptors in the brain, which is how it provides health benefits with just a fraction of the psychoactive effects produced by delta-9 THC.

Delta-8 vs delta-9

The delta-8 THC compound bears a lot of similarities to the more well-known THC, also referred to as delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol or just delta-9 THC. Their similar scientific names are due to the chemical similarities between them, with both cannabinoids containing a double bond within their chemical structures. It is thought that this double bond is what causes the intoxicating “high” when delta-9 is consumed, however because the double bond in delta-8 is located on the 8th carbon atom in the chemical chain instead of the 9th, it bonds more readily with the CB2 receptors in the body.

While delta-8 still produces a mild high, when compared with the consumption or delta-9 THC, delta-8 produces a much weaker high and instead stimulates the immune and digestive system, causing what is commonly known as the munchies. This makes it much lighter than delta-9, and also helps to avoid some of the negative effects like anxiety and the hard-hitting high that is produced by marijuana.

Delta-8 vs CBD

Delta-8 binds more readily to the body’s endocannabinoid system than CBD does, but since it still produces a high, albeit a weaker one, it is much more similar to delta-9 than it is to CBD. This is what makes CBD non-intoxicating, however if users wish to experience the effects of THC in a weaker form, delta-8 is the perfect option.

Why Are People Interested in Delta-8 CBD?

There are many reasons why this compound has become so popular outside of it being a lighter form of THC. Because of its interaction with the CB2 receptors, delta-8 helps to alleviate pain and inflammation in the body and helps to stimulate a user’s appetite. And because of its limited interaction with the CB1 receptors in the brain, it has also proven effective at improving mood and reducing levels of anxiety and depression without the negative side effects of delta-9 which can cause users to experience more anxiety, depression, and paranoia.

Its effects on the digestive system have also been shown in a scientific study where the use of delta-8 helped people undergoing chemotherapy by fighting symptoms of nausea and vomiting. In some states where marijuana is still illegal, delta-8 also provides cannabis consumers with a legal loophole that allows them to purchase a form of THC that is derived from hemp, although this is going to change soon as states analyze the situation more closely.

How is Delta-8 Made?

Because concentrations of under 1% of delta-8 are found in dried cannabis flowers, it needs to undergo a range of processes to either extract and refine it, or to synthesize it from other cannabinoids. 

To extract delta-8, hemp flowers need to be broken down and run through a fractional distillation process where thin film distillation, along with variations in temperature and pressure, help to separate and isolate the compound from other cannabinoids. 

Additionally, through a process known as isomerization, similar compounds such as CBD and CBG (cannabigerol) can be converted into the chemical isomer delta-8. This is then refined in a lab to produce high concentrations with minimal amounts of other cannabinoids.

Is Delta-8 Safe?

It does need to be stated that in order to truly say whether a substance is safe with no negative side effects, it needs to undergo a range of clinical and randomized control trials. Unfortunately, this has not yet happened for delta-8, although the few studies that we do have indicate that while it can cause the same side effects as delta-9 when consumed, this happens at a much lower rate indicating that this substance is safer to consume than delta-9.

Many producers of delta-8 estimate that it has between one half to one third the potency of delta-9 THC, so we may expect that the negative side effects in delta-8 match this potency level, although this still needs to be investigated further.

Ways to Consume Delta-8

Because delta-8 needs to undergo a thorough process to refine it, it is most commonly consumed as either an oil or in the form of gummies and other edibles. It can also be used in vaporizers and sprayed on to hemp flowers to create delta-8-infused flowers and pre-rolls.

Regarding edible gummies, while delta-9 THC gummies on average contain 10mg of delta-9, delta-8 gummies on average come with 25mg of the compound due to its weaker potency. 

Is Delta-8 Legal?

Because delta-8 is a hemp-derived product, it is handled differently by the law compared to delta-9 THC from marijuana, provided that delta-8 products have less than 0.3% concentrations of delta-9 THC. Because it is not covered under federal schedules, delta-8 is essentially viewed as another hemp-based product, although you will likely still fail a drug test after using it. 

The 2018 Farm Bill is the law that made all hemp-derived products legal at the federal level, however, there does exist a gray area within some state laws that target delta-8 since it is technically a form of THC, even if it is not delta-9 THC. Because of this, it is not possible to purchase or ship delta-8 products to the following states:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah

Because the conversation regarding delta-8 is still ongoing, it is likely that its legality in many states throughout the US is going to change, either for better or for worse, so it always pays to research your local laws for the latest developments.

What’s the Market Size of Delta-8?

Because this is a relatively new market, it is difficult to quantify the exact market size of delta-8 compared with the CBD and delta-9 THC markets. What is clear though is that it is the fastest growing product in the entire hemp industry, and may even outpace CBD sales by 2025 if the law does not ban it from production and use.

Most Popular Delta-8 Products?

As we mentioned above, delta-8 can be consumed in oils, vapes, edibles, infused flowers, and delta-8 infused pre-rolls. The three highest rated delta-8 brands are Delta effex, Diamond CBD, and Moonwlkr, all of which provide customers with a wide range of delta-8 products.

Jacob Dooley

Jacob is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Accelerant. He's an avid skier but lives in Chicago, IL. When he's not conducting pre-roll market research, he enjoys exploring the Chicago food scene with his girlfriend and their dog, George.

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