What is Delta-8 THC?

Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell - Content Writer

Jan 22 2021 - 5 min read

People often get confused when they see terms like “Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)”. However, the differences between Delta-8 and Delta-9 needn’t be confusing. Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and Delta-8-THC are nearly identical molecules in structure and very similar in psychoactive benefits. The relatively obscure delta-8-THC and the very popular Delta-9-THC molecules have little more than two atoms’ worth of variance.

Both forms of THC are readily marketed throughout marijuana legal states in vape cartridges, soft drinks, gummies and tinctures. Consumers are making comparisons between Delta-8-THC and Delta-9-THC every day. It must also be said that delta-8 THC is becoming more popular by the day.

The legal cannabis industry and those medical marijuana patients who seek a smoother therapeutic THC experience are coming to see that two atoms can be responsible for a world of difference in cannabis products.

In what ways are Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC Different?

The weed called cannabis contains a panoply of cannabinoids. These chemical compounds are responsible for the therapeutic effects sought by medical marijuana patients. Delta-9-THC and CBD are two of the most popular and abundant cannabinoids. In contrast, Delta-8-THC is one of the “minor cannabinoids.” Delta-8-THC appears in very slight concentrations in the cannabis plant, but is on course to become one of the weed’s most popular elements.

To understand what separates the Delta-8-THC molecule from the Delta-9-THC molecule, start by cataloging what connects these two forms of tetrahydrocannabinol. Delta-9 and Delta-8 are alike in that both cannabinoids bind to the same cannabinoid receptors in the human nervous system. The differences between the two THC types start with where and how they adhere to receptors in the medical cannabis user’s endocannabinoid system.

Nick Warrender as CEO of Lifted Made, a delta-8 specialty cannabis product brand, explains to Hello Giggles that Delta-8-THC and Delta-9-THC both contain double bonds, with the “delta” designation indicating where the bonds attach. According to Warrender, Delta-8-THC’s double bond is located on the eighth carbon of the Delta-8 carbon chain. Delta-9-THC’s is located one carbon off from Delta-8, at carbon nine in the Delta-9 carbon chain.

Pushing further into the science, Warrender specifies that Delta-8-THC attaches to the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) at both the CB1 and CB2 receptors, while the more-common Delta-9-THC connects only with the CB1 receptor. The Lifted Made CEO points out that the widely marketed and used therapeutic cannabinoid CBD also, like Delta-8-THC, binds to both the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 and CB2 receptors.

This chemical similarity provides a basis for Warrender pitching Delta-8-THC as “a cross between CBD [cannabidiol] and Delta-9-THC.”

What is marijuana / cannabis / weed?

What Medical Uses does Delta-8 THC have?

The National Cancer Institute’s dictionary of cancer drugs defines Delta-8-THC as an analogue of the widely known and loved Delta-9-THC. The National Cancer Institute’s dictionary attributes antiemetic (nausea-beating), anxiolytic (anxiety reduction), appetite-stimulating, analgesic (painkilling), and neuroprotective (serving to fend off damage, degeneration or impairment of nerve cell function) properties to Delta-8-THC.

The National Cancer Institute scientists have determined that Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol binds to a cannabinoid G-protein coupled receptor in the central nervous system. In technical terms, Delta-8-THC’s activation of the central nervous system receptor “inhibits adenyl cyclase, increases mitogen-activated protein kinase activities, modulates several potassium channel conductances and inhibits N- and P/Q-type Ca2+ channels.”

In words that are easier to understand, as spoken by cofounder and marketing director Ian Bush of Hii Stick therapeutic hemp products to Hello Giggles, the experts at the National Cancer Institute are crediting Delta-8-THC for providing relief from pain, nausea and inflammation. These ameliorative properties of Delta-8-THC can also open the way to increasing a patient’s appetite and relieving stress.

Ian Bush, in tune with Lifted Made’s Warrender, likens the medical uses of Delta-8-THC to the therapeutic applications of the CBD cannabinoid, but “with more of a psychoactive effect, but, again, far less psychoactive than THC.”

The National Cancer Institute concurs that Delta-8-THC will leave medical cannabis patients with a softer psychoactive footprint, concluding: “This agent exhibits a lower psychotropic potency than Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9-THC), the primary form of THC found in cannabis.”

These properties make Delta-8 THC potentially very useful for children, those who are particularly sensitive to Delta-9 THC, and those seeking something more tolerable for chronic pain relief during the daytime.

Why aren’t there more Delta-8-THC Products Available?

As stated above, Delta-8-THC is a minor cannabinoid. This means that Delta-8-THC concentrations are usually quite low – maybe 1% if you’re lucky, compared to the 20% plus you can get with Delta-9-THC and CBD. This means that Delta-8-THC is:

  • More difficult to extract in high amounts.
  • It will take a lot of time and selective breeding to get Delta-8-THC-rich cannabis varieties

Minor cannabinoids can be difficult to keep stable when exposed to air and light. We need to learn how to keep them from changing or degrading too much over time.

Are there any Delta-8-THC-Rich Cannabis Strains or Products?

As Delta-8-THC is found in relatively small concentrations, there have not really been any varieties of cannabis that have been developed with Delta-8-THC production as of yet.

However, it is possible to make Delta-8-THC-rich extracts, so it is possible to get vape pens, concentrates and other products high in Delta-8-THC. As far as we here at Leafwell are aware, Marley Natural has a Delta-8-THC-rich product by the name of Marley Natural STUDIO vape cartridges, which contains a blend of Lemon Haze, OG Kush and Sugar Mama. 3Chi is another company that makes a Delta-8 THC vape cartridge. Burman’s Health Shop also stocks various Delta-8-THC products. As always, we would recommend that you research all products thoroughly before buying and using them, and learn more about what makes a good medical cannabis product.

Is Delta-8-THC as Effective as Delta-9-THC?

The question may be posed as is Delta-8-THC more effective or less effective than Delta-9-THC as a medical cannabis product? The answer is that Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol appears to be similar in therapeutic effectiveness to Delta-9-THC, with a difference.

Dr. Peter Grinspoon is a board member of the advocacy group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation and a primary care physician at Harvard Medical School. A specialist in therapeutic cannabis, Dr. Grinspoon tells Discover magazine, “People report [Delta-8] as being less anxiety-provoking, less sedating and a little more clear-headed than [Delta-9] THC.”

A common and limiting complaint among medical cannabis users, especially among those who are leery of treating a recurring condition with medical marijuana applications, is that Delta-9-THC side effects can include paranoia and anxiety. Delta-9-THC has even been blamed for triggering dizziness and headaches, conditions that can negate the benefits medical cannabis curious patients are seeking. You can, however, mitigate some of the negative effects of any type of THC using other cannabinoids and terpenes (the entourage effect, which also boosts various cannabinoids’ medical properties as well). 

Harvard’s Dr. Grinspoon believes Delta-8-THC may open up acceptance of THC based medical cannabis products among the elderly, children and other patients in need of ameliorative solutions that bring “less confusion and spaciness or stonedness or whatever you want to call it.”

The reality of the USA’s legal cannabis market is that products tend to contain high concentrations of THC. That high concentration is not by accident. The typical American legal cannabis consumer’s purchase history indicates that greatest THC concentration at lowest price point is the deciding factor considered by many recreational and medical cannabis users in determining which cannabis product to purchase.

However, medical cannabis users are wising-up to the benefits of other cannabinoids, whether or not they are psychoactive. In fact, many medical users specifically want the choice of how inebriated they feel. Those looking after sick children or the elderly are also interested in less intoxicating products. Providing wider ranges of products and alternatives can only be a good thing. Having Delta-8-THC-rich products is just one of the possible variations of this wonderful plant!

The future may be a time when the legal cannabis industry discovers that transitioning those high Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentrations to concentrations of Delta-8-THC will make the benefits of medical marijuana better for everybody.

Written by
Allan MacDonell
Allan MacDonell

Contributing commentator Allan MacDonell’s work has been featured in publications ranging from Dazed and Confused UK to the New York Times and Washington Post. He is the author of Prisoner of X, Punk Elegies and Now That I Am Gone, and was a founding editorial director at online outlets including Buzznet, TakePart and Kindland. MacDonell views teaming with Leafwell as an opportunity to encourage the emerging role of legal cannabis as a highly effective medical treatment.

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