Delta-8 THC is a cannabinoid found in trace amounts in the cannabis plant. It is similar to the THC that causes a high—called delta-9 THC—but has much less potency. Delta-8 can be produced from hemp, which is legal to grow in the US since the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, making the cannabinoid popular in states that don’t have legal cannabis laws. However, because delta-8 can still cause a high, it is in a legal gray area, and producers only sell it in certain states.

“I love these delta-8 gummies because they’re so much milder than regular THC.”

“I was stoked to order THC online, even though it’s delta-8 and not as strong.”

What is delta-8?

Delta-8 THC, short for delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, is a cannabinoid found in trace amounts in the cannabis plant. It is similar to the THC found in a majority of cannabis products, which is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9. However, delta-8 is much less potent than regular THC.

Delta-8 can be made from hemp in addition to cannabis, and because of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp can be grown all over the US. Consumers in states that don’t have legal cannabis laws want THC products, even if those products have a reduced potency, so hemp farmers are producing more delta-8 to meet demand. 

Some consumers may even prefer cannabis products that aren’t as strong as regular THC—cannabis can cause negative effects for some, giving them anxiety or paranoia. Delta-8 can offer a smoother, milder high.

What’s the difference between delta-8 and delta-9?

Chemically, delta-8 and delta-9 are similar in that their structures both have a double bond. 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—delta-8 has the double bond on the eighth carbon, whereas delta-9 has it on the ninth. 

Delta-8, like delta-9, binds to CB1 receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, although 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 delta-9. More research on delta-8 and how it interacts with the body is needed.

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How is delta-8 made?

Delta-8 is found in trace amounts in cannabis and hemp plants, but it is often made from CBD isolate—which can be extracted from hemp—as hemp is legal to grow anywhere in the US and the plant is readily available. CBD is extracted from hemp and refined into isolate, and then CBD isolate is synthesized into delta-8.

Delta-8 is currently in a gray area of legality. The 2018 Farm Bill 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 products illegal in those states. Producers and retailers of delta-8 sell only to states that have laws mirroring the Farm Bill’s language.

Additionally, in August 2020, the DEA released an Interim Final Rule (IFR) to confirm the differences between hemp and cannabis, but state, “All synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule I controlled substances,” which would make delta-8 illegal because it is a tetrahydrocannabinol that it is extracted. 

The DEA’s IFR is open for review until October 2021, and until then, delta-8’s legality is hazy.