The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that there are over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. The two most popular so far are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), also called “Delta-9.”
THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis and remains legal for recreational use only in certain states. Some hemp growers, however, are creating new product lines that produce a cannabinoid called “Delta-8 THC.” So far, this product is legal in states where hemp possession is legal, and it’s rising in popularity because of its unique effects.
What is Delta-8?
Delta-8 is another cannabinoid that exists in the cannabis plant, though in only very low trace amounts. It’s similar to THC (Delta-9), but is slightly different chemically, with the “8” standing for the placement of the double chemical bond, which sits one step over from its location in Delta-9. While both cannabinoids have double bonds in their molecular chain, Delta-9 THC contains this bond on the 9th carbon chain, while Delta-8 contains it on the eighth.
Like other cannabinoids, Delta-8 THC interacts with the body’s natural endocannabinoid system. And like Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 binds to CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system.
Delta-8 can be extracted from cannabis and hemp plants, and as the product becomes more popular, some growers are selectively breeding their plants to produce more Delta-8. Others are creating it in the laboratory by extracting Delta-8 THC from CBD or Delta-9 THC molecules.
What is the Difference Between Delta-8 and Delta-9?
Though these two cannabinoids are similar, there are some key differences between them. In general, Delta-8 is less intense than Delta-9. It binds to receptors in the brain and body similar to the way Delta-9 does, but because of its slightly different molecular structure, its effects are not as strong or potent.
Whereas THC binds tightly to those receptors, Delta-8 doesn’t bind as well, so its effects are less pronounced. Users report that it has all the perks of Delta-9 without the potential negative effects. Some refer to it as “marijuana light” for this reason.
Does Delta-8 Get You High?
Delta-8 does still provide psychoactive effects, so it can still produce a “high” as THC does. Because of its reduced potency, though, it doesn’t seem to cause the anxiety and paranoia that regular THC can.
Delta-8 may produce an energizing or relaxing effect, depending on the product, and is likely to create some of the typical heady, psychoactive effects fans of Delta-9 are used to, but at a less intense level. Users report feeling similar pain-reduction and decreased-nausea effects, while also enjoying increased focus without any negative side effects.
Is Delta-8 Federally Legal?
So far, the simple answer to this question is “yes,” though the details are a little tricky. Let’s look at the issue carefully.
Marijuana and hemp are essentially the same plant, but marijuana is bred to contain higher levels of THC (Delta-9), whereas hemp is bred to contain more CBD (the non-psychoactive cannabinoid).
Only a few states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, while more have legalized its use for medical conditions. In 2018, however, Congress passed the Farm Bill, which legalized widespread hemp farming and distribution, and permitted all derivatives and extracts from the hemp plant. This is why CBD, which is wholly derived from hemp, is considered legal in all states.
The legislation took action to block the production of Delta-9 THC from hemp by requiring that all products contain no more than 0.3 percent of it on a dry-weight basis. It said nothing about Delta-8 THC, however, so right now, as long as manufacturers extract it directly from hemp, they are free to sell it without fear of legal repercussions.
There is some concern that synthetically altering CBD to produce Delta-8 THC, however, may not be legal. So far the federal government has taken no action against manufacturers who produce the product this way. That may change in the future.
What Are the Health Benefits of Delta-8?
So far, we have very little research on Delta-8 itself. There was a study performed on it in 1995 that seemed to show beneficial effects. Scientists gave it to eight children, aged 3-13 years who had hematologic cancer, for two hours before each chemotherapy treatment. Results showed that the Delta-8 helped completely prevent vomiting with negligible side effects.
A report in MedGen, the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s (NCBI’s) portal for information related to medical genetics, notes that Delta-8 has the following properties:
- Anti-nausea and vomiting
A 1975 study in animals affected by lung cancer also suggested that subjects treated with Delta-8 THC had reduced tumor sizes and survived longer than those treated with Delta-9 THC. Researchers confirmed the appetite-stimulating properties in a 2004 animal study, finding that treatment with Delta-8 increased food intake more than Delta-9, and also improved cognitive function without side effects.
In a 1987 animal study, researchers found that Delta-8 increased acetylcholine levels in the brain while decreasing acetylcholine turnover in the hippocampus section. This is relevant because declining levels of acetylcholine are associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Perhaps even more promising are Delta-8’s potential pain-relieving capabilities. In a 2018 animal study, scientists found that topical Delta-8 THC decreased pain and inflammation in the eye and that it may reduce pain sensitivity through its effects on CB1 receptors.
These are preliminary results, however, and we need more studies before we can say for sure whether Delta-8 THC has specific health benefits. Meanwhile, there is some evidence that it can increase blood pressure by temporarily constricting the blood vessels, so it’s important to use it with caution.
Will Delta-8 THC Show Up on a Drug Test?
Today’s drug tests are not sophisticated enough to detect the difference between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC, so it’s probable that if you’re using Delta-8, it will show up on a drug test.