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What Is Delta-8? Complete Guide for Beginners

Date 22nd Sep 2021

What Is Delta-8? Complete Guide for Beginners

The cannabis plant has over 400 phytochemical compounds that interact with the human body—over a hundred of these are cannabinoids.

By now, many people are familiar with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), which are the most abundant cannabinoids. Most people recognize THC as the active compound that elicits a mind-altering high. What you might not know is that there are several variations of the THC molecule.

While we've got plenty of content covering the non-psychoactive benefits of CBD, in this article, we're looking at THC— specifically delta-8 THC (Δ8-tetrahydrocannabinol). Most of the research we have about Delta-8 is limited, but we'll unpack everything you need to know about this often misunderstood cannabinoid.

What Is Delta-8 THC?

There are two common types of THC molecules—Delta-8 and Delta-9 (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol).

When you hear general discussions about THC, people are usually referring to delta-9.

Δ9 THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in mature marijuana plants, while Δ8 THC is considered a minor cannabinoid (found in very low concentrations). Δ8 THC is considered a degradation of the Δ9 molecule from aging [1]. This means to get to Δ8 THC, it starts as Δ9 THC.

The THC molecules both bind to the CB1 and CB2 receptors to exert their effects. The two molecules are nearly identical except for the location of a double bond in the carbon chain — and this tiny difference is enough to have a noticeable impact on the cannabinoid's effect on the body.

The subtle difference in the molecular structures is enough to distinguish the two compounds in the eyes of the law, though delta-8 THC is a bit murky (we'll get into this shortly).

Delta-8 does seem to share similar effects to delta-9 THC, from supporting inflammation, easing comfort, nausea support, and even some psychotropic effects. However, users report that the high from delta-8 is much more subtle.

Differences Between Delta-8 vs. Delta-9

From a molecular aspect, delta-8 THC and delta-9 aren't that different. There's a slight variation in the position of a particular double carbon bond. In Δ9 THC, it's found on the ninth carbon chain, and in Δ8 THC, it's on the eighth [2].

If you think of cannabinoids like keys that bind to receptors in the body that unlock certain effects, you can kind of picture that these two THC keys are very similar, except for one subtle ridge in the key blade.

Delta-8 Produces A Milder And Clear-Headed High

Delta-9 THC binds to CB1 receptors in the central nervous system to unleash a serotonin flood that induces the distinct psychotropic experience. Delta-8 THC also interacts with this receptor site. However, its affinity is somewhat different because this distinct shape—Δ8 THC is about half as potent as Δ9 [3].

Some people report that the high from delta-8 THC feels like they're more clear-headed with less anxiety and paranoia than with delta-9 in marijuana.

In general, many people experience very similar benefits from delta-8 and 9, including changes in perception, appetite arousal, and an elevated mood because of their interactions at this receptor site.

Delta-8 Has A Longer Shelf-Life

Delta-8 starts as a delta-9 molecule. Over time, the active Δ9 THC molecule breaks down into another cannabinoid called CBN (cannabinol), a non-psychotropic compound, and delta-8 THC. Eventually, delta-8 THC will degrade into CBN. However, it remains active as delta-8 for much longer with proper storage.

Develop Tolerance Faster To Delta-8

Tolerance to many different compounds builds over time as we're exposed to it more frequently, making us more resistant to it. When we build tolerance, we need to take more of the compound to feel the same level of effects.

It appears that tolerance to delta-8 builds much faster than it does with delta-9 [4]. This means the effects gradually weaken with more frequent use, so you'll need higher doses.

When this happens, you can take a week-long break from using delta-8 to re-set your tolerance in a way.

What Are The Effects Of Delta-8 THC?

To understand the effects of delta-8, it's helpful to mention its mechanism of action briefly.

When we consume Δ8 THC either via inhalation or ingestion, it enters the bloodstream, interacting with the CB1 and CB1 receptors that are part of the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

The ECS is a complex nerve cell communication pathway that regulates some of the vital systems in our bodies to maintain homeostasis (balance) [5].

Delta-8 Has Mild Psychotropic Effects

The CB1 receptor is the gate to the psychotropic effects of THC [6] and CB1 is most abundant in the brain, where they inhibit the release of neurotransmitters that alter our perception and increase feelings of euphoria.

One of the more notable differences people reported between the Δ8 THC and the Δ9 THC high is that it feels less anxiety-inducing, resulting in more focus and clarity.

Delta-8 Is An Appetite Stimulant

THC is a known appetite stimulant—it's what triggers the insatiable munchies from marijuana use.

The hypothalamus is the master gland in hormone production and regulation, including the hormone signalling that tells us when we're hungry and full. Studies have observed that the activation of CB1 receptors elicits a response in the perifornical lateral hypothalamus, involved in appetite and reward [7].

Some researchers even suggest that delta-8 is a much more efficient appetite stimulant than its twin counterpart. Low doses of delta-8 in mice were shown to increase their food consumption by 22% on average [8].

Delta-8 To Support Healthy Inflammation

Most of the studies on delta-8's interactions on pain and inflammation examined its effects in the eye.

CB1 receptors are present in the eyes, and through the activation of the receptors, researchers found that delta-8 was effective at reducing corneal pain and inflammation [9].

Delta-8 To Support Stomach Discomfort

The urge to vomit or nausea occurs from an unease in the stomach. It's part of the body's defense mechanism to eliminate poisonous substances that we've ingested. However, the urge to vomit can arise due to many other factors, including medication, motion sickness, pregnancy, or as a symptom of an underlying condition.

Both delta-9 THC and delta-8 have been shown to quell the urge to vomit in clinical settings. A study with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy found that delta-8 was effective at subsiding nausea without inducing any major side effects [10].

Will Delta-8 THC Get You High?

Delta-8 THC is a psychotropic cannabinoid, which means you will experience a similar high to delta-9 THC. Many users prefer the high from delta-8 because it feels more clear, less anxious.

Δ8 THC is about half as potent as Δ9 THC, so it's a much milder experience. People have found they required double the dose of Δ8 THC to get the same level of effects.

Is Delta-8 THC Safe?

Delta-8 THC is a well-tolerated substance and is considered safe even at high doses. As a minor cannabinoid, there's still a lot of research that needs to get underway to learn about its pharmacological interactions.

It's important to keep in mind that THC experiences can vary from one person to the next. And just because a compound is generally considered safe doesn't mean it doesn't come without side effects.

Side Effects And Warnings

If you're considering trying delta-8 THC, you should be aware of the potential side effects. Luckily, there aren't any known long-term adverse effects, but it can make your experience with Δ8 THC unpleasant.

Some users have reported that Δ8 THC may induce anxiety in large doses, which can feel like uncomfortable heart palpitations and racing thoughts. Although it's much less likely to occur in Δ8 THC than with Δ9 THC, this is something that you should consider.

Like Delta-9 THC, delta-8 may cause temporary dry mouth or cottonmouth, which is uncomfortable, but it doesn't prove dangerous.

Another warning to consider is that because it induces a high, you should not operate machinery.

Δ8 THC is psychotropic and can impair your judgment and perception, so you should never get behind the wheel while on this compound.

These adverse effects should wear off as delta-8 THC runs its course through your system (3–6 hours).

To avoid these unwanted side effects, always start your doses off slow and low. You can always increase your dose over time as you observe your response to the compound.

Is Delta-8 THC Legal?

Delta-8's legal status depends on how you interpret the 2018 Farm Bill [11].

Marijuana—cannabis plants with more than 0.3% THC by dried weight—is still a Federal Schedule I Substance, although some states have independently legalized marijuana [12].

In 2018, the Farm Bill moved hemp—cannabis plants with less than 0.3% THC— to a non-scheduled status and allowed for the farming, extraction, and non-pharmaceutical distribution of the plant and its extracts.

The murky loophole lies in the fact that only delta-9 THC is mentioned in this bill—not delta-8. This unclear distinction has led some to interpret the law to indicate that delta-8 derived from hemp plants is legal.

Some states specifically indicate that delta-8 is illegal, so be sure to check with your state laws before purchasing. Because Delta-8 lives in this legal limbo, many cannabis brands are selling delta-8 THC products as a "legal" alternative to marijuana use because it induces a mild psychotropic effect.

Does Delta-8 Show Up On A Drug Test?

Drug tests aren't sensitive enough to pinpoint precisely what substances you've taken and at what levels. It's simply looking for the presence that an illicit compound was in your system.

When we ingest a compound, the liver and enzymes begin to break it down, resulting in smaller versions of the original molecules called metabolites. The most common drug testing for professional sports, occupations, and even parole is made to detect metabolites of certain compounds in urine.

Regardless of what THC form you've taken into your system (legal or not), the metabolites you produce will look the same, which means taking delta-8 can make you fail a drug test.

How Long Does Delta-8 THC Stay In Your System?

How long a cannabinoid stays in your system depends on your frequency of use and your metabolism.

THC metabolites are stored in fat tissues and may be present anywhere from a week to 48 days, depending on how much much you've taken and for how long you've been using it.

Where Is Delta-8 Available?

Most delta-8 THC products that live in the legal grey are derived from hemp crops, and they're widely available on e-commerce sites. However, you may also find delta-8 THC products from marijuana that may even contain delta-9 sold online as well.

Before purchasing a THC-based product online, check with your local state laws.

Always shop with reputable brands that inform you how to use their product, indicate proper dose guides, and conduct third-party testing.

Third-party testing analyses the cannabis extract for its cannabinoid profile, potency, and potential contaminants. This practice isn't mandatory in the industry, but reputable brands will always share these reports with their customers to validate their product's quality and safety.

The Takeaway: Delta-8 THC

Delta-8 THC is a minor cannabinoid derived from one of the primary cannabis cannabinoids, Delta-9 THC.

While its effects are very similar, the subtle difference in the two compounds' molecular shapes is enough to alter one's experiences with each compound.

Many people prefer the high from Delta-8 THC to Delta-9 because of its milder high. They tend to experience less anxiety and paranoia that's typically associated with a THC high.

Delta-8 lives in an interesting legal space, where it's often sold as a legal way to experience a psychotropic high from cannabis as long as the compound is derived from hemp crops with less than (0.3% Delta-9 THC).

When it comes to drug testing, Delta-8 can trigger a positive result, so if this is a concern for you, you should stay clear from any form of THC use.

Never shop for cannabis products that don't come with a certificate of analysis from a third-party lab, as you never know what's in the bottle. The concentrations of active compounds could be ineffective or worse. The extract could have been exposed to potential contaminants such as solvents, pesticides, or even mycotoxins.

If you're looking for more articles like this related to CBD and cannabis safety and uses, you can find more on our blog

References:

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  2. National Center for Biotechnology Information (2021). PubChem Compound Summary for CID 162389, delta(8)-Thc-11-oic acid
  3. Abrahamov, A., Abrahamov, A., & Mechoulam, R. (1995). An efficient new cannabinoid antiemetic in pediatric oncology. Life sciences, 56(23-24), 2097-2102.
  4. Hine, B., Torrelio, M., & Gershon, S. (1977). Analgesic, heart rate, and temperature effects of Δ8-THC during acute and chronic administration to conscious rats. Pharmacology, 15(1), 65-72.
  5. Lu, H. C., & Mackie, K. (2016). An introduction to the endogenous cannabinoid system. Biological psychiatry, 79(7), 516-525.Chicago
  6. Mackie, K. (2006). Mechanisms of CB1 receptor signaling: endocannabinoid modulation of synaptic strength. International journal of obesity, 30(1), S19-S23.
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  8. Avraham, Y., Ben-Shushan, D., Breuer, A., Zolotarev, O., Okon, A., Fink, N., ... & Berry, E. M. (2004). Very low doses of Δ8-THC increase food consumption and alter neurotransmitter levels following weight loss. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 77(4), 675-684.
  9. Thapa, D., Cairns, E. A., Szczesniak, A. M., Toguri, J. T., Caldwell, M. D., & Kelly, M. E. (2018). The cannabinoids Δ8THC, CBD, and HU-308 act via distinct receptors to reduce corneal pain and inflammation. Cannabis and cannabinoid research, 3(1), 11-20.
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Katrina Lubiano
Katrina Lubiano

Katrina Lubiano is a content writer in the health and wellness space based in Vancouver, Canada — Canada's epicenter for cannabis culture. When she's not working, she enjoys sailing, watercolor painting, and cooking.