What Is Delta-8 THC, Is It Legal and What Are Its Benefits?

cannabis bud

Call it a loophole or an oversight, but it’s why so many people are talking about delta-8 THC right now. Let me explain. The following is a clause from the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (a.k.a. the 2018 Farm Bill), which legalized hemp in the United States:

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.”

Before delta-8 THC came into prominence, no product from hemp would get you high. Delta-8 THC gets you high with about 50% of the potency of THC.

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol is commonly referred to as THC — the cannabinoid in cannabis that will get you high. The clause says that the government is legalizing hemp that contains a THC level of less than 0.3 percent. 

Even though science has been aware of delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8 THC, for short) since 1941 (if not earlier), the 2018 Farm Bill does not mention it. Because of this, in many states (not all), delta-8 THC derived from hemp is being treated legally the same way as CBD.

Before delta-8 THC came into prominence, no product from hemp would get you high. Delta-8 THC gets you high with about 50% of the potency of THC.

In August 2020, to clear up any confusion about whether delta-8 THC is legal, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) issued what they called an “Interim Final Rule.” The rule stated that “[all] synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule 1 controlled substances.” (Before the 2018 Farm Bill, all cannabis was treated as a schedule 1 drug, which means it is classified by the government as possessing the same danger factor and legal restrictions as heroin and LSD.)

Why did they use the phrase “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols”? The amount of delta-8 THC produced naturally in a hemp plant is minuscule. Manufacturers produce delta-8 THC by synthetically altering CBD.

Ok, so delta-8 THC is illegal, right?

Well, not so fast. It’s still murky. Supporters of delta-8 THC insist that because it is a hemp extract and hemp is legal, delta-8 THC is also legal. But until there is a concise answer, delta-8 THC manufacturers and retailers will continue to be extremely nervous — especially because the DEA’s Interim Final Rule seems as if it was intended to make delta-8 THC illegal.

That said, some states (Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island, Utah) have already made delta-8 THC illegal, choosing their perceived purpose of the farm bill clause over the literal meaning. The DEA’s Interim Final Rule law is open for review until October 2021. One way or the other, the legal status of delta-8 THC should be clarified.

What Exactly Is Delta-8 THC?

As you might expect from the name, delta-8 THC is similar in structure to THC. Chemically speaking, the difference is that the double chemical bond in delta-8 THC is on the eighth carbon and the double chemical bond in delta-9 THC is on the ninth carbon. (It’s the ninth double bond of THC that is thought to produce most of the intoxicating effects of cannabis.) Delta-8 THC can be created from both hemp cannabis and marijuana cannabis, but most of the delta-8 THC on the market is synthesized from CBD derived from hemp (for legal reasons).  

Side effects seem to be a lot fewer with delta-8-THC, and when they occur, they are less severe.

When inhaled, delta-8-THC (as mentioned) exhibits a lower psychotropic potency than THC, by about 50%. However, when ingested, it can deliver intoxicating effects similar to THC because of the way the body metabolizes it.

A big difference is that sometimes THC can cause paranoia, anxiety, dizziness and headaches, whereas delta-8-THC does not seem to trigger anxiety and leaves you more clear-headed than THC. Or, to put it another way, delta-8 THC is a smoother, less anxious, more relaxing psychoactive experience that allows you to better function.

Some of the common side effects of THC are head fog, anxiety or paranoia, cottonmouth and red eyes. Side effects seem to be a lot fewer with delta-8-THC, and when they occur, they are less severe.

Delta-8 THC vs. CBD

Even though it’s synthesized from CBD, delta-8 THC’s chemical structure is more similar to THC’s than it is to CBD’s. It also binds to your body’s endocannabinoid system more like THC than CBD. This means the medicinal benefits derived from delta-8 THC are more like the benefits THC offers versus CBD’s benefits — although there is a lot of overlap. Andwhile CBD does not produce euphoric effects, delta-8 THC does. 

But the biggest issue right now comes down to legality. CBD is legal in all 50 states while delta-8 THC is illegal in 12 states as of this writing, making CBD much more accessible.

Delta-8 THC Benefits

Because it has come into prominence only recently, and is technically still classified as a schedule 1 drug, there has not been a lot of research conducted on delta-8-THC. It’s thought to deliver similar benefits to THC, but not to the same extent.

Following are some of the potential benefits of delta-8 THC: 

  • United States Patent US6355650B1 states that delta-8 THC-11-oic (the acid form of delta-8 THC) is useful as an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic (a medicine used to relieve pain). 
  • The National Library of Medicine categorizes delta-8 THC as an “analog of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties.” “Antiemetic” means delta-8 THC is thought to ease stomach discomfort. “Anxiolytic” and “analgesic” mean it’s effective at reducing pain, strains and soreness. Being an appetite stimulant, delta-8 THC could also be beneficial to people whose appetite has been reduced due to such issues as a psychological disorder, a chronic disease or a slowing metabolism.

Because their chemical makeup is similar to both delta-8 THC and THC stimulate appetite, soothe pain and reduce nausea, among other benefits. Delta-8 THC appeals to people who want medicinal benefits similar to those offered by THC —  but with a mellower, more focused psychotic effect. Delta-8 THC also appeals to CBD users who want a potentially more powerful product and who want to feel more than they feel when they take CBD. (Delta-8 THC provides an instant, more profound feeling of relief.)

While it looks like delta-8-THC would fill a nice niche in the cannabis world, the most important question about it remains unanswered: Is it legal?  Many cannabis company owners who have invested in delta-8 THC have lost more than a few nights’ sleep fretting over the answer. In October 2021 (or soon after) they will either be relieved or frustrated once the government clarifies the status of delta-8 THC.

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