Odds are, some time since the start of 2021, you’ve seen a local vape shop, tobacco store, gas station, or the like advertising “Legal Delta 8 THC” for sale, particularly if you live in a part of the United States where recreational cannabis consumption hasn’t been legalized.
The “THC” part is recognizable enough to most people – Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana that gets us high. But THC is illegal, isn’t it? (answer: both yes and no, simultaneously) ? And what is “Delta 8” exactly?
In today’s article, we’ll be giving you the rundown on Delta 8 THC – What it is, how it’s made, and why it’s (currently) legal to sell in the United States. Let’s dig in.
What is Delta 8 THC?
Again, THC is the chemical compound found in the cannabis plant that, when exposed to heat, gets humans high. The type of THC found in most cannabis plants is known as Delta 9, or Δ9, THC. Delta 8 (Δ8) THC is what is known as an “analogue” of Delta 9 THC, meaning the two chemical compounds share a very similar molecular structure; the significant difference is in their chemical bonds, with D8 THC being double-bonded on its eighth carbon atom while D9 is double-bonded on the ninth.
These minor differences can lead to major alterations in effects. Our body’s central nervous system contains natural endocannabinoid receptors, which can interact with several different cannabinoids (THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, and a whole slew of others).
However, the different chemical makeups of these compounds each stimulate the cannabinoid receptors responses in unique ways; CBN is claimed to make users more drowsy, THC offers the classical “high” effects, CBD interacts with a whole different set of cannabinoid receptors in our bodies, and so on.
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What Does Delta 8 THC Feel Like?
Overall, Delta 8 THC is considered weaker than D9 THC, providing a less intense but still noticeable high. However, this lack of potency can be a good thing, as users of D8 THC often report fewer side effects than when using D9 THC, saying that the effects of Delta 8 THC are equally sedating as Delta 9 THC but anxiolytic (or non-anxiety-inducing) and with a more enjoyable, less brain-fogging experience overall from other cannabinoids.
This also makes Delta 8 THC an interesting substance for medical marijuana patients, as users claim to experience more restful & thorough “body highs,” working as an analgesic/pain reduction remedy while not reducing mental capacity or dulling overall body stimulation.
How Do You Make Delta 8 THC?
Delta 8 THC can appear naturally in the cannabis plant, albeit in small quantities (and more on this in a bit), but larger amounts are typically manufactured in one of two ways: First, either by allowing Delta 9 THC to “degrade” into its Delta 8 state, or by converting CBD into Delta 8 THC.
Delta 9 THC is ultimately a fairly fragile molecule – Exposure to heat, light, or moisture can make the Delta 9 THC begin to change its chemical bond structure, shifting it into other, less potent (and even inert) forms of cannabinoids. Delta 8 is just one step in this process, as the THC eventually succumbs to the forces of entropy.
From CBD to THC
CBD is very chemically similar to THC, but CBD has a hydroxyl group in its makeup where THC has a cyclical ring; this slight change means that while THC will latch onto and interact with a CB1 receptor CBD instead only affects the CB2 receptors of our endocannabinoid system, completely unable to interact with CB1 receptors at all. However, that aforementioned hydroxyl group of CBD can be closed, making it cyclical just like THC is, and ultimately making CBD change form into Delta 8 THC.
Though the detailed process contains a bit more advanced chemistry than our article can fully dive into CBD (typically expressed from the hemp plant) is exposed to a series of solvents, vacuum filtration, and cO2 extraction methods until the CBD molecules are converted to Delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol (usually at an efficiency of 85%+).
Given that the hemp industry/CBD market in the United States has seen issues with vastly overstocked quantities of hemp plants sitting unused, the conversion to Delta 8 THC presents a booming new opportunity in the cannabis industry for hemp growers to use (and sell) their harvests. Except…
Is Delta 8 THC Legal?
We go into this in greater detail in our related article “Is Delta 8 THC Legal?” but to summarize here: As of this article’s publishing date, yes – Delta 8 THC as a substance is fully legal on a federal level, as per the United States Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (or “2018 Farm Bill”). Note those two bolded bits, though, because they’re critical.
While Delta 8 is legal as a substance, what isn’t legal is the manufacturing process. As of August 2020, the US DEA issued a ruling which stated that all “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain a schedule I controlled substances.” Therefore, if the source for creating Delta 8 is another cannabinoid, such as CBD, then the resulting Delta 8 THC is no longer a legal substance. If you harvested Delta 8 THC naturally from a cannabis plant, though (which is highly unlikely, given its low rate of appearance in most cannabis plants), it no longer counts as synthetic. Yes, this is a strange distinction, but a legally important one.
This boils down to that the specific legality of the Delta 8 gummies you see at the local corner store is questionable, even more so when we move from the federal legal level down to individual states.
Each state has its own unique policies on hemp, cannabis, and various cannabinoids. Unfortunately, this means that what may be legal on a federal level might not be legal within a specific state, and without expressly knowing the laws of your area, it’s impossible to say whether or not Delta 8 is legal where you live. That being said, if your area has been inundated with Delta 8 products over the last several months, it’s a good sign of the substance being legal in your state – If not at least hazily.
Will Delta 8 THC Show Up On a Drug Test?
This is a hard “maybe.” Drug tests work by searching not for the cannabinoids you’ve consumed but their by-products; the waste cannabinoids left behind after they’ve worked their way through your body’s system.
When Delta 8 THC is consumed, in the form of an edible or tincture or something similar, it undergoes the same decomposition process as Delta 9 THC, eventually metabolizing into the molecule THC-COOH, which is what registers on your average drug test. However, this only applies to consumption via digestion, not smoking or vaping.
Drug tests are beginning to appear on the market that test specifically for Delta 8 THC, so watch out. Either way, if you need to pass a drug test any time soon, staying away from THC in any of its forms might be the best option.
How Do I Use Delta 8 THC?
Unlike both THC and CBD, cannabis flower that expressly focuses on Delta 8 production has yet to see mainstream production; for the most part, large quantities of Delta 8 only exist as a conversion of CBD distillate, meaning you’ll likely only find Delta 8 in concentrate-style products.
Delta 8 vape cartridges are among the most popular ways to consume D8 THC and are readily available in various flavors that will fit a wide selection of popular vaporizing pen models. Likewise, edible Delta 8 products are becoming more commonplace, with Delta 8 gummies, brownies, and hard candies making their way to store shelves.
For medical cannabis consumers, Delta 8 tinctures are also available, making for easy administration of defined doses. In general, you can use Delta 8 in about the same way as you use regular cannabis, though be aware that studies have shown Delta 8 THC to have a low rate of skin absorption, meaning D8 salves & creams may not be very effective.
Even if you live in a location where cannabis has been legalized, Delta 8 THC is an interesting cannabinoid in its own right, with its own unique and different effects from Delta 9 THC that make it worth seeking out. However, with the highly state-specific laws regarding cannabis, a synthetic cannabinoid compound may not be legal even in states where recreational cannabis consumption has otherwise been legalized.
Ultimately the topic features a lot of unknowns. What is known, though, is that Delta 8 can provide psychoactive effects similar to Delta 9 THC and often without some of the more intense, anxiety-inducing properties. So for cannabis users in non-legalized states or just those looking to try something a little different, checking out the Delta 8 THC cartridges/gummy bears at the local vape shop might have some potential benefits.