Cannabis Science

12 July 2021

Discovering Delta-8 THC

Living in today’s cannabis culture is vastly different from a few decades ago. Legalization in much of the United States and other countries worldwide opened many doors in this bustling industry. With technological advancements and the rewards of scientific research, cannabis no longer is looked upon as a viable threat to humanity.

In contrast, as science and medicine come together, current studies discern the medicinal benefits derived from the complex cannabis plant. One such category constantly evolving is the study of cannabinoids and their effects on the endocannabinoid system found in all mammals.

While scientists have identified over 100 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant, only a few are notably recognized. THC and CBD are the prominent two cannabinoids commonly associated with influencing CB receptors in the body. However, several other identifiable cannabinoids also play an important role in medicinal influences.

Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol is one of the cannabinoids that hit the headlines a few years back, herald as ‘The New THC.’ Discovered initially back in 1941, Delta-8 came into the spotlight with the passing of the United States 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp. Touted as an alternative to Delta-9-THC, this chemical compound reacts differently with bodily CB receptors.

Classified as a secondary or minor cannabinoid, Delta-8 appears in small amounts in cannabis plant strains, usually less than 1%. However, science is discovering Delta-8-THC as a beneficial contributor in many medicinal treatments. Taking a closer look at Delta-8 reveals an effective cannabinoid with ample potential in the future.

The History of Delta-8-THC

The chemical composition of Delta-8 THC dates to the early 1940s where it was first discovered along with Delta-9-THC and CBD. However, it was not until 1965 that Dr Raphael Mechoulam, the ‘Father of Cannabis,’ synthesized the cannabinoids. While Dr Mechoulam’s research continued in Israel, other countries, including the United States DEA, deemed cannabis an illegal controlled substance in the 1970s.

Dr Mechoulam persevered in cannabis research while much of the world stagnated in cannabis prohibition. In early 2001, he filed a patent regarding a process referred to as isomerization, which synthesizes cannabidiol (CBD) into Delta-8-THC. This chemical transformation became a best-seller when hemp became legal in the United States with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.

According to US federal law, all hemp plant-derived cannabinoids, terpenes, and products such as CBD oils, gummies and tinctures with less than 0.3% Delta-9-THC are deemed legal. As the hemp industry wavered through its infancy, many producers capitalized on the Delta-8-THC loophole and began marketing the cannabinoid as the ‘Legal THC’.

Unfortunately, the federal FDA legal status required regulations of the new crop to be overseen by individual state agriculture departments. The initial influx of people wanting to get in on this new cash crop left state agriculture branches scrambling for regulation.

It has taken nearly four years, but there are currently fifteen states with issued bans in hemp cultivation on Delta-8. Six others have pending legislation on the cannabinoid as well as other related THC isomers. These regulations not only affect hemp producers but also impacts the medical cannabis industry.

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The Differences Between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC

Tetrahydrocannabinol are psychoactive cannabinoids found in many cannabis strains. They are known for their intoxicating effects, stimulating an array of both sensory and psychological influences on the body. THC is known to produce a euphoric high and is the main culprit that spearheaded governments to warrant cannabis as an illegal substance.

Delta-9-THC is a primary cannabinoid abundant in many cannabis strains. Delta-8, on the other hand, is found in much smaller amounts in cultivars. When first researched, scientists discovered that Delta-8-THC was a much stabler compound than Delta-9-THC.

Interestingly, Delta-9 tends to oxidize into cannabinol (CBN) and Delta-8-THC when left sitting for a long time, whereas Delta-8 remains a stable molecule. This attribute offers a longer shelf-life, making it much more appealing for medicinal purposes.

The stability is due to a solid double bond on the 8th carbon chain in the chemical structure. Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol conversely bonds on the 9th carbon chain, producing a completely different molecular shape. It is the analogue shape of the molecule that impacts how it will bond with the body’s endocannabinoid receptors.

Inhalation vs Ingestion

The effects of Delta-8 on the body depend on whether it is inhaled or ingested. Our bodies have a built-in endocannabinoid system that works as a messaging platform for the brain. Throughout a body’s central nervous system, there are many cannabinoid binding sites. The influential CB1 and CB2 receptors are neurotransmitters responsible for messaging the brain when an external cannabinoid enters the system.

When inhaled, Delta-9 THC quickly bonds with the G protein-coupled receptor CB1 receptors, facilitating the psychotropic effects of THC. Delta-8, on the other hand, binds with the receptor differently due to the modified shape of the molecule. Inhaling full-spectrum Delta-8 presents a less heady high, offering a milder, clear-headed, less anxiety experience without feelings of paranoia.

Ingestion of the cannabinoid is another matter, however. Because both Delta-9 and Delta-8 molecules convert into 11-hydroxy-THC in the body’s liver, the psychoactive effects are much the same. When ingesting Delta 8 THC products, be prepared for delayed responses of the cannabinoid, just as with Delta-9 THC. But when it hits, depending on the dosage, the altered mind and body state may take a while to diminish.

Medicinal Benefits of Delta-8 THC

While Delta-8-THC debuted over half a century ago, there is still much to be learned from this emerging cannabinoid. Many scientific studies on the effects of the D8 cannabinoid have previously been done on animals, but very few on humans. Fortunately, with the recent legality recognition and attention surrounding what Delta-8 is, science is taking a closer look at its possibilities, especially in the medical field.

Delta 8 THC discovered as a new cannabinoid

Because of the mellower, lucid high induced by the cannabinoid, the fear factor of being ‘out of control’ is eliminated. The cognitive mental, and physical states of Delta-8 offer positive reassurance for medical purposes, especially when treating children and elderly patients.

Additionally, as mentioned above, the stability of Delta-8 makes it appealing for clinical trials as the chemical compound does not degrade. While most studies were previously performed on animals, there have been some clinical studies run on humans regarding the benefits of D8 on cancer patients.

The National Cancer Institute Drug Dictionary, for instance, states Delta-8-THC has positive effects as an analgesic, helps stimulate appetite, and is involved with neuroprotective influences. Dr Mechoulam and A. Abrahamov ran a study in 1995 on eight children diagnosed with various hematologic cancers. The results proved the efficiency of Delta-8 as an antiemetic when none of the kids experienced vomiting after receiving antineoplastic drugs for cancer treatment.

Another study done by A Abrahamov et al. in 2004 on mice compared the difference between food intake after administering doses of both Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC. The results showed a significant increase in appetite without cannabimimetic side effects from Delta-8-THC. This conclusion suggested a low dose of Delta-8 might help in weight disorder treatments.

Finally, a more recent study on mice in 2018 by Thapa et al. found the effects of Delta-8 THC significantly reduced pain and inflammation from corneal injuries. The results suggest the cannabinoid has excellent potential for analgesic and anti-inflammatory treatments.

The Future is Looking Bright for Delta-8-THC

As science continues to bring new and exciting developments into cannabinoid research, Delta-8 will certainly reign as an alternative to pharmacological options. While it is merely a tiny, secondary cannabinoid, the possibility of it healing many disorders is vast. With continued cannabis and cannabinoid research and development in the coming years, we can expect to hear a great deal more about Delta-8-THC.

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Post author
Charle Thibodeau
Charle’ Thibodeau is a freelance writer with almost a decade´s experience, specializing in cannabis content for the past two years. A strong motivation to educate, inform, and promote the culture surrounding this miraculous plant is her earnest mission.
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