Delta-8 is the cannabinoid compound getting a lot of attention these days, but what is it exactly, and how does it compare vs delta-9 THC? Read on to find out more about how these two compounds stack up.
What is delta-9 THC?
We all know delta-9, we all love it. Sometimes referred to as simply THC (which is incorrect), delta-9 is the most famous of the THCs, and the main psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. It’s found in higher amounts in some plants, and lower amounts in other plants. We generally refer to high-THC plants as marijuana, and low-THC plants as hemp.
In actuality, delta-9 barely exists in raw cannabis plants, and is actually a product of decarboxylation of its parent compound THCA. THCA is not psychoactive, but in the presence of light and heat it loses a carboxyl group, and goes from the chemical formula of THCA (C22H30O4), to the chemical formula for delta-9 THC (C₂₁H₃₀O₂), which is psychoactive.
Delta-9 THC is very closely related to other forms of THC, which we refer to as delta-THCs. They all share the same chemical formula. In fact, the only difference between these separate THC compounds, is the placement of a double carbon bond. For delta-9 THC, it takes place on the 9th carbon atom. For delta-10 THC its on the 10th atom in the chain. For delta-7 it’s on the 7th atom, and for delta-8, its on the 8th. All these delta-THCs only differ in the physical presentation of their molecules.
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Delta-9 is a naturally occurring compound, meaning its found in nature. This is not true of all delta-THCs. Delta-10, for example, was made accidentally through the use of a catalyzer, and doesn’t actually appear in this configuration in nature. Other delta THCs like delta-8, do appear in nature, and are therefore also considered naturally occurring compounds.
What is delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 THC, as explained, is another delta-THC, which means its an isomer of delta-9. Isomer means they have the same chemical formula, but with a different configuration of atoms. As also explained above, this means it differs from delta-9 THC only in the placement of a double bond, and is chemically identical otherwise.
Also like delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC is naturally occurring, which means it can be found in nature, although in much smaller quantities than delta-9, regardless of whether dealing with marijuana or hemp. It’s not entirely understood how delta-8 is formed, but the main belief is that it’s a product of the breakdown of delta-9. Delta-9 is mainly known for breaking down into CBN, but there is a small amount that does not, and its thought that this small amount degrades to other compounds, including a tiny amount to delta-8 THC.
When made industrially however, delta-8 is made from either delta-9 or CBD. And its done through synthetic processing meaning rather than being extracted directly, its made from component parts of other compounds, put together with unnatural processing. You can technically do these processes yourself if you have the know-how.
Delta-8 was discovered around the same time as delta-9, in the original research by Roger Adams and then Raphael Mechoulam. It was synthesized for the first time by Mechoulam in the 1960’s. It was even the subject of studies by Mechoulam into nausea and vomiting of cancer patients, but most of that research remained buried for many years, and there has been very little research into the compound since that time.
Delta-8 vs delta-9
The reality of delta-8 vs delta-9 is that they’re practically the same chemically, and have shown to have many of the same medical benefits. Delta-8 has been indicated for use with nausea and vomiting, as well as anxiety, and likely can be used for many of the other purposes as delta-9, though since the actual research doesn’t exist, its hard to say this for sure.
One of the interesting aspects of delta-8 vs delta-9 is that though delta-9 products are generally direct extractions of the plant, most delta-8 products (possibly all) are not actually directly extracted, but synthesized in a lab. This is a direct result of the minuscule amount that shows up naturally, which is not enough for product production. So even though it is naturally occurring, the form that’s used, is always a synthesized version, at least commercially.
This puts it in a strange legal place. As a naturally derived compound, its legal under the definition of hemp, so long as it comes from the hemp plant (not over .3% THC). If its from the marijuana plant, it’s automatically illegal federally, just like delta-9. In theory, it can therefore be extracted from hemp, and sold legally, except for that little confounding factor, that it ends up being synthesized from delta-9 or CBD, which means using processes that no longer fit under the definition of hemp. Even despite this discrepancy, not much has been done to stop the ‘hemp-derived’ delta-8 market, likely because it’s difficult and expensive for the US government to fully go after it, especially in this climate of growing cannabis acceptance.
In terms of whether they actually have different effects, this is hard to say. Original research by Mechoulam turned up evidence that delta-8 is less intense vs delta-9, providing less psychoactive high, at a ratio of 3:2. It’s also pointed to as causing less anxiety, and providing a clear-headed high, with less couch locking, and more energy. Unfortunately, with the lack of follow-up research, these points really aren’t confirmed at all. Plus, ‘less strong’ always comes with the stipulation that if more is taken, the same high can still be reached.
Another differentiating factor between the two compounds? The degradation process that creates delta-8 comes from oxidation of delta-9. And through this process, the loss of electrons makes the resulting delta-8 more stable, and with a longer shelf-life.
Legality delta-8 vs delta-9
The thing is, its become commonplace for delta-8 products and other cannabinoid products to be sold all over the place. I’m not even talking dispensaries, but corner stores, gas stations, any little side store out there. Because of the seeming loophole attached to it as ‘hemp-derived’, and the inability of the government to stamp it out, it ends up in a lot of places where delta-9 isn’t accessible. This doesn’t mean its technically legal, but it does mean it’s widely available.
Even delta-9 products under the term ‘hemp-derived’ have started popping up in the same way. The state of Minnesota became an unwittingly legal state when it legalized hemp-derived THC for edible products. Both the hemp-derived version of delta-8 and delta-9 can be found in illegal states, as they are sold outside standard regulation.
Just to clarify, the term ‘hemp-derived’, much like ‘naturally-derived’, doesn’t mean that something is actually extracted directly from hemp, or in the case of ‘naturally-derived’ directly from something natural. It just means it has some of those natural components, along with other unnatural components or processing. How much something specifically fits under the definition of hemp, is determined by the presence of these other unnatural ingredients or processes used. The DEA even recently confirmed that synthetic delta-8 is most certainly illegal because of these definitions. This was backed-up as well by Shopify refusing to allow such products on its platform.
When it comes to delta-8 vs delta-9, some will say delta-8 is legal, whereas delta-9 is not. Some states have even made their own regulation to try to tamp down this market, either legalizing or illegalizing delta-8 THC because of the confusion. What’s the real answer? Well, it’s not for me to say, and it’s hard to say anyway. After all, does it matter if something is illegal if no one will do anything about it anyway? As it seems the delta-8 market relies a lot on not having access to standard weed, one must wonder if a full cannabis legalization, will wipe out the industry anyway.
Some fun products to try
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What’s the real deal with delta-8 vs delta-9? Honestly, its hard to say in the end because we just don’t know. What we do know is that they’re nearly chemically identical, and seem to provide mainly similar effects and benefits. One is well known, and one is a product of the 2018 US Farm Bill, and a desire to provide a legalized version of the psychoactive part of cannabis.
For anyone looking to use delta-8 products, best to know there’s no regulation in this industry, that testing facilities have shown to be bogus, and that its going to be hard to know what exactly you’re getting, and of what quality. This is just a reality of the industry. On the plus side, delta-8 has shown to be just as safe vs delta-9, so unless you’re dealing with the most unscrupulous of vendors, using the worst of additives, you’ll probably get a decent enough product.
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