Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Welcome to Cannabinoid Clinic, an education project powered by Higher Learning LV. This series provides cannabis and hemp industry professionals with easily digested cannabinoid profiles that ask little of your time—but provide plenty of science-based information.
There are two categories of cannabinoids: Phytocannabinoids and endocannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are those produced by cannabis/marijuana/hemp, while endocannabinoids are made by the human body. This series covers both.
Delta-8 THC molecular structure
What is Delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabionol (THC) is what scientists call an isomer to delta-9 THC. The two molecules are very similar in chemical structure and the efficacy that results from their consumption. Both deliver psychoactivity to consumers, with delta-8 yielding roughly 50-75 percent of the potency of its chemical cousin delta-9 THC.
"Most commercial delta-8 available on the market in the United States has been converted from hemp-derived CBD."
Most commercial delta-8 available on the market in the United States has been converted from hemp-derived CBD. While naturally occurring, most modern cannabis cultivars ("strains") focus on production of delta-9 THC, not delta-8. This results in plants producing only about one percent delta-8 THC, if they do so whatsoever. This is why commercially viable volumes of delta-8 are most efficiently and economically gathered from CBD.
Dr. John MacKay, a chemistry professor at California State University and Bakersfield College, stated during C3 Podcast No. 5 that "I'm going to hazard to guess that all of the delta-8 THC on the market has been converted from hemp-sourced CBD."
Image courtesy Leafwize Naturals
Some medical professionals who recommend cannabinoids prefer delta-8 THC for some of their patients because they claim it is less likely to increase anxiety or produce a panic attack than delta-9 THC. For patients who are sensitive to anxiety and easily experience panic attacks, a less potent version of delta-9 THC is a welcome addition to their medicinal toolkit, say many wellness professionals.
Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are not only isomers of one another, but also share this status with cannabidiol (CBD). Technically, isomer molecules have identical molecular components, but their atoms are arranged differently. Think of isomer molecules as using the same set of lego blocks, but with the individual blocks stacked in a slightly different manner. This different arrangements of atoms changes what scientists call the binding affinity of the molecules, which is how they dock with specialized cellular receptors within the human endocannabinoid system.
"Delta-8 derives its name from the fact that the molecular structure of this chemical features a double bond within the 8th carbon chain. Delta-9 THC, as one might guess, features this double bond on the 9th carbon chain."
Different binding affinity equals different efficacy within the consumer. In fact, the efficacy of various THC isomers is sometimes not just different, but polar opposite. For example, another isomer of THC, THCV (the varin version), features the unique quality of decreasing appetite (giving it potential applications in treating eating disorders, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes). Compare this to delta-9 THC, which famously does the opposite, resulting in the colloquial munchies.
Delta-8 derives its name from the fact that the molecular structure of this chemical features a double bond within the 8th carbon chain. Delta-9 THC, as one might guess, features this double bond on the 9th carbon chain.
Delta-8 THC Fast Facts
Role: Results from THCA or conversion from CBD
Biosynthetic pathway: CBGA > THCA > THC > CBN
Acidic precursor: THCA
Boiling point: 347° F
Primary medical benefits: Anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidepressant
Delta-8 Medicinal Benefits
A May 1973 study entitled "Delta-8- and Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol; Comparison in Man by Oral and Intravenous Administration" that was published in the journal Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics reported that delta-8 THC conveys about two-thirds the potency of delta-9."
"Delta-8 THC conveys about two-thirds the potency of delta-9."
"Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has activity in man similar to that of its double-bond isomer, delta-9-THC. Its relative potency to the other isomer, as judged following both oral and intravenous administration, is 2:3," reported the study.
A November 2021 study entitled "Consumer Experiences with Delta-8 THC: Medical Use, Pharmaceutical Substitution, and Comparisons with Delta-9 THC" that was published in the journal Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research involved an online survey with "consumers addressing a broad range of issues regarding delta-8-THC, including use for the treatment of health and medical conditions."
The study found that "patterns of delta-8-THC use had both similarities with and differences from the use of delta-9-THC cannabis and products." It revealed the delta-8 consumption avenues for those surveyed included ingestion (edibles), with 64 percent reporting having used this method, and the vaporization of concentrates (48 percent).
Roughly half of the study participants used delta-8 to "treat a range of health and medical conditions, primarily anxiety or panic attacks (69%), stress (52%), depression or bipolar disorder (46%), and chronic pain (41%)."
"Delta-8 consumption avenues included ingestion (edibles), with 64 percent reporting having used this method, and the vaporization of concentrates (48 percent)."
Interestingly, the study found that 78 percent of those surveyed "did not inform their primary care provider of their delta-8-THC use" and that 70 percent of delta-8 users "were not confident of their primary care provider's ability to integrate medical cannabis into their treatment."
An April 2022 study entitled "Review of Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC): Comparative Pharmacology with Δ9-THC" that was published in the British Journal of Pharmacology summarized "the pharmacological studies of Δ8-THC, including receptor binding, cell signalling, in vivo cannabimimetic activity, clinical activity, and pharmacokinetics." The study's authors reported that they gave special focus to "studies that directly compared Δ8-THC to its more commonly studied isomer, Δ9-THC."
The scientists reported that delta-8 was first derived from the "cyclization of cannabidiol (CBD)" and that it was found to be "highly psychoactive in human studies," the first of which was conducted by American chemist Roger Adams in 1942.
Image courtesy Leafwize Naturals
The review study's authors concluded that "the pharmacology of Δ8-THC is generally very similar to Δ9-THC" in non-animal studies (in vitro), animal studies (typically involving rodents and called in vivo), and in humans, but stressed that key differences exist.
"The most obvious difference is that Δ8-THC has weaker potency than Δ9-THC, even though it appears to have similar intrinsic efficacy."
"The most obvious difference is that Δ8-THC has weaker potency than Δ9-THC, even though it appears to have similar intrinsic efficacy...." The study theorized that this potency discrepancy may result from a number of mechanisms, including "a different potency at the CB1 receptor [and] a different balance of CB1 versus CB2 receptor activation."
How to Get Delta-8 THC
Unlike minor cannabinoids like CBG, CBC, and CBN, delta-8 THC is readily available in most jurisdictions in the United States. 510-standard vape cartridges, loose-leaf flower, sublingual tinctures, gummies, and other forms of edibles are commonly available via a range of online and brick-and-mortar retail outlets.
In many cases, delta-8 preroll joints and other forms of loose-leaf flower are hemp that has been sprayed with a delta-8 concentrate. Patients and cannabis consumers are warned to be wary of product quality and the reliability of the companies selling them. One reliable option is Leafwize Naturals in California.
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