When people talk about THC, they usually refer to delta-9 THC: its most common form in cannabis. But there are actually several types of THC. One such form is delta-8 THC, an intoxicating cannabinoid gaining popularity due to its wide availability and murky legal status.
Here’s everything you need to know about delta-8 THC, including its effects, safety, legality, and my experience using delta-8 products.
Table of Contents
What is Delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 THC, or delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in cannabis plants. It’s an isomer of delta-9 THC, which means it shares the same chemical formula but differs in the arrangement of atoms.
That’s why delta-8 THC has similar but weaker effects, with one study suggesting it’s about 33% less potent (1).
Delta-8 THC is considered a minor cannabinoid because it’s typically less than 1% of the total cannabinoid content of cannabis plants. This makes it far less abundant than delta-9 THC and CBD, the two most well-known and widely studied cannabinoids.
How It Works
Like delta-9 THC, delta-8 activates the two primary endocannabinoid system receptors: CB1 and CB2. However, it has a weaker effect on CB1 receptors than delta-9 THC, which is why the high and other psychoactive effects are weaker.
Interestingly, delta-8 appears to have the same potency as delta-9 THC on CB2 receptors, which are abundant in immune tissue (2).
How It’s Made
Due to the low natural concentrations of delta-8 THC in hemp plants, extracting it in large quantities is challenging and inefficient.
So instead, manufacturers convert pure hemp-derived CBD (cannabidiol) into delta-8 THC through a chemical process called cyclization or isomerization (2). This bulk delta-8 is then used to manufacture various products.
Delta-8 vs. Delta-9 THC
|Delta-8 THC||Delta-9 THC|
|Potential Benefits||Same as delta-9 but with weaker psychoactive effects||Psychoactive effects, euphoria, relaxation, pain relief, nausea relief, appetite stimulation|
|Potential Side Effects||Same as delta-9 but weaker and less likely||Red eyes, dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, anxiety, impaired memory, difficulty concentrating, elevated heart rate|
|Legality||Federally legal, illegal or regulated in some states||Federally illegal, legal in some states for medical and recreational use|
|Source||Chemical conversion from hemp-derived CBD||Marijuana plants|
While delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC produce similar psychoactive and therapeutic effects, there are some key differences between the two cannabinoids:
- Potency: Delta-8 THC is considered to have a milder psychoactive effect than delta-9 THC, making it more suitable for users who prefer a less intense high.
- Legality: Delta-8 THC is federally legal because it’s derived from hemp, although some states prohibit it. In contrast, delta-9 THC & cannabis are federally illegal and only available for adult use in select states.
- Source: Delta-9 THC is used directly as marijuana or extracted from the plant. Meanwhile, delta-8 THC is made from hemp-derived CBD through a chemical process.
Is Delta-8 THC Legal?
Delta-8 THC is federally legal thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill (3). The bill legalized hemp and hemp-derived products as long as they contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC.
The bill does not put a cap on or mention other forms of THC, like delta-8. That means any delta-8 made from CBD is technically legal. Lawmakers never expected the hemp industry to devise a way to make large amounts of delta-8 THC from hemp, which is why this is considered a legal loophole.
Although delta-8 is legal on the federal level, many states have chosen to ban or regulate it. At this time, delta-8 THC is completely banned in about 17 states and regulated like recreational cannabis in three others.
Why It’s Popular
Delta-8 THC products began to appear on the market in late 2020, becoming widespread in online and brick-and-mortar stores by 2022. Two main factors can explain Delta-8’s rapid rise in popularity:
- Delta-8 THC is readily available in many states where recreational cannabis is illegal. Even in states with adult-use marijuana, delta-8 THC can be an attractive alternative because it’s easier to purchase.
- Delta-8 has milder psychoactive effects than delta-9 THC (4). Users often report a more clear-headed and focused high, with a reduced risk of anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks. This makes delta-8 THC an attractive option for those who are sensitive to delta-9 THC or prefer a less intense experience.
Delta-8 is particularly well suited for those who want symptom relief with as little psychoactive effects as possible.
Effects & Benefits
Scientists have been studying delta-8 THC for decades, even though there aren’t many studies. The available scientific and anecdotal evidence suggests that it has the same potential benefits as delta-9 THC. The only difference is that the effects (and potential side effects) are weaker.
One survey of delta-8 users reported that the most common effects were: (4)
- Pain relief
Respondents also noted altered perception of time, short-term memory problems, and difficulty concentrating. However, these effects were rated as “a little,” so they weren’t intense.
Another study by the same authors reported that delta-8 THC was most commonly used for: (5)
- Reducing anxiety and panic attacks
- Relieving pain
- Relieving stress
- Improving depression and bipolar disorder
Survey participants also reported using delta-8 THC as a substitute for delta-9 THC and pharmaceutical medications, comparing it favorably to both.
Finally, a 1995 study in children found that delta-8 THC prevented vomiting caused by cancer drugs (6).
Safety and Side Effects
As with any cannabinoid, it’s crucial to consider the potential side effects and safety concerns associated with delta-8 THC use. Some users may experience mild side effects when using delta-8 THC, such as:
- Dry mouth
- Red eyes
- Impaired memory
- Difficulty concentrating
- Distorted perception of time
However, the likelihood and severity of these side effects are lower than with delta-9 THC. As summarized by a 2022 research paper: (4)
…delta-8-THC experiences are primarily characterized by beneficial effects and are low in potentially adverse effects associated with cannabis use…Participants reported “a little” of the cognitive distortions associated with delta-9-THC and cannabis use in general.Delta-8-THC: Delta-9-THC’s nicer younger sibling?
Delta-8 THC may also interact with some drugs, but research in this area is scarce. If you take prescription medications, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional before using delta-8 THC.
Determining the ideal dosage of delta-8 THC depends on various factors, including individual tolerance, body weight, genetics, and the type of product you’re using.
Unless you’re an experienced cannabis user, starting with a low dose like 1-3 mg is best to minimize the risk of side effects. You can then gradually increase the dose until you feel the desired effects if needed.
Various types of delta-8 THC products are available on the market, with edibles (gummies, brownies, candies, chocolates, etc.) and vapes being the most popular (5). The full variety of products includes:
- Vapes: Vapes are popular for their ease of use, instant effects, and tasty flavors. Options include disposable vape pens, 510-thread cartridges for vape batteries, and vape juice for refillable devices.
- Edibles: Delta-8 THC edibles like gummies offer a tasty and convenient option, but effects have a slower onset, longer duration, and less predictability.
- Capsules: Delta-8 capsules and softgels offer a similar duration and onset time as edibles but are less popular.
- Tinctures: Like CBD oil, tinctures are taken sublingually (under the tongue). They provide quick absorption, discreet use, and precise, easy-to-adjust dosing.
- Distillate Syringes: Containing highly concentrated delta-8 THC, these syringes can be used for dabbing, as edibles, or mixed with other products.
- Flower: This is hemp flower coated with delta-8 THC distillate. However, most are made by spraying the flower, which is potentially unsafe.
- Topicals: Delta-8 THC creams and roll-ons work best for localized relief, as they cannot penetrate the skin and reach the bloodstream.
My Experience With Delta-8 THC
I’ve tested over a dozen delta-8 THC products, including vapes, tinctures, gummies, and other edibles from various brands. The vapes worked right away, while the gummies typically took about 40-60 minutes to kick in, and the tinctures about 20 minutes.
The effects I experienced were quite similar to cannabis, with a typical euphoric “high” as well as relaxation, sleepiness, increased appetite, and dry mouth.
I also noticed delta-8 was less likely to make me anxious than delta-9 THC. That was a nice change, as I stopped smoking cannabis years ago because it started giving me anxiety rather than relaxation.
I mostly used delta-8 in the evening to help me relax and get to bed, except for a few times I was hanging out at home with friends.
Factors to Consider When Shopping for Delta-8 THC
When purchasing delta-8 THC products, it is crucial to consider the following factors:
- Legality: Before you do anything else, verify that delta-8 THC is legal in your state, county, or town.
- Third-party testing: Look for products that have been third-party tested by a reputable lab for potency and contaminants to ensure you are getting a high-quality product. You should check the test reports to ensure they match the label.
- Company reputation: The delta-8 THC market is full of bad actors because it exists in a legal gray area. Be sure to choose transparent, reputable delta-8 brands backed by positive customer reviews.
- Type of product: Choose a product format that best suits your needs and preferences. For example, vapes are ideal for immediate relief, while gummies are best for long-lasting effects.
Out of all these factors, third-party testing is the most important. Several studies have found that delta-8 THC products are likely to carry contaminants and have inaccurate delta-8 levels. For example, a 2021 investigation of 16 delta-8 THC products by the US Cannabis Council found that:
- Many had incorrect delta-8 THC concentrations
- All but one contained illegal (over 0.3%) amounts of delta-9 THC, with an average of 3.4%
- Many products contained small amounts of heavy metals and other metals
Be sure to choose reputable delta-8 companies that work with equally trustworthy testing labs, and check the test certificate of analysis (CoA) reports yourself.
The Bottom Line
Delta-8 THC offers a milder alternative to delta-9 THC, especially for people who can’t easily access it due to restrictive laws. However, it’s essential to consider delta-8’s effects and side effects to make an informed choice and see if it’s right for you.
If you’re interested in giving delta-8 a try, be sure to do your due diligence to find trustworthy companies making high-quality, third-party-tested products.
- Hollister, Leo E., and H. K. Gillespie. “Delta‐8‐and delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol; Comparison in man by oral and intravenous administration.” Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics 14.3 (1973): 353-357.
- Tagen, Michael, and Linda E. Klumpers. “Review of delta‐8‐tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8‐THC): Comparative pharmacology with Δ9‐THC.” British journal of pharmacology 179.15 (2022): 3915-3933.
- Johnson-Arbor, Kelly, and Susan Smolinske. “The current state of delta-8 THC.” The American journal of emergency medicine 56 (2022): 259-261.
- Kruger, Jessica S., and Daniel J. Kruger. “Delta-8-THC: Delta-9-THC’s nicer younger sibling?.” Journal of cannabis research 4.1 (2022): 1-8.
- Kruger, Daniel J., and Jessica S. Kruger. “Consumer experiences with delta-8-THC: medical use, pharmaceutical substitution, and comparisons with delta-9-THC.” Cannabis and cannabinoid research 8.1 (2023): 166-173.
- Abrahamov, Aya, Avraham Abrahamov, and Raphael Mechoulam. “An efficient new cannabinoid antiemetic in pediatric oncology.” Life sciences 56.23-24 (1995): 2097-2102.
Gleb is a freelance writer from Vancouver, Canada specializing in CBD and cannabis. He’s read thousands of studies on CBD and other supplements, helping him translate complex science into plain language. Gleb has tried and reviewed dozens of CBD brands and products, written third-party testing reports, and knows the CBD industry inside and out. When not writing, he likes to kickbox, travel, and tell everyone how awesome intermittent fasting is.