Imagine this: You’re curious consumer-slash-vase [*wink*] appreciator. However, on your latest trip to the "vase" store [*wink*], you see a new-to-you product: delta-8. “What the dang heck is delta-8?” you ask yourself in a Hank Hill voice.
A completely hypothetical situation, but the point still stands: What’s that delta-8 the kids are talking about these days? Well, here’s everything you need to know about it, with help from Riley Kirk, Ph.D., aka @cannabichem on Instagram and TikTok, and Mitch Earleywine, professor of psychology at the University at Albany, SUNY, and author of "Understanding Marijuana".
What is Delta 8?
Delta-8 is an isomer of delta-9 — meaning they have the same formula, but a different arrangement of atoms in the molecule and thus different properties. The “delta” refers to the position of a double bond in the molecule. Delta-9 THC, what makes "real" weed real, has a double bond between the ninth and 10th carbon molecule. The double bond in delta-8 THC occurs between the eighth and ninth carbon in the molecule.
“So technically, CBD and THC are also isomers because they have the same chemical formula, but they look different, and act differently on our body,” Kirk says.
Delta-8 is synthesized in a lab from CBD, and usually appears in an edible form — like gummies or infused beverages — or in carts. If you do see manufacturers selling delta-8 flower, it’s probably CBD flower coated in a delta-8 distillate.
The Delta-8 Loophole
Delta-9 THC was made illegal in 1937 with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act, which made cannabis illegal on a federal level.
Over the course of the 1970s, 11 states decriminalized marijuana, with others reducing related penalties. However, delta-9 cannabis came under fire (no pun intended) in 1976 with the start of a parent’s movement that influenced public attitudes, which led to the War on Drugs in the 1980s. President Ronald Reagan re-enacted mandatory sentences for cannabis-related offenses.
However, in the past three years, hemp and its derivatives have become widely available in the United States after the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. This allowed hemp to be legally cultivated for commercial and industrial purposes, while cannabis retains Schedule I classification, lumped in with heroin, peyote and LSD.
“In the language of the laws it specifically says, ‘Delta-9 THC cannot be above this level, it is federally illegal, etc.,’” Kirk says. “But then it says ‘the isomers of this molecule, those rules don't apply for,’ so delta-8 is an isomer, it is not delta-9, so it kind of has this legal loophole.”
“The legal loopholes suggest that technically, folks could ship Delta-8 products anywhere,” adds Earleywine.
What Is the Difference Between Delta-8 and Delta-9?
Delta-8 doesn’t bind as tightly to the CB1 receptor — the receptor in the brain that makes us feel high — as delta-9. In fact, delta-8 binds one-third less than delta-9, which is why it usually comes in a higher dosage to compensate. For example, delta-9 THC gummies tend to come in 5 milligram to 10 milligram doses per serving, while delta-8 gummies tend to be dosed at around 20 milligrams.
“I think this is to compensate for the slightly less activity so people feel more like [they’re consuming] traditional edibles, because it's actually an increase in dose, it's not an increase in potency of the actual molecule,” Kirk says.
What Are the Effects of Delta-8?
Delta-8 provides users with a similar body and head high to delta-9.
According to Earleywine, delta-8 shares some of the neuroprotective (something that preserves neuronal structure and/or function), anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and analgesic (pain-relieving) effects of delta-9
“We don't have any long term follow-up data on the effects of delta-8, but the lethal dose seems particularly high and unlikely under normal circumstances,” Earleywine says.
Delta-8 has similar effects to delta-9 — take it from Kirk.
“[Delta-8] feels a lot like delta-9 THC,” she says. “I usually don’t take edibles because they make me very tired and lethargic, but it felt super similar in my opinion.”
What Is Delta-8 Good For?
Delta-8 is a great alternative for those who live in a state where medical or recreational marijuana has not been legalized, since it facilitates a similar — albeit weaker — response as delta-9 THC.
If you don’t like being insanely high to use cannabis as medicine, delta-8 might just be your jam, since it causes less psychoactivity compared to delta-9.
“It might be more applicable to people using it while also being functional in their everyday lives,” Kirk says.
Misconceptions About Delta 8
You can’t use delta-8 to pass a drug test, since it may contain small doses of delta-9 THC.
Make sure to purchase from a reputable seller who is transparent about their lab processes, Kirk warns, to prevent consuming anything icky, nasty and dangerous.
“Because this is a synthetic process, because almost anyone can just open a company selling delta-8, we need to make sure that people aren't poisoning customers or giving them products where they don't know what's in them,” she says.
The Future of Delta-8
As more states legalize recreational and/or medical marijuana, Kirk predicts the market for delta-8 will potentially decrease, since delta-8 doesn’t bind as tightly to the CB1 receptor as delta-9, and synthetic products have a negative stigma attached to them.
“I think with federal legalization, people will be more apt to go with the natural product,” Kirk says. “I don't think people know that delta-8 is synthetic. My partner didn't know. And once he found out it was synthetic, he's like, ‘Oh, I don't want to be using that.’ And I'm like, ‘Yeah, don't you think that it should be mandatory for them to say that this is a synthetic THC product?’ Because nobody knows what a delta means. I mean, that's cryptic language.”
Now that you’ve read this, consider yourself a Delta-8 apprentice. Next time you go to the "vase" store [*wink*], try some Delta-8 products for yourself.