Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the psychoactive compound in cannabis, and while it has been shown to be useful in the treatment of various conditions, there are some who fear its ability to make someone feel “stoned”. That’s because some people could get high by simply touching the plant, with no need for smoking or ingesting it. There was a separate bill passed in a state in 2016, allowing for the legalized possession and use of cannabis, but there were a lot of restrictions in place.
Delta-8-THC (delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol) is a cannabinoid that is present in the cannabis plant….Or is it? As of right now, delta-8-THC is legal in 40 states, as well as Washington DC. The legal status of this cannabinoid means that it is not classified as a Schedule 1 substance, which is defined as a drug with the highest potential for abuse and no medical use. However, it is not legal in certain states such as Washington D.C., where possession of this cannabinoid is considered a felony.
Nicholas Jarosz began smoking marijuana after he began working as a 911 dispatcher. He worked day and night, and this irregular schedule made it difficult for him to sleep. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component in marijuana, has contributed to this, he says.
Jarosh, 29, who now lives outside Houston, no longer has a job that requires him to maintain an unpredictable schedule. He also no longer has access to marijuana, which he said helped relieve his anxiety and depression.
But four months ago, he found a substitute: a government-approved form of a psychoactive substance called Delta-8 THC. He now orders it from a company in Boston that makes gum, chocolate and vape cartridges from it.
Delta-8 makes a big difference. I can relax, clear my head and fall asleep. When I wake up, I feel more rested, said Jarosh, who has also tried cannabidiol or CBD medications, which he says help a little, but not enough.
Switching to products with CBD and Delta-8 has made a big difference. It’s not as powerful as the Delta-9, but it’s very similar, he said.
When people talk about THC, they usually mean delta-9 THC. It is this chemical that is responsible for the euphoria associated with marijuana. But it’s not the only compound found in cannabis.
The cannabis plant contains more than 500 chemical compounds, including 100 cannabinoids such as CBD and various forms of THC.
Although some states have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use, the plant remains on the federal list of Schedule I drugs, a category for drugs with a high potential for abuse and no medical use, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
However, the legitimacy of individual plants, including delta-8 THC, is in a gray area.
Thanks to a loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill, Delta-8-THC is unregulated at the federal level. This law legalized cannabis, which is defined as a cannabis plant with 0.3 percent or less delta-9 THC, a level considered too low to have psychoactive effects. However, the bill does not address the THC Delta 8 content, allowing sellers to sell this compound, often in the form of supplements, vaping cartridges and tinctures, without any oversight.
However, in recent months, 14 states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Utah – have blocked the sale of Delta-8, due to lack of research on the compound’s psychoactive effects. However, not all states consider this compound a health hazard. A section that would have banned Delta-8 in Texas was removed from the bill in May, leaving Delta-8 THC legal in Texas.
We don’t know enough to worry yet, but prevention is better than cure, said Daniele Piomelli, director of the Center for Cannabis Studies at the University of California, Irvine.
Both delta-8 and delta-9 THC occur naturally in cannabis, and the two compounds are chemically very similar. The only thing that separates them is the location of the double bond, which is located at the eighth carbon of delta-8 of THC and the ninth carbon of delta-9.
As far as scientists know, all forms of THC bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, causing euphoria. However, because of the location of the double bond, delta-8 binds to these receptors in a slightly different manner than delta-9 THC, making it less potent. Moreover, scientists do not know the differences between the two compounds.
According to Rafael Mechoulam, professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and former president of the International Society for the Study of Cannabinoids, no one has yet taken delta-8 and delta-9, given them to healthy people and observed the difference. And the effect of Delta-9 is also very dose-dependent.
Delta-9 is the most essential form of THC and has been the subject of clinical trials for the treatment of conditions ranging from multiple sclerosis to memory recovery. Since delta-8 and delta-9 THC have a similar molecular structure, the two compounds could theoretically offer similar medicinal benefits, according to Piomelli, but there is no conclusive data on this.
Few people have a clean Delta-8 and have reported it. People use it to treat a long list of conditions, but there are very few clinical trials, Mechulam said.
Clinical trials are the gold standard of medical research, and to date only one very small clinical trial has been done with delta-8 THC. In 1995, Mechulam and colleagues administered this compound to eight children with cancer two hours before each chemotherapy session. The study found that after eight months, none of these patients suffered from vomiting after cancer treatment. Recent studies have also tested whether cannabis can suppress nausea in cancer patients, with promising results, but perhaps other chemicals in the cannabis plant play a role here.
According to Mechulam, THC delta-8 is a more stable compound than the better studied delta-9. This could make Delta-8 THC a better candidate than Delta-9 THC for new therapies – if future research shows it to be medically useful.
Basically, yes. Very little is known about delta-8 THC itself, and in an unregulated market, products containing this compound can easily be mixed with toxins unknown to consumers.
Delta-9 THC aside, far less research has been done on individual cannabinoids than on the cannabis plant as a whole.
For example, when people smoke marijuana, they inhale all the components of the plant. Delta-8 THC is just one of these compounds, and scientists know little about how this isolated chemical works in the body, especially at high concentrations.
Piomelli says that one of the reasons cannabis is generally considered non-toxic is that the complex mix of compounds in the plant forms a kind of control system. Although some plants are bred to contain more THC, the amount of THC a plant can produce is limited, he added.
Just because THC comes from a plant that doesn’t kill people doesn’t mean THC itself is safe. We won’t know until we test it.
But if you extract pure THC – whether it’s delta-8 or delta-9 – and add that to the blends and everything else we have now, you’re doing something different, and you can’t assume that the toxicity of pure THC is the same as that of the whole plant, Piomelli said. Just because THC comes from a plant that doesn’t kill people doesn’t mean THC itself is safe. We won’t know until we experience it.
And the fact that delta-8 THC produces weaker psychoactive effects than delta-9 THC does not necessarily mean they are less intense, Piomelli said. Bypassing the power is easy – just use more.
Unregulated power is not the only issue of concern to experts.
It’s not Delta-8 that’s dangerous, it’s what it can be mixed with in an unregulated market, said Stephen Hawkins, CEO of the US Cannabis Council, a trade group that represents state-licensed companies and advocates for cannabis legalization.
In a report released earlier this month, the group said the increase in unregulated sales of Delta-8 THC poses a public health risk that could have a greater impact than the vaping crisis.
When the team used a private lab to test 16 products with THC delta-8 purchased in California, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Indiana, it found that all but one of the samples contained banned THC delta-9. Some of them also contain heavy metals.
This group works for groups that have a financial interest in having Delta-8 TGC regulated at the federal level, but they are not the only ones with safety concerns.
Every time you look at one of these derivatives, you have to wonder how it was extracted from the plant, Piomelli said.
Manufacturers extract THC with solvents, including dichloromethane, which emits highly toxic fumes when heated. Especially in an unregulated market, these chemicals can remain in products that are eaten, inhaled or smoked – products that may themselves contain harmful compounds.
To administer the compound, it must be mixed with other compounds for oral administration or inhalation. If you take an FDA-approved drug, all of these chemicals are approved, Piomelli said. But if it’s done somewhere else, in a laboratory, you don’t know what happens.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will Delta 8 become illegal?
No. Delta 8 is not illegal.
Is Delta 8 legal in all states?
Delta 8 is legal in all states.
Is Delta 8 THC legal?
Delta 8 THC is not legal in the United States.
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