Delta-8-THC is quickly becoming the cannabis product of choice. But its effects and legal status are still unknown to most.
By now, most people know about THC, the technical name being tetrahydrocannabinol. It is one of the most sought-after constituents of cannabis plants. What many don’t know, however, is that the version of THC most often consumed to produce the characteristic “high” of cannabis isn’t the only version available in the plant.
Delta-9-THC is the actual scientific name given to the variation of THC most commonly consumed. But researchers and cannabis growers have long known about a degraded version of Delta-9-THC known as Delta-8-THC, which produces milder effects.
As consumer demand for cannabis grows, plant producers realize that there is a market for the alternative version of Delta-9-THC. The differences between Delta-8 and Delta-9-THC will be explained below.
Delta-8-THC vs. Delta-9-THC
THC is just one out of hundreds of other cannabinoids found in cannabis plants. Another prevalent cannabinoid is cannabidiol (CBD), which is known for not producing a high while containing a multitude of medicinal properties.
The difference between Delta-8 and Delta-9-THC comes down to a very subtle change in the molecular structure. Like many chemical compounds, THC is composed of long chains of carbon rings that are chemically bound together. Both forms of THC are structurally similar, but Delta-8-THC has a double bond on the 8th carbon in the chain as opposed to the 9th.
This seemingly simple change in chemical structure changes the effects of THC. Anecdotal reports suggest that Delta-8-THC produces a much milder high than its counterpart and doesn’t produce some of the anxiety and paranoia commonly associated with THC.
Cannabis plants contain very little Delta-8-THC naturally, while Delta-9-THC is found in abundance. Due to increased interest in Delta-8-THC, growers are now using selective breeding to increase this particular cannabinoid’s quantity in cannabis plants.
Health benefits of Delta-8-THC
In a way, Delta-8-THC acts as an intermediary between the non-feeling effects of CBD and the potent high of Delta-9-THC. What’s more, Delta-8-THC retains the medicinal properties that both cannabinoids produce by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is a natural network of receptors strewn throughout the nervous system. Two receptors called CB1 and CB2 bind with both natural and cannabis-derived cannabinoids to help regulate physiological processes. CBD, for instance, is unique in that it tends to bind with CB2 receptors, while Delta-9-THC tends to bind to CB1 receptors.
Likewise, Delta-8-THC binds to CB1 receptors but also as an affinity for CB2 receptors. Because of this, Delta-8-THC produces many of the health benefits that the other two popular cannabinoids do, such as reducing nausea, anxiety, and pain. Increasing research into all cannabinoids is revealing much more exciting medical benefits each year.
Is Delta-8-THC legal?
Since Delta-8-THC isn’t that much different than Delta-9, you’d think that the legal status would be the same. Surprisingly, the legal status of Delta-8-THC is complicated. The reason for this is due to the way Delta-8-THC can be derived from the plant.
THC is still a federally illegal, Schedule 1 controlled substance. But each state in the U.S. has the power to form its own laws around it.
As of 2021, THC is legal recreationally in 11 states and is medically legal in more than half of the country.
In 2018, the federal government revamped the Farm Bill to grant hemp-derived CBD legal status across the country. Hemp is a unique type of cannabis plant containing 0.3% or less THC than marijuana, which can have any THC amount.
One loophole that growers have found is that they can change CBD into Delta-8-THC synthetically. By doing this, some would think that Delta-8-THC is legal under the 2018 Farm Bill since the synthesizing can be done from hemp plants.
Unfortunately, the government is quickly catching onto this. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) added Delta-8-THC to the list of Schedule 1 controlled substances in August of 2020, even if it is hemp-derived.
Furthermore, Delta-8-THC derived from marijuana plants is being cultivated in states where it is recreationally legal. If you are in a legal state, you may find marijuana-derived Delta-8-THC products in dispensaries.
Ultimately, due to the novelty of Delta-8-THC, its legal status is in a gray area for most states.
The future of Delta-8-THC
Public sentiment toward cannabis and its various cannabinoids is becoming more favorable as research continues to unveil its safety and medicinal value. While laws such as the one that the DEA recently implemented may seem regressive, federal cannabis legalization’s overall trajectory seems optimistic.
In the meantime, those concerned about the high potency of THC, but still want the light high and medical benefits of cannabinoids, may find a solution in Delta-8-THC. If you’re in a state where cannabis is entirely legal, check with your dispensary to see if they sell Delta-8-THC products. Those in non-legal states should be more cautious and at least make sure they are buying from a trusted dispensary with Delta-8-THC products that are hemp-derived.