What is Delta-8 THC?
What is Delta-8 THC
Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8) is one of 100s of chemical compounds found in the cannabis plant. Delta-8 is a naturally occurring double bond isomer of Delta-9 THC. As a THC compound, Delta-8 has similar psychoactive properties to Delta-9.
The first discovery of Delta-8 is attributed to Roger Adams who first synthesized Delta-8 by isomerizing cannabidiol (CBD) in 1941. In 1942, Delta-8 was determined to be highly psychoactive in human studies.
Raphael Mechoulam, an Israeli professor and organic chemist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel, first isolated Delta-9 THC in 1964, and in 1966, the first reported isolation of Delta-8 THC was achieved by researchers at the University of Delaware (Newark), Richard L. Hively and William A Mosher. This led to the knowledge that Delta-8 THC was only present in nominal quantities through the cannabis plant and Delta-9 THC was found to be “almost entirely, responsible for the intoxicating properties of cannabis, including alterations in mood, perception and cognition”.
Despite these early findings, Delta-8 THC has been heavily researched, yet largely under publicised for the last 80 years until shortly after the 2018 Farm Bill came into effect in the United States.
The rise in popularity of Delta-8 can be attributed to the United States Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill), which legalized the production and sale of hemp-derived products in United States. As defined in the legislation, industrial hemp cannot have more than 0.3 percent THC, the psychoactive compound associated with recreational cannabis and “getting high”.
The legislation removed industrial hemp from the list of federally controlled substances and allowed the broad expansion of hemp cultivation and the possession and transportation of hemp-derived products. Unbeknownst at the time, the 2018 Farm Bill would result in a drastic transformation of the hemp-derived products landscape in the United States and by extension, Canada.
One of the pitfalls of the 2018 Farm Bill was the ensuing oversupply of hemp extracts in the US, which caused CBD prices to plummet and left producers looking for alterative means to profit from CBD. Taking cues from the experimentations conducted by Mechoulam in the 1960s, producers built upon the basic chemistry principles for converting CBD to psychotropic cannabinoids, including Delta-8 THC.
With hemp-derived Delta-8 THC now commercially practical, producers leveraged their ability within the 2018 Farm Bill to transport hemp-derived products across state lines. The resultant impact was an unregulated supply of Delta-8 THC making its way throughout the United States.
While not directly affected by the 2018 Farm Bill, the rise in popularity of Delta-8 in the US intrigued Canadian licensed producers, particularly given oversight in dosing for minor cannabinoids within the Cannabis Act. The Cannabis Act only accounts for the usage of Delta-9 THC in cannabis products, leaving minor psychotropic cannabinoids, like Delta-8 and CBN, open ended for potency limitations. As a result, licensed producers have been looking at minor cannabinoids as a possibility to circumvent maximum dosages.
CBD, as we know is characterized as non-psychotropic. However, it has a demonstrated capability to be converted into psychotropic cannabinoids when subjected to acidic conditions or elevated temperatures. Indeed, since the 1940s, there has been documented success in converting CBD to Delta-9 THC when processed with an acid treatment, and further conversions into its isomers, including Delta-8 when exposed to supplementary processing. Furthermore, similar methods have been applied to CBD, resulting in its conversion to other cannabinoids, like CBN.
Although naturally occurring, there is not significant enough quantities of Delta-8 that in cannabis plants to be commercialized. However, because Delta-8 is a by-product of the degradation of Delta-9 THC, it can be produced by a cyclization reaction
To produce commercial quantities of Delta-8, a process called isomerization is utilized to convert hemp-derived CBD. The isomerization process involves refluxing CBD in an organic solvent to increase its viscosity. This is then followed by the introduction of a food-grade acid to catalyze the transformation of CBD to its isomers. With time, heat and agitation, the acid is neutralized, and the extracts are washed to remove any residual solvents. At this stage, the materials are treated using high-performance chromatography (HPLC) to separate the cannabinoids leaving behind Delta-8 THC distillate.
Like all regulated cannabis products in Canada, Delta-8 THC is subjected to the same rigorous quality assurance standards and testing to ensure there are no residual solvents, pesticides or heavy metals present after being processed.
Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are chemically similar cannabinoids with double bonds in their structures. However, Delta-8 has a double bond on the eighth carbon, unlike Delta-9 which has it on the ninth. The double bond is responsible for the intoxicating effects of THC. With different chemical structures, both Delta-8 and Delta9 THC interact with the endocannabinoid system with comparable results.
The endocannabinoid system is a vital transmitter system in the body that regulates and controls many critical functions, including appetite, sleep, memory, emotions, and immune responses. It is made up of a network of receptors and signals that are located throughout the brain and body. The receptors can be stimulated by molecules called endocannabinoids; these molecules share many similarities to the cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant.
While Delta-8 does bond with the CB1 receptors, studies show that due to the placement of its double bond, Delta-8 binds to the CB1 receptor with less affinity than Delta-9 THC.
It is the weaker bond that dictates the degree of potency that consumers can expect from their experience. Studies indicate that Delta-8 THC is reported to be half the potency when compared to Delta-9 THC.
Still, the effects of Delta-8 are recorded as psychotropic, with users experiencing increased relaxation, euphoria, and pain relief. Cognitive distortions, as would be expected with THC consumption, such as reduction in concentration and short-term memory were also noted. However, given that Delta-8 and Delta-9 have different chemical structures, there are significant differences in their effects. This is seen, specifically with the reduced manifestation of anxiety and paranoia, which are typically associated with Delta-9 consumption. 
Overall, Delta-8 THC, while lesser known than Delta-9 THC, provides users with a favourable and comparable cannabinoid experience, with fewer adverse effects. In this vein, Delta-8 THC is equally effective for users looking for a psychotropic outlet with their cannabis use.