Before getting to delta-8, it’s best to start with what’s more familiar, delta-9 THC; the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) most associated with the cannabis plant, and the cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive properties of cannabis. Delta-9 THC comes from THCA, the THC that is actually in cannabis flowers. THCA is decarboxylated into THC over time in the plant, or with the application of heat.
This process means that a CO2 molecule is dropped, creating the chemical formulation (C21H30O2), thus turning it into the THC (delta-9) that we associate with getting high and feeling better. A small percentage of the delta-9 THC will oxidize to become delta-8 THC, which is considered an analogue of delta-9 THC. The main difference? Delta-8 has a double bond on the 8th carbon atom, and delta-9 on the 9th one.
Essentially, delta-8 is a minorly altered form of the delta-9 THC we know and love so well, and is found in only tiny amounts – about .01% of both high-THC and low-THC flowers. Much like other cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD), cannabichromene (CBC), and cannabinol (CBN), which appear in small amounts in the cannabis plant, delta-8 THC must be isolated and extracted to produce a larger amount than would be ingested through smoking, vaping, or eating the plant alone.
The tiny amount of it found in plants, and relative inability to cause much reaction due to its miniscule concentration, could be what kept it from being of much interest for so long. Delta-8 can be sourced from either high-THC or low-THC plants.
Delta-8 is already associated with a number of health benefits. The National Center for Biological Information (NCBI) describes delta-8 THC as follows: “An analogue of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties.” It goes on to say: “This agent exhibits a lower psychotropic potency than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC), the primary form of THC found in cannabis.”
One of the fascinating points of interest is also in its cancer-fighting abilities, seen first in 1974 when a study examining mice with tumors found that delta-9 slowed tumor growth after a number of days, while delta-8 combined with CBN actually caused tumors to shrink after 20 days. Another study in 1995 on children with blood cancer, showed a high rate of efficacy for treating the cancer, while also controlling nausea and vomiting.
There are still a lot of unknowns of course, like how much less psychoactive delta-8 is, and how this relates to how it makes users feel. A 1973 study came out with the statistic of delta-8 having 2/3 the psychoactive effects as delta-9, a significant decrease, but hardly an insignificant amount for a person to feel it. This means delta-8 gives patients and adult-users the ability to gain many of the same (and possibly more) of the benefits of delta-9, but with less of an actual high.
It is believed – or at least alluded to – that this lack of psychoactive ability also makes users experience less anxiety, making for a good alternative for users who want the benefits of THC – medical or otherwise – without feeling amped-up. There doesn’t seem to be an exact consensus on how it makes a person feel, however many publications report that it produces a high that is more energizing, and less heavy, leaving users with a clearer mind, and more relaxed. More research is necessary on the subject.
This is where things get a bit sticky, and the answer isn’t very clear. Since different countries maintain their own specific cannabis regulations, it’s also not going to be the same answer everywhere. While the following might not be 100% true globally, the subsequent points describe how and when delta-8 can be expected to be legal, or existing in gray area:
It should be noted, that if a particular country or state fits into one of the scenarios above, but has wording in their laws that more specifically bans THC and analogues, then the loophole is not valid.
The thing about delta-8 THC is that it exists in such small quantities that it doesn’t matter where it’s sourced from. Whether it comes from low-THC hemp plants or high-THC marijuana plants, it still has a minimal existence without isolation and extraction. So, it makes little difference for the end user which kind of cannabis plant it originated from. This ability to not require high-THC plants for extraction leaves the door open even wider for production to come from industrial hemp, and for the products to continue filtering through that super-fantastic loophole.
There are a lot of times when it’s said that something can be a gamechanger in an industry. CBD, for example, was a huge gamechanger in that it helped push countries to legalize cannabis for medical use, open up medical programs for their own residents, and start cultivation and production operations that have turned into a massive global market. Without the extraction of CBD and the research into its medicinal properties including its lack of a psychoactive effect, it could have taken much longer for the cannabis industry to blow up.
The interesting thing about delta-8 is that it provides a bridge. Right now, the world is acclimating to legal medicinal cannabis, generally sourced from hemp. The idea of psychoactive, however, is still considered bad, even though it’s one of the most sought after effects of using high-THC cannabis, and an effect that many would argue is, indeed, medicinal.
Since delta-8 can be sourced from industrial hemp which is legal, and it contains a psychoactive effect – but not as intense as the one produced by its counterpart delta-9 – delta-8 is sitting pretty in its loophole as being a legally sold, psychoactive compound. And maybe that’s a really good thing. Because it now provides a way for THC to be used medicinally or recreationally without as much of a high by those who prefer it that way, while also producing a legal way for those who want to medicate with the psychoactive effect, to do so as well.
It’ll be important to keep an eye on delta-8 in the future, to see if/how different countries are updating their laws to more formally legalize or illegalize the compound.
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