Delta-8 is one of over 100 different cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. It’s viewed as a sort of in-between option for those who want more of a high feeling than CBD, but less than THC: a calmer ride, without the paranoia, with maybe two thirds the potency. Although THC is illegal at the federal level and in many states, Delta-8 is not specifically outlawed in most places. That’s because the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp production, and only touched on Delta-9 THC as an off-limits chemical. Since Delta-8 wasn’t referred to specifically, producers in most areas feel they have the green light to sell it – at least for now. So far, 17 states have either outlawed or restricted sales of Delta-8. The federal government is starting to take an interest, too. More on that later. Still, the ending fate of the product remains unclear.

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The World of Weed is Changing

It used to be, when someone wanted to get high, the first thing to consider would simply be where to get the marijuana. Then, as growers had better technology and more room to play with the plant, people would give more thought as to which strains they liked best, and whether they preferred an indica or a sativa, and if they could spring for a high-quality flower or stick to whatever bud shows up in a dime bag. Then, scientists discovered CBD – a relative of THC with some of the same healing properties – both physical and mental – without the “high” feeling associated with typical marijuana. A craze of products capitalizing on the medicinal benefits of CBD swept the nation. As legalization has started to gain traction and scientists have more room to explore the cannabis plant, people are more able to pinpoint the product best suited for the exact feeling they’re seeking. That led to the creation of Delta-8. The 2018 Farm Bill had another effect: since US-grown hemp became more popular, common, and easy to come by, CBD companies had more access to the plan they were extracting from. That led to an oversaturation of CBD in the market, causing prices to drop significantly. Companies started looking for a way to boost their sales, and that led them to Delta-8, which they manufacture from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD). The interest in Delta-8 skyrocketed quickly, and after just a few years on the market, you can already buy it in gummy form, flower, vape cartridge, and tinctures at local gas stations, convenience stores, tobacco shops, and cannabis dispensaries.

What is Delta-8?

The chemicals within the cannabinoid plant attach to humans’ endocannabinoid system. If there’s a slight change in the chemical, the body responds drastically differently. That’s why THC and CBD are so close in nature chemically but have drastically different effects on the body and mind. Delta-8 is the same. The “8” in Delta-8 refers to a double bond along a carbon chain that occurs on the eight carbon in that link. In tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), that double bond appears on the ninth carbon, so THC could also be referred to as Delta-9. THC contains other structures that impact the body too, including THC-V and THC-A. When you ingest marijuana, you’re intaking Delta-8 and Delta-9 (THC) along with THC-V and A. Combined, those chemicals create the feeling people typically associate with a regular marijuana high, though each plant may contain them in different quantities. When you isolate Delta-8, you get the properties of relaxation, anti-inflammation, and anti-anxiety associated with marijuana, without the pronounced psychotropic effects of Delta-9 THC. The Delta-8 chemical is fairly unstable and will become Delta-9 over time. It’s difficult to come by within the cannabis plant. By weight, scientists believe there’s about 0.3-0.5% Delta-8 within the cannabis plant, compared to 20% or more of THC. With such amounts of the product in the plant, it might seem wasteful to extract it. Producers became more interested in Delta-8 after US-grown hemp became more popular when the Farm Bill passed.

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Safety Concerns

The FDA is not happy about Delta-8. One of its bigger concerns is that the product is often marketed for its therapeutic use. It’s illegal under federal law to sell products with unsubstantiated claims about medicinal benefits. The FDA also worries people could turn to this product instead of an approved one that could be used to properly treat certain diseases. The agency is also worried about the manufacture of Delta-8, saying its synthesis could happen in uncontrolled settings with unsanitary products. Right now, because there’s no law that addresses Delta-8 THC, the market isn’t regulated. As a result, most Delta-8 products are not pure; they might contain a bit of CBD or even a low percentage of Delta-9 THC that remains miniscule enough so that the product can’t be flagged. But a lot of Delta-8 also contains chemical bi-products, cannabinoids not naturally found within the cannabis plant, and other impurities. The FDA had similar concerns with CBD products.

The Therapeutic Window

The FDA is also concerned about adverse effects from Delta-8 and people showing up in emergency rooms after taking it. The majority of those visits are due to children ingesting the product unknowingly, or people taking more than they should. The symptoms after taking too large a dose of Delta-8 are similar but milder than over-using THC. One of the good things about Delta-8, however, is that because the effects are more mild, there’s more wiggle-room in dosing. Drug developers seek out what’s called a “therapeutic window” to determine a dosage high enough to capitalize on the medicine’s positive effects, but low enough so that adverse side effects don’t crop up. With THC, that window is extremely narrow; an extra half-puff could push you from the perfect high to a paranoid fit. Since Delta-8 binds differently to the receptors in your endocannabinoid system, there’s a much larger therapeutic index.

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The Feds are Cracking Down

In the federal government’s eyes, marijuana is a Schedule I drug. The DEA also added Delta-8 to its list of controlled substances recently – it now lists THC, Delta-8 THC, Delta-9 THC, dronabinol “and others” as banned. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency itself defines marijuana extract as Delta-9 THC, rather than other compounds or isomers from the same plant. And again, the Farm Bill legalized tetrahydrocannabinols in hemp, which is what Delta-8 is derived from. Because of that, some view that as Delta-8 being completely legal; others believe it to be a grey area; still others think the product is clearly outlawed. Local and state governments are also moving against Delta-8. Some of those even include states that have legal recreational marijuana. The concern isn’t over the effects of the product, but rather the regulation of it. That’s partially due to safety issues like wanting to set standards for production, but of course also has to do with taxes. The Lone Star State is the latest to say Delta-8 can’t be sold there. The Texas Department of State Health Services says forms of THC, including Delta-8 “in any concentration” are considered Schedule I controlled substances. Some businesses are associations are already fighting the change in Texas, particularly because the change was not made in the legislature and the Health Department has no regulatory authority over drugs and cannot enforce its new change. Enforcement comes to local police departments and sheriff’s offices. Some of those law enforcement agencies are making moves, though; in the past few months, at least half a dozen people in Texas have been charged with felonies for possession of Delta-8. All in all, it’s hard to predict what will happen with Delta-8 next; that likely will depend on new laws regulating marijuana use and whether marijuana is legalized at the federal level.