Delta-8 THC is rapidly gaining popularity in the legal cannabis industry, given it’s seen by consumers as a means to access the therapeutic potential of cannabis without the “high” associated with the more established delta-9 THC, commonly known simply as THC or tetrahydrocannabinol.
For newer consumers and less seasoned enjoyers of cannabis, there’s still some confusion as to what exactly delta-8 THC is and why it’s worth looking into. In this post, we go over everything you need to know before trying delta-8; from how it’s different from delta-9 THC to its potential benefits and side effects.
What is Delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 is an isomer of delta-9 THC, with the main chemical difference between the two being the position of their double bonds. Delta-8 affects the body similarly to delta-9, but with key differences in psychoactivity. While the latter is associated with pain relief and feelings of relaxation, delta-8 has been documented to increase wakefulness, focus and appetite.
Unlike delta-9 THC, delta-8 isn’t primarily sourced from marijuana plants. Instead, it’s typically synthesized from CBD extracted from high quality hemp flowers. The synthesization process has raised concern among some chemists, given the involvement of substances like p-toluenesulfonic acid can yield not only high percentages of delta-8 THC, but residual impurities as well.
Is it legal?
As of this writing, delta-8 isn’t expressly prohibited in any cannabis reform bill (e.g. the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act) or body of regulations around cannabis, unlike other cannabinoids like delta-9 THC or CBD. This leaves delta-8 in a legal gray area for the moment, making it safe to carry and consume in most American localities.
Thanks to its current legal status, delta-8 is available in many dispensaries and so-called “weed shops” in a variety of formats, including delta-8 gummies and broad-spectrum tinctures. More niche items like isolates and hashish (i.e. kief) can be found online, courtesy of cannabis retailers willing to ship nationwide.
Benefits of Delta-8 THC
Delta 8 THC is currently being studied for a number of potential therapeutic applications, and is becoming an increasingly popular supplement to conventional medications and treatments. Let’s look at three of the most well-documented beneficial properties of delta-8 below.
- Reducing Anxiety delta 8 THC has been shown to reduce anxiety in multiple animal studies. Like all cannabinoids, delta-8’s anxiolytic potential is rooted in its interactions within the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which is involved in essential physiological functions including the regulation of emotion and stress response. Delta-8 THC increases levels of anandamide, a natural cannabinoid known to have anti-anxiety effects, and inhibits the breakdown of gamma-aminobutyric acid, the primary neurotransmitter regulating sensations of anxiety, stress and fear.
- Controlling Nausea and/or Vomiting a 2011 University of Guelph review of delta-8 studies in human and animal subjects found that the cannabinoid binds to the cannabinoid-type1 (CB1) receptor group in the ECS, which is located in the central nervous system and gastrointestinal tract. The Ontario review further concluded that delta-8’s antiemetic effects are tied to its role as an agonist on CB1 receptors, treating not only neurophysiological symptoms of nausea like dizziness and migraines, but physical symptoms like vomiting as well.
- Improving Sleep and Homeostasis consumption of delta-8 THC during the day can promote healthy sleep-wake cycles by controlling forms of sleep dysfunction that tend to manifest as daytime drowsiness (e.g. narcolepsy, insomnia). This is achieved through its ability to increase levels of serotonin — known as the “happy hormone” — to improve mood and reduce stress levels; dopamine, which is responsible for focus and concentration; and even norepinephrine, which play a major role in our overall energy levels.
Are There Any Risks Associated with Delta-8 THC?
As with any cannabinoid, delta-8 THC can cause side effects at high to excessive dose ranges. These include dry mouth, anxiety and elevated heart rate. In order to avoid these symptoms, a good rule of thumb is to always start at low dose ranges to gauge individual tolerance before scaling up as needed.
Edibles in particular, including gummies, can take hours to build up in the bloodstream given its breakdown process through the stomach and liver. More enthusiastic cannabis greenhorns are encouraged not to make the mistake of consuming additional gummies while waiting for their initial dose to “kick in.”
Accidental overdoses aside, delta-8 THC has a low risk profile with no documented serious side effects. Medical research and anecdotal evidence suggests it makes a viable supplement to conventional treatments for anxiety, sleep dysfunction and recurring bouts of nausea from cancer treatment.