What is Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol and Its Effects?

What is Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol and Its Effects?

Published on December 6, 2021 by Kristina Willis

If you are searching for the trendiest new cannabinoid, look no further than delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as delta-8 or delta-8 THC. Chatter about delta-8 increased by 163% from December 2020 to April 2021, and its popularity begets more than just talk. Endorsed by retailers and consumers as ‘legal weed,’ it can be readily found in gas stations and retail stores all over the country.

The delta-8 cannabinoid is a THC isomer similar to delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Delta-8 is psychoactive like THC but comparatively less potent. Proponents praise its ability to produce a moderate high without adverse psychoactive effects, such as anxiety or paranoia. However, despite its potential as a therapeutic compound, delta-8 THC is still relatively new and understudied.

Industry experts criticize the sudden boom in manufacturing unproven products with very little research conducted. There are still notable concerns regarding toxic byproducts and a massive lack of regulation. Keep reading to learn about delta-8 and the developing threat to public health.

Where Is Delta-8 THC Found?

Delta-8 is a cannabinoid found in low quantities in cannabis plants, including hemp. Though it is naturally occurring, concentrations typically do not exceed 0.1%. As a result, most delta-8 THC needs to be synthesized in a lab.

How Is Delta-8 Made?

Typically, delta-8 THC is synthesized from cannabidiol (CBD) using a solvent, acid, and heat. Since there are no industry standards for the conversion process, the additional chemicals can be unpredictable and potentially toxic. Delta-8 comes in many forms, from smokable hemp and vape juice to extracts and tinctures. Delta-8 THC edibles are also particularly popular and convenient when stored properly.

What Does Delta-8 Do to the Body?

Delta-8 THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system by binding to the CB1 receptor. Activation causes various effects, including potassium channel modulation and adenyl cyclase inhibition. Since delta-8 is less potent than delta-9 THC, it does not cause many of the adverse side effects generally associated with high THC content, such as feelings of anxiety, paranoia, and high stress.

According to some scientists, delta-8 may boost appetite by up to twice as much as THC. Moreover, preliminary research suggests potential use as a treatment for neurodegenerative disorders since it can regulate potassium and calcium channels and increase choline and acetylcholine production. People speculate that delta-8 THC may provide additional therapeutic benefits, such as neurogenesis, stress relief, and more.

Image ‘Delta-8 THC Gummies‘ by Elsa Olofsson licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Adverse side effects
according to the CDC

►Uncoordinated movements and decreased psychomotor activity
►Slurred speech
►Increased heart rate progressing to a slowed heart rate
►Low blood pressure
►Difficulty breathing

Is Delta-8 the same as CBD?

Though many people liken the effects of delta-8 THC to CBD, it is crucial to recognize that they are not the same substance. Delta-8’s chemical structure is more similar to THC, with the only difference being the location of the carbon-carbon double bond. Furthermore, delta-8 is psychoactive and produces a high, unlike CBD, which is entirely non-psychoactive.

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8)

Image by Cacycle licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.


Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)

Image by Cacycle licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Is Delta-8 Safe to Consume?

Delta-8 THC is indeed exploding in popularity but is it safe? Realistically, it is simply too early to tell. More research is needed to understand its complete safety profile and potential benefits. But, most importantly, current hype outweighs reasonable doubt, and widespread circulation poses a genuine threat to public health.

“At present, products purporting to contain Delta-8 THC are being marketed across the country through unregulated retail outlets and the internet. These products are not subject to ingredient testing to detect and prevent dangerous contaminants such as lead, heavy metals, certain pesticides, etc.”

—U.S. Cannabis Council report

In September 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) distributed an emergency health advisory warning to inform the public of the increase in the availability of delta-8 products and reported cases of “adverse events.” In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a similar article detailing health risks associated with delta-8 THC and clarifying that delta-8 products have not been evaluated or approved for safe use in any context.

Can Delta-8 Cause Health Problems?

Though there are many questions about the efficacy of delta 8 THC as a pharmaceutical, two critical safety concerns require immediate attention.

Product variability and toxicity
The chemical synthesis process for converting CBD to delta-8 has not yet been standardized, and quality assurance is a valid concern. Toxic additives may be used in the process, such as household chemicals, and byproducts often have contaminants.

Issues with labeling and marketing
Delta-8 products are currently free of any packaging or label requirements, and many promise unsubstantiated therapeutic benefits. Despite producing psychoactive effects, they are often advertised as hemp products, which can mislead unaware consumers.

Taking a Cautionary Approach to a New Substance

The bottom line is that delta-8 is vastly understudied and lacks clinical research. As a substance that has recently entered the spotlight, it is best to wait for substantive evidence before jumping on the bandwagon. Moreover, with a vast unregulated market, delta-8 THC has the potential to provoke a crisis similar to the outbreak of vape pen lung injury in 2019, for which the additive Vitamin E Acetate was deemed the likely culprit.

The critical distinction to make is that delta-8 is not being hyped because of breaking research. Rather, the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill opened the door for manufactures to manipulate a perceived loophole to market hemp-derived THC products as safe and legal. There is particular concern over the ease with which underaged consumers can find and purchase delta-8 THC products. Consumers should not seriously consider delta-8 for medicinal benefits until more studies are conducted and its legal ambiguity disassembled and clarified.