The Difference Between Delta 8 and Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol

Many people do not know that one of the two most famous cannabinoids in cannabis – THC, tetrahydrocannabinol – has at least two “varieties”.

When most people talk about THC, they are referring to delta nine THC. But delta eight THC also exists. And it offers some different properties and interesting benefits as opposed to its better-known cousin.

If you’ve never heard of THC D8 – or you’ve heard it mentioned but not really understood what was being said about it – this article is for you.

What is D9 THC?

Almost every time someone says “THC”, they are referring to Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol. It is often written as Delta-9 or D9. This is the main psychoactive ingredient found in the cannabis plant and in the K.I.N.D. Resin you can find in your favorite dispensary.

There are currently known to be over 120 different cannabinoids in cannabis, so research still has a long way to go to truly understand the qualities of this unique plant. But Delta-9 THC, alongside CBD – cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid – is one of the better-known and understood.

As a rule, Delta-9 THC is present in cannabis in much greater quantities and produces a more potent psychoactive effect than its “cousin” Delta-8.

What is D8 THC?

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, sometimes referred to as Delta-8 or just D8, is less well-known than Delta-9. It is known to produce a milder though still psychoactive effect and for only being present in most cannabis plants in relatively small quantities compared with Delta-9.

Because Delta-9 is so much more powerful and more present, the psychoactive effects of cannabis have long been solely ascribed to D9 THC. But D8 THC is also psychoactive, if less so.

For most people currently investigating Delta-8, this comparative mildness is what is so interesting. It is the quality of being milder while still delivering many beneficial effects that this cannabinoid bears closer examination for.

Unlike Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 THC is also found in reasonable quantities in the hemp plant. This is important, as we’ll discover later.


Delta 8 THC vs Delta 9 – the differences

Delta-8 and Delta-9 actually have a great deal in common beyond just their names. “Normal” Delta-9 THC binds to the receptors in your body’s endocannabinoid system. Delta-8 does the same. Both D8 and D9 have a double bond in their chemical structures – thought to be the reason for their psychoactive effect.

But the differences between Delta 8 and Delta 9 are many and subtle:

  1. Receptor activation – D9 activates your CB1 receptors. D8 activates the CB1 and CB2 receptors. Activating both receptors means it can promote a homeostasis effect similar to that created by CBD. Homeostasis is your body’s natural resting state.
  2. Molecular structure – the double bonds on D8 and D9 THC are situated in different places (the eighth and ninth carbon chains respectively). This might not sound like much, but the differences it creates can be surprising, including being the likely reason for D8’s milder potency but also its other beneficial effects.
  3. Quantities available – Delta-8 is present in much smaller quantities in every type of cannabis. In fact, it’s only thanks to modern technology that D8 can even be isolated at all. This is the main reason why Delta-8 remains much less talked about and studied than the highly abundant Delta-9 THC.

Delta 8 THC effects and experience vs Delta 9

Delta-9 THC is the part of the cannabis plant that is largely responsible for the euphoric “high” – the feeling of relaxation, gentle euphoria, happiness and relief that cannabis provides to medical and recreational users around the world every single day. You will find high quantities of D9 THC in almost every strain of cannabis.

On the other hand, Delta-8 THC also produces a psychoactive effect, but one that is milder and gentler. Some users and researchers have described it as being more “manageable”. This comparison extends to the side-effects produced by both D8 and the “stronger” D9 THC. The side-effects of D8 are known to be noticeably less pronounced and to reduce impairment much less.

Some studies have shown that the psychoactive effects that Delta-8 THC produces may be around 50% less powerful than those of Delta-9. Other studies have shown it to have an even more pronounced reduction in potency.

But despite this reduced potency when it comes to mildly euphoric sensation, Delta-8 is exciting researchers and medical marijuana patients alike for the fact that it still produces many or even possibly more beneficial effects as D9.

The many potential uses of D8 THC

1) For cancer patients

Even as far back as the 1970s, Delta-8 was being researched for its potency as an anti-emetic and immune system response-promoter. Results seemed to show that D8 was as much as 200% more effective than D9 at reducing feelings of nausea. Later, in the 1990s, a study seemed to show that it had a beneficial effect on reducing the size of tumors themselves.

This combination means that D8 is potentially a huge boon for people undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. Some cancer patients report that Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol makes them feel tense, anxious and even paranoid. This means the benefits that the THC provides are often canceled out by the side effects.

D8 seems to offer a great alternative here. It also provides the appetite-stimulation effects that so many cancer patients rely on to battle the side effects of the treatment they are undergoing.

It has been observed that combining the Delta-8 with CBD can further reduce the unwanted psychoactive effects and “high” while still delivering the desired relief.

2) To improve brain function

Research seems to show that Delta-8 stimulates the production of a neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter affects a wide range of mental functions, including:

  • Memory
  • Cognition
  • Arousal
  • Neuroplasticity (this is the quality of your brain that allows it to learn new things and adapt)

3) Providing pain relief and anxiety relief

Just because Delta-8 THC produces a less powerful high doesn’t mean it doesn’t still provide the benefits “normal” THC is known for.

Chiefly in terms of pain relief and relief from anxiety and depression – and especially in terms of being a powerful anti-emetic – Delta-8 still delivers the benefits of Delta-9 but with significantly reduced side effects.


Delta 8 THC in the United States – legality

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol is currently not specifically legislated for in the US. This often leads to it being described as existing “in a legal gray area”.

Under federal regulations – the 2018 Farm Bill – as long as it is harvested from the hemp plant and there is less than the mandated 0.3% Delta-9 THC present, Delta-8 should be legal. This means that in many cases, Delta-8 can be legal in places where Delta-9 would not be. (Though it is important to note that there are at least still roughly a dozen states where Delta-8 THC is almost certainly illegal according to current laws.)

Unsurprisingly though, the fact that Delta-8 is generally understood to be legal at the federal level has led to an upsurge in the number of hemp growers and manufacturers starting to extract and isolate Delta-8 THC as part of their normal operations. Most Delta-8 THC products available at time of writing are indeed made from materials extracted from the hemp plant.

It is also worth knowing that a potential forthcoming bit of legislation – the DEA’s Interim Final Rule or IFR – may include a rule that states “all synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain Schedule I controlled substances”. This would obviously include Delta-8. The rule is open for review until October 2021.

Will Delta-8 produce a “high”?

In short, yes. It might be milder and easier to “manage” than the high produced by Delta-9 THC, but Delta-8 does produce a psychoactive effect and therefore a “high”.

This can mean that people living in states that are currently behind the times in the wave of modern cannabis legalization reforms can still often legally access a type of THC that can provide this kind of effect.

Delta-8 and dosage levels

However, it is important to note that while the effects described here may lead you to believe that Delta-8 is mild, this may not be the case for you personally. Especially if you have no tolerance for THC and have not used it before.

For newcomers, this means that dosage control is, as always, an important factor. Especially if you have no tolerance or are trying to achieve a precise effect for medical purposes.

This is important. Because many manufacturers create Delta-8 products that contain roughly twice as much D8 as they would D9. This is an indication that most manufacturers believe D8 is roughly half as potent as D9.

However, there are many different factors that may affect your body’s ability to tolerate any type of THC, including:

  1. The precise balance of ingredients in the product
  2. Your body chemistry and body weight
  3. Your previous experience and natural tolerance, or otherwise, for THC
  4. The setting you are in
  5. The method you use to consume the product

This all means that no matter what reason you are taking any Delta-9 or Delta-8 THC product, you should always exercise caution. Wait for 10-15 minutes for the product you are using to have any effect – up to an hour with edibles – and then judge from that whether you have achieved the effects you are looking for.

The future of Delta-8

In the future, Delta-8 may come to be recognized as a hugely beneficial remedy for people undergoing cancer treatment and suffering from a vast array of other conditions. The fact that it produces a much gentler psychoactive effect while also providing the benefits of THC is a huge boon for many medical marijuana patients who find Delta-9 THC to be too much for them.

On the other hand, easy access to Delta-8 products in parts of the US where cannabis is still illegal for medical or recreational purposes may soon end with the consideration of the DEA’s IFR in late 2021.

For this and more news on Delta-8, keep checking back here.

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