March 31, 2021
Delta-8 is a cannabis compound that has become popular because of its similarity to delta-9 THC, the main compound in cannabis that gets you high, causing euphoria, happiness, sedation, symptom relief, and much more. Large amounts of THC are found in a majority of cannabis strains.
The similarities between the two cannabinoids lie in their chemical structures and their names. THC’s scientific name is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9 THC, or just delta-9. Delta-8 is short for delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-8 THC. Delta-8 THC can cause effects similar to regular delta-9 THC—but they will be much less potent.
Delta-8 and delta-9 are both forms of THC. In common usage, when people refer to THC they are talking about delta-9 THC. (In this article, when we use the term “THC” without a modifier, we are referring to delta-9 THC.)
Currently, the legality of delta-8 is hazy. It can be extracted from either hemp or cannabis. Because of the 2018 farm bill, hemp can be legally grown and used for extractions all over the United States, making delta-8 legal in states where delta-9 THC is illegal—sometimes.
Nearly all delta-8 THC on the market today is manufactured from hemp-derived CBD, which makes it, in theory at least, part of a federally legal chain of origin.
People in states where THC is illegal crave cannabis products and are now looking to delta-8 because it may be legal in their state, even though it is less potent than regular THC. Many hemp-based extractors are ramping up delta-8 production to meet this new demand and shipping it all over the US.
Delta-8, like delta-9 (regular THC), binds to the body’s endocannabinoid system, which causes you to feel high. Chemically, delta-8 and delta-9 are similar in that they both have a double bond in their structures. This double bond is thought to produce the intoxicating effects that make you feel high.
The two THCs are chemically different in the placement of the double bond. Both cannabinoids have a chain of carbon atoms, but delta-8 has the double bond on the eighth carbon, whereas delta-9 has it on the ninth.
Delta-8 binds to the endocannabinoid system in a slightly different fashion because of the location of its double bond. This is what is thought to make delta-8 much less potent than regular THC. However, more research needs to be done on delta-8 and how it interacts with the body.
Delta-8 will get you high, albeit not as high as common delta-9 THC. For those living in states where cannabis is illegal, delta-8 may be a legal way to experience some THC-like effects from cannabis.
Some consumers may even prefer cannabis products that aren’t as strong as common THC, even if they can legally obtain THC products. THC can cause negative effects for some, bringing on anxiety or paranoia. Delta-8 may offer a smoother, milder high.
Leafly’s Dante Jordan tried delta-8 THC and described it as a lighter, more energizing high than traditional delta-9 THC. “Yes, delta-8 definitely gets you high,” he wrote, “but it was a lighter high than I’m accustomed to from smoking joints, taking dabs, and eating regular edibles.”
Delta-8 consumers report many of the same effects as THC, such as mild euphoria, happiness, uplifting feelings, and relief from some symptoms such as pain, although the compound is much less potent. Delta-8 can also help with insomnia.
Side effects may be similar to those of THC, including dry mouth, red eyes, getting the munchies, short-term memory, paranoia, or anxiety. It’s important to note that delta-8 hasn’t been studied extensively and more research is needed on the effects it has on the mind and body.
Delta-8 has more similarities to THC (delta-9) than CBD, both in its chemical structure and because it gets you high. Delta-8 THC binds to the body’s endocannabinoid system more like delta-9 THC. CBD doesn’t bind as readily to the endocannabinoid system, making it non-intoxicating, although CBD can offer medicinal benefits for the consumer.
If you are looking for effects similar to THC but with a reduced potency, delta-8 may be for you. If you seek relief from certain symptoms and don’t want to get intoxicated, you may want to try a CBD product.
For most people, especially moderate or experienced consumers, delta-8 will feel much weaker than regular THC. If you are new to cannabis, delta-8 could affect you strongly—it depends on your body chemistry.
To give a sense of delta-8’s potency relative to THC, delta-8 edible producers commonly measure and dose their gummies at more than twice the strength of THC gummies:
In creating these standard gummies, producers are calculating that delta-8 is less than half as strong as regular THC, so a 25mg delta-8 gummy might equate to the effects of a 10mg THC gummy.
Again, it’s important to note that very little research has been done on delta-8. We don’t know much about how strong its effects are, and how it affects the body. As with any cannabis product, the chemical profile of the cannabis, your body’s chemistry, your tolerance level, your set and setting, and the amount you take all affect how you will feel.
It’s always recommended to take a little bit at first and then wait for the onset of effects before taking more. The consumption method will affect how quickly you feel those effects. If you’re vaping delta-8, you should feel the effects within ten minutes or less; if taking edibles, wait at least an hour or two before taking more.
Delta-8 currently exists in a legal gray area.
Few state laws specifically address delta-8 THC at this time. Most state laws that pertain to marijuana or cannabis use language that covers marijuana, cannabis, THC, CBD, or delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. There are 11 states where delta-8 is believed to be illegal according to state law. (See list below, under “Can I get delta-8 in the mail?”)
The federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has, in a proposed rule, indirectly classified delta-8 THC as a Schedule I controlled substance, which would make it federally illegal. That rule is not yet final.
Delta-8 THC is commonly sourced from hemp, not cannabis, which is why it’s currently sold in many states where cannabis is illegal. To be more specific, nearly all delta-8 THC currently on the market is derived from CBD extracted from federally legal hemp.
This can be a little confusing because hemp is, technically, a cannabis plant that contains less than 0.3% THC. When we talk about “cannabis,” though, we’re commonly referring to cannabis plants with THC content of 0.3% or higher.
The 2018 farm bill, a federal act passed by Congress, legalized hemp in the United States. That act defines hemp as: “All derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent.” This language makes delta-8 legal, because it does not contain any delta-9 THC.
However, some states have chosen not to adopt this specific language of the farm bill in their own state laws, making delta-8 illegal in certain states. Producers and retailers of delta-8 sell only to states that have laws mirroring the farm bill’s language. Even then, some producers may only sell to certain states based on their own interpretation of a state’s laws.
Additionally, in August 2020, the DEA released an Interim Final Rule (IFR), a document meant to update and confirm the differences between hemp and cannabis. That interim rule said: “All synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain Schedule I controlled substances,” which would make delta-8 illegal because it is a tetrahydrocannabinol that is extracted, or synthetically derived.
So whether the farm bill’s language stands, which outlaws plants with more than 0.3% delta-9 THC, or the new IFR language is adopted, which bans all tetrahydrocannabinols, will determine the fate of delta-8. The DEA’s IFR is open for review until October 2021, and until then, delta-8’s federal legality remains hazy.
Leafly correspondent Marissa Wenzke investigated the safety factor of delta-8 THC products. The experts she consulted suggested the main risk factor could come from untested, unlicensed delta-8 THC vape cartridges purchased on the unregulated market.
In 2019, the booming market in illicit-market THC vape cartridges allowed bad actors to pollute their vape oil with toxic vitamin E acetate, which led to thousands of hospitalizations and more than 60 deaths. Today’s delta-8 THC cartridges, when purchased outside a legal state-licensed cannabis store, hold the same risks.
Read more about the risks in the Leafly report, Is delta-8 THC safe? Here’s what the experts say.
You can receive delta-8 in the mail depending on which state you live in. Delta-8 isn’t legal in all states, and different producers may choose not to ship to certain states because of its hazy legality. Be sure to check a producer’s website to see if they ship to your state. Surprisingly, states that have legal, adult-use cannabis laws don’t always allow delta-8.
Commonly, producers will ship delta-8 to all states except these:
Delta-8 is found in trace amounts in cannabis and hemp plants, and as hemp is legal to grow anywhere in the US and more readily available, the cannabinoid is often sourced from that.
Commonly, CBD is extracted from hemp and refined into an isolate, and then CBD isolate is synthesized into delta-8. As such, delta-8 requires more processing and is more expensive to make than CBD, but this increased production cost is balanced out by the high demand for it.
As delta-8 is relatively new to the market, it may be challenging to find products that are what they say they are and actually contain delta-8. When shopping for delta-8 products, check out a producer’s website to see if they have information on how they source and create their products.
Quality, tested products usually have a QR code or batch number on the box that allows you to look up test results on the producer’s website. Stay away from products that aren’t tested or have questionable test results, as you won’t know if they even contain delta-8, and they could potentially contain harmful substances.