What Is Delta 8 THC and Is It Safe?

If you’ve dipped your toe into the cannabis scene, (be it some form of marijuana or hemp extract), then you’ve almost certainly heard the buzz around delta 8 THC products. Delta 8 THC is manufactured into the same types of products you would find in a typical marijuana dispensary. These products include:

  • Gummies
  • Tinctures
  • Oils
  • Vape Cartridges

Currently, THC variants such as delta 8 are legal in most US states and can definitely cause varying forms of intoxication much like the “official” delta 9 THC, also referred to just as “THC.” Generally, it takes a higher concentration of delta 8 to achieve similar effects. However, unlike its pre-synthesized precursor, CBD, delta 8 is nearly as effective as getting you high as THC.

Delta 8 THC Gummies
Delta 8 THC gummies are legal in most states. Given delta 8 products produce intoxicating effects, it leaves many wondering how it is federally legal.

That said, what is delta 8 THC, how is it federally legal, and is it safe to use? The details can be confusing, so sit back and we’ll try to answer all your THC variant questions.

What Is Delta 8 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)?

Delta 8 THC is an isomer of delta 9 THC – the rockstar of cannabinoids. As we’ve discussed in the past, isomers are compounds that share the same chemical formula. That is, they are made of the same “stuff,” just arranged differently. Sometimes those differences are very small, and yet have a profound effect on how the molecule interacts with the world around it.

Organic Life: Carbon-Based Units

In the movie, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, humans are referred to as, “carbon-based units.” This is because the organic molecules that make up everything from fossil fuels to terpenes, to cannabinoids, and to our very own bodies are all constructed from carbon-based molecules.

Carbon atoms form into chains, and then other atoms attach to form the enormous variety of organic building blocks that make up life on Earth.

Why Is It Called “Delta 8 THC?”

The reason delta 8 THC is named as such, is because the name communicates the location of the double carbon bond differentiating it from other THC variants. Basically, delta 8’s double bond is located at the 8th carbon position in the molecular chain. Delta 9’s double bond is located at the 9th carbon in the chain. And Delta 10’s double bond is located at the 10th carbon in the chain. Therefore, THC variants are referred to by their delta designation.

Delta 8 vs. Delta 9 THC
The delta 8 THC molecule is nearly identical to the popular delta 9 THC cannabinoid. The only difference is the location of one double carbon bond along the carbon chain.

Does Delta 8 THC Get You High?

Like THC, Delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol is a cannabinoid that acts as an agonist to the CB1 receptors found throughout the endocannabinoid system. Also like THC, Delta 8 THC can affect the body’s perception of pain, appetite, and how one feels. So we can definitively say “yes,” delta 8 products produce therapeutic and intoxicating effects.

In regards to dosing, it takes approximately 3 times the amount of delta 8 to produce the effects of a single, similar dose of THC. Although the delta 8 variant interacts and behaves much like normal THC, its manufacturers often claim that it is milder and less likely to cause the anxiety felt by some cannabis users.

Over time, we hope the research will shed more light on the pharmacological effects of cannabinoid variants. Suffice to say, delta 8 THC certainly produces intoxicating effects. This is why it’s gaining so much attention in the media and with lawmakers.

The Delta 8 Gold Rush

It’s important to note, that the delta 8 cannabinoid is only found in trace amounts within the trichomes of cannabis plants. This prohibits the commercial extraction of naturally occurring delta 8 until strains can be bred to naturally produce a higher concentration of the THC isomer. Therefore, to synthesize at scale, it must be processed in a lab by a skilled chemist.

The Rumpelstiltskin of Cannabis

In the fairytale Rumpelstiltskin, an imp could spin straw into gold. This must be how Professor Raphael Mechoulam felt when he fully synthesized delta 8 THC from CBD in the 1960s. Mechoulam and his colleagues noticed that the difference between THC and CBD was a single molecular bond. And by using an acid, CBD’s hydroxyl group (OH) could be coaxed to bridge the gap between carbon 5 and 6 within the center, six-member ring. In short, an acid is used to transform CBD to THC and its variants.

Common acids used in the isomerization of CBD to THC include:

  • Acetic acid
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • p-Toluenesulfonic acid

The Israeli chemist’s advancements in isomerization would dub him the “father of cannabis research” and he continues to inspire pharmacologists as they became more adept at transforming one cannabinoid into another through isomerization.

THC and CBD Isomers
CBD and THC are in fact isomers of each other. They share the same molecular formula and even have very similar structures. The only difference between the two cannabinoids is a single chemical bond.

Cannabinoid Isomerization: THC Variants Go Mainstream

With organic chemists unlocking the secret behind “spinning straw into gold,” (AKA, CBD into THC) industrial hemp farmers and CBD shops rushed to get a piece of the THC variant market share. After the legalization of hemp in 2018 and saturation of CBD in retail and herb shops, hemp and CBD processors knew just what to do with their excess of cannabidiol – enter the delta 8 THC market.

Not only could CBD extracted from legal hemp be transformed into delta 8 THC but it could also be converted into delta 9 THC (the latter is even more controversial than the first.) So, where there may be a few, brave entrepreneurs trying to sell THC derived from legal hemp, by in large, CBD processors have primarily focused on delta 8 THC. This places them firmly on the federally legal side of the controversy as the CBD isomer, delta 8 THC, is not prohibited in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Technically, as long as your source material is derived from legal hemp containing less than 0.3% delta 9 THC by dry weight after being harvested, all cannabinoids and their isomers are fair game unless your state has countered the Farm Bill with their own, local legislation.

What is the Difference Between Marijuana and Hemp?

To better understand what’s at the heart of the delta 8 controversy, it’s very important to have a simple grasp on the difference between marijuana and hemp. If you’re a botanist, your answer would correctly be, “there is none.” However, if you are a cannabis processor, patient, or adult user – the difference determines whether you are profitable or serving jail time.

As we alluded to, marijuana and hemp are both various strains of Cannabis sativa L. So they are indeed the same plant. The only difference is how much of the cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol, there is in the plant. Specifically, the difference between marijuana and hemp is the percent of delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol the plant contains when harvested.

If your cannabis plant contained more than 0.3% delta 9 THC, then it is categorized as marijuana. If it contained less than 0.3% delta 9 THC, then it is categorized as industrial hemp and is legal to cultivate and use in a wide variety of applications.

How The Farm Bill of 2018 Legalized Delta 8 THC Products

Many politicians at federal, state, and local levels of government would like to make delta 8 THC products illegal. This is because delta 8 compounds interact with the mammalian endocannabinoid system, inducing intoxicating effects nearly identical to delta 9 THC.

But here’s the rub: politicians are rarely experts in the fields of science, and the United States Senate passed a political bill rather than one based on a knowledge of chemistry and botany. As a result, by the scientific definition of the very words they passed into law, they legalized not just delta 8 THC, but all isomers of hemp-extracted cannabinoids.

The 2018 Farm Bill Loophole

Here are the exact words found in the 2018 Farm Bill that federally legalized hemp production and its extracts:

HEMP.—The term ‘hemp’ means the plant Cannabis
sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof
and 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 on a dry weight basis.”

2018 Farm Bill PDF, https://www.ams.usda.gov/

And here is the big secret as to why delta 8 THC products are legal in many states: the delta 8 THC cannabinoid is an isomer of CBD. And CBD is a legal extract of industrial hemp. Therefore, using the farm bill’s own definition, one can easily deduce that delta 8 THC is a legal isomer derived from a legal extract of a legal strain of cannabis (industrial hemp.)

Industrial Hemp Farm
The 2018 Farm Bill allowed farmers to cultivate industrial hemp. The hemp can then be used in the manufacturing of textiles and processing of extracts such as CBD and its isomers.

And that’s it, the loophole that has lawmakers and politicians puzzled and scrambling. With the cat now out of the bag, there are additional concerns because most cannabinoids are isomers of each other. From THC, to CBD, to all their variants – they share the same chemical formula. And with a little old-fashioned ingenuity, one cannabinoid can be synthesized from another.

How Could a Scientifically Obvious Loophole Be Missed?

The Farm Bill 2018 amendments passed for two, primary reasons. First, there was bipartisan support of farmers during trying times. The Democratic senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet, urged senate lawmakers to swiftly pass the 2018 Farm Bill amendments to provide support to the agriculture community and cosponsored the bill.

Senator Michael Bennet
In 2018, Senator Michael Bennet was on the senate agriculture committee and helped legislate much-needed support for farmers, including the legalization of industrial hemp.

Second, was the misunderstanding that industrial hemp was biologically different from cannabis sativa. The extent of ignorance throughout the senate was best illustrated in a comment made by Senator Mitch McConnell when he stated, “Industrial hemp is a completely different plant than its illicit cousin. It’s time we get Washington out of the way and let American farmers meet the growing demand of American consumers.” His statement was quite incorrect, but hemp farmers and the cannabis community weren’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

A Stealth Win for Cannabis Manufacturers

Senator McConnell’s sentiment was not only shared by his Republican colleagues but also among many of his Democratic colleagues as well. We had hired politicians, not chemists and botanists. And although this was painfully clear, it allowed a trojan horse born of ignorance to finally provide cannabis reform its first, significant step forward on a federal level.

And so the Farm Bill of 2018 and its amendments were signed into law by President Trump on December 20, 2018.

We’ll leave the rest of the story to authors and historians. Suffice to say, industrial hemp, its cannabinoids, its extracts, and its isomers were made federally legal. With the path forward open, hemp farmers, botanists, and chemists did what they did best – innovate.

Is Delta 8 THC Safe?

We’ve explained what delta 8 products are and why they are legal. But the $64,000 question is, “Are delta 8 THC products safe to use?” And that’s not an easy question. It could be scientifically argued, that delta 8 products are no less safe and no more dangerous than standard THC edibles and tinctures. After all, delta 8 THC is nearly identical to THC.

Even so, there is a lot of controversy surrounding whether delta 8 THC is safe to consume. The short answer is, it depends. How the cannabinoid was synthesized, distilled, and tested all play a role in the product’s safety. The FDA has weighed in on delta 8 THC and has listed 5 Things to Know about Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol before consuming delta 8 THC products.

The FDA’s Concerns in a Nutshell

Although we can’t definitively claim whether delta 8 is safe or not, we can acknowledge the concerns and make some assumptions. Here’s a quick breakdown of the five concerns the FDA wants the public to be aware of:

Delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use and may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk.

To be fair, there are no cannabis-derived products approved by the FDA. It is an important fact to keep in mind as this is not a concern unique to delta 8 THC. This is the FDA’s stance on all cannabis and cannabinoid products with the exception of a small handful of synthetically formulated drugs.

The FDA has received adverse event reports involving delta-8 THC-containing products.

As with any drug or supplement, too little will likely not produce any effects and too much will yield some side effects. This is true with delta 8 THC. Like any regulated THC product, one can take a dose that falls above their tolerances, causing unpleasant effects such as:

  • Loss of coordination
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • hallucinations

Again, these side effects are not specific to delta 8 THC. And as with all cannabis products, one should recommend their customers start with the lowest dose and work their way up.

Delta-8 THC has psychoactive and intoxicating effects.

Well, we certainly hope so! CBD manufacturers and processors are converting CBD into THC variants as means of offering a federally legal option for customers looking to manage pain or insomnia, as well as simply to get high. Without its intoxicating effects, delta 8 would be no more enticing to customers than CBD and other non-psychoactive cannabinoids.

This may be a concern to the FDA, but it’s confirmation to CBD processors that delta 8 THC does produce euphoric effects.

Delta-8 THC products often involve use of potentially harmful chemicals to create the concentrations of delta-8 THC claimed in the marketplace.

This is quite possibly the most significant concern on the FDA’s list. Again, this is not a concern unique to delta 8 products. Any cannabis product manufactured by means of chemical extraction requires the skilled use of extraction and distillation equipment. And end-products such as oils, distillates, and tinctures should be tested to ensure any chemical by-products and solvents have been eliminated.

The concern with delta 8 products is that they are currently not regulated. This means a CBD processor could cut corners and not properly isolate and distill the delta 8 cannabinoid from the chemicals used to make it. These chemicals include the acids used for isomerization that are very dangerous to ingest.

However, when manufactured by a responsible CBD processor, delta 8 products can be created safely like their delta 9 sibling products. See how long a CBD processor has been in business and don’t skimp on researching their brand before purchasing an unregulated product or supplement.

Delta-8 THC products should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.

Keeping drugs away from pets and children is common sense. It’s certainly a great rule to follow, not only for handling delta 8 products but for any drug, medicine, or supplement.

Be Smart, Be Safe

At the end of the day, CBD manufacturers should be following processing procedures as if their products were being regulated. This builds trust with consumers and prepares the business for future regulation. And as always, consumer safety should be paramount.

This is the case with any and all supplements and medicines. If you’re a cannabis processor looking to jump into the THC variant craze or an industrial hemp farmer with an excess of CBD, delta 8 THC may be a new revenue stream worth considering.

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