Hemp is a plant full of chemical components, some of which are known as cannabinoids. As they couple with endocannabinoid receptors in our body, they cause a wide spectrum of physical and mental effects. THC or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC) is by far the best known of the psychoactive cannabinoids, but it is certainly not the only one. Its cousin delta-8-THC (Δ8-THC) is also one of the four most common cannabinoids in the cannabis plant, but with several key differences.
Today, it is increasingly common to find delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC) in extracts or concentrates, especially in states that allow the medical or recreational sale of hemp products. But how did this lost relative of delta-9-THC suddenly appear? Delta-8-THC has almost the same atomic structure as delta-9-THC: the only difference between them is the position of an atomic bond. This slight difference can mean that the compound produces different effects.
But while delta-9-THC exists in total percentages that can reach 30% depending on the variety, delta-8-THC only exists naturallyin portions of less than 1%, so it’s obtained when it is produced in refined form, in concentrates or extractions.
What Are the Effects of Delta-8-THC?
Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol has a lower psychotropic potency than delta-9-THC. It’s also known to be very effective as an antiemetic (that is, as an inhibitor of vomiting or nausea) and also has anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties, thanks to its connection to the CB1 and CB2 receptors.
The compound has been around for a long while. In fact, taking advantage of the lower psychoactive effects of this substance, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam conducted a study in 1995 with the Shaare Zedek Hospital and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where delta-8 THC they administered it to eight children between 3 and 13 years of age with various hematologic cancers. These children received chemotherapy for eight months before being given delta-8-THC.
With this treatment, they could eliminate vomiting, and side effects were negligible. The Israeli researchers also found that they could administer high doses of delta-8 to take full advantage of its antiemetic effects without the uncomfortable aspects of delta-9 stronger psychoactive effects.
How Is Delta-8-THC Produced?
Mechoulam and his team faced a dilemma by choosing delta-8 for their research: given its low percentage in the natural composition of the cannabis plant, how could they get the material for its therapeutic use? They found the answer in a US patent that showed a method for converting the cannabinoid CBD, one of the most common, into delta-8 and delta-9.Called isomerization, the method uses chemical processes to break the atomic bonds in a molecule (in this case, that of CBD) and, because it shares the same atoms, although, in a different arrangement, it transforms it into another molecule—delta-8 or delta-9.
Current advances in technology have only facilitated the method of CBD isomerization into the two forms of THC over the last decade. But the current appearance of delta-8 in the recreational and medical cannabis market comes from a modern generation of pioneers of cannabis concentrates, based on other extraction methods such as distillation, getting this ingredient in vaporizer cartridges or groceries.
Thus, delta-8-THC is currently produced using a thin film distillation (fractional distillation) of cannabis flowers. The process achieves isolation of the compound through variations in temperature, aspiration, and scientific equipment, allowing specific cannabinoids to be purified and isolated by removing any residual solvents, impurities, and any other unwanted compounds.
But one factor that will surely help the rise of delta-8 in the hemp market is the availability of the key ingredient necessary to get this variation of THC: CBD.
High CBD industrial hemp (legally defined as any cannabis plant with less than 0.3% delta-9-THC) is currently being cultivated in several states and, when harvested, can be converted into pure crystalline CBD extracts (99% pure), which can then be relatively easy to convert to delta-8 or delta-9. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to think that the spread of new cannabinoids ready for sale and distilled in laboratories, such as delta-8, are already well advanced in the market.
Delta-8-THC’s efficacy and stability make it an extremely valuable hemp-derived chemical compound. The benefits and effects of this cannabinoid serve both therapeutic and recreational users and illustrate the power of minority chemicals within cannabis.