Cannabis is still considered a controlled substance. That fact doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. As states fight internally over legalization, researchers and scientists have long been exploring alternative solutions. A way to sidestep the regulation entirely. This is where Delta 8 comes in. If you haven’t heard of it yet — don’t fret. It has been around for just over a year. But now is the time to learn, because the newest member of the cannabis industry is already making waves. So what is Delta 8? And how does it work? Without any further delay, let’s jump into the amazing science of this transformative THC, and where this new player fits into the world of cannabis.
The Cannabis Family
Delta 8 THC is one of the less popular naturally occurring compounds in the cannabis plant. Its close cousin is Delta 9 THC — the main psychoactive ingredient that gives the famous high. When you smoke, the Delta 9 is what you feel. The two compounds are very similar. The two molecules even look almost identical. But they bind to the receptors in the brain in very different ways, and that leads to two very different experiences.
Delta 8 is so promising because it offers many of the same helpful effects as Delta 9, but in moderation. Users have reported the same high, the same calming sensation — some have even reportedly enjoyed the same medical benefits like pain and nausea reduction. The biggest difference? No anxiety. No paranoia. None of the fogginess and distortion that accompanies high doses of Delta-9. The reported high is clearer, cleaner, and more energetic. And unlike cannabis and Delta-9, Delta-8 THC is federally legal. And it may stay that way.
You may be thinking right about now, “How is it possible that I’m just hearing of this alternative?” The term “Too good to be true” may come to mind. If you’ll bear with me for a moment while I simplify what is admittedly a fairly complex topic, I will attempt to explain just that.
There are over 100 types of cannabinoids (chemical compounds) present in the cannabis plant. Each bond with a slightly different set of receptors in your brain, producing a range of effects. As I mentioned, Delta-9 is the big illegal one. It produces pretty powerful psychoactive effects. CBD is another cannabinoid found in the plant. It has recently become extremely popular, and you’ve probably heard of it. Don’t worry, CBD exists in its own classification. It is the brother of THC, and both are actually part of a group called “phytocannabinoids”. Delta-8 is not part of the CBD family.
Delta-8 naturally exists in cannabis in too small a quantity to notice. But, through a fairly simple process, Delta-9 can be degraded down into Delta-8. Delta-8 THC is similar to it’s more familiar cousin in several important ways, but it also brings a number of distinct differences. The main one is the way the two molecules bond with the receptors in your body.
The name’s Bond. Double Bond.
Both delta-8 and delta-9-THC have one set of double bonds in their molecular chains. And while Delta-8-THC contains that bond on the 8th carbon chain, delta-9-THC contains the bond on the — you guessed it — 9th carbon chain. That subtle difference translates to noticeably different effects on how the body binds and responds to the two molecules.
Your body has a system called the endocannabinoid system (every cannabis system was required to have a long and complex name). It has two main sets of receptors: CB1 and CB2. There are a ton of different receptors, and as a whole they determine a lot about your waking experience. Your mood, energy level, hunger, happiness any many other areas are all affected by this system. It’s a very important system.
The first set of receptors are located mostly in your central nervous system and brain. This CB1 receptor mostly deals with the psychoactive effects. Delta-9 hits this set of receptors HARD. That’s why you might feel groggy, disoriented, and even paranoid after using cannabis. Delta-8, by contrast, also binds to the CB1 receptor, but in a very different way. This difference leads to far less psychoactivity, making it reportedly much easier to concentrate and stay engaged. Delta-8 also interacts with the CB2 receptors, which mostly sit inside your organs. Together these receptors interact with Delta-8 THC and reportedly lead to a more calming high overall.
Why medical applications favor Delta-8 THC
The biggest advantage of Delta-8 is a lower potency. Lower potency leads to lower psychoactivity. Studies have suggested that high doses of Delta-8 cause significantly less anxiety and paranoia than cannabis. The research seems to show that Delta-8 produces roughly 50 to 75 percent of the psychoactive effects. In many ways, it could be thought of as a much more tolerable version of THC. Users can still focus and go about their work, all the while enjoying the relaxing effects that are expected from THC. The high is much clearer, and comes without any of the anxiety and distortion. Users will notice the difference in mental state, but it will feel far less hazy, and instead more energetic.
Medically, the early data is extremely promising for patients who want the same kind of relief, without the constant side effects. A 2018 preclinical study showed that Delta-8 was excellent at reducing pain and inflammation in mice. The national library of medicine has published data that indicates Delta-8 is every bit as effective as Delta-9 at soothing anxiety, nausea, and stimulating appetite in humans.
An Uncertain Future
The Farm Bill of 2018 opened the door for a true functional alternative to make a name for itself. Delta-8 THC has been around for just under a year, and it is already gaining a ton of attention for its wide-ranging applications. However, as recently as last week, the DEA walked back its interpretation of the Farm Bill and cast a cloud over the future of the industry, and this new compound.
For now, delta-8 remains fully legal. Citizens can still submit comments and testimony to help ensure it stays that way. If you’d like to add your name to the petition, click here to go to the DEA website and comment. There are countless users, here at 3Chi and nationwide, that rely on Delta-8 for therapeutic benefits. Keeping it around would be a landmark win for the cannabis industry, and allow people to get the relief they need.
Have more questions? Check out our Delta 8 FAQ page