Cannabinoid Clinic: Delta-9 THC

Updated: Nov 15

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-9 THC molecular structure


What is Delta-9 THC?

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the result of THCA, the acidic precursor for this infamous psychoactive cannabinoid. It is considered a major cannabinoid because it typically dominates other cannabinoids, including number two cannabidiol (CBD).


Modern commercial and underground cultivars of loose-leaf cannabis flower typically contain 12-30+ percent delta-9 THC. Most examples of the cannabis plant have been bred and cultivated with the intent of maximizing the production of one molecule: Delta-9 THC.


"The cannabis industry has attracted criticism for its myopic focus on this single cannabinoid and the obsessive pursuit of increasingly large percentages of it in commercial products."

The cannabis industry has attracted criticism for its myopic focus on this single cannabinoid and the obsessive pursuit of increasingly large percentages of it in commercial products. Many suggest that companies should place more emphasis on minor cannabinoids such as THCV, CBN, and CBC while also including aromatic terpenes in their formulation and marketing strategies.


Conversion to CBN Cannabinoid

With age and exposure to environmental influences such as UV light, oxygen, and heat, Delta-9 THC morphs into a sleepy time cannabinoid CBN that is purported to deliver more sedative potency than valium. However, research indicates that conversion of a discernable volume of THC into CBN would require years, not merely weeks or months.


A 1969 study revealed a 3-5 percent monthly degradation of THC to CBN at room temperature. Research published in 1971 reported that the optimal conditions for preserving delta-9 THC in loose-leaf cannabis flower were "0° C [32° F], protected from light, and stored under nitrogen." A 1999 study conducted at the University of Mississippi revealed a conversion rate from THC to CBN of roughly 17 percent per year when stored at 68-72° F (20-22° C).


Delta-9 THC History

Delta-9 THC was first identified by celebrity U.S. chemist Roger Adams in 1940. However, due to the relatively primitive state of his testing and analysis equipment at the time, Adams was unable to either isolate or synthesize the molecule. During the same year, both Adams and Lord Todd in the United Kingdom synthesized the cannabinoid CBN. Adams was also able to isolate CBD.

U.S. chemist Roger Adams in 1940


A group of American scientists composed of H. J. Wollner, John Matchett, Joseph Levine, and S. Loewe conducted research based on work published by Adams in 1940. The team produced a study paper in 1942 entitled "Isolation of a Physiologically Active Tetrahydrocannabinol from Cannabis Sativa Resin" that was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.


"In 1963 through 1965, a group of Israeli scientists led by Raphael Mechoulam isolated and synthesized CBD and THC, renewing international academic interest in cannabinoids."

The study documented the first successful isolation of THC by the researchers and served as a pivotal milestone for the coming dearth of cannabinoid research that would endure for more than two decades.


In 1963 through 1965, a group of Israeli scientists led by Raphael Mechoulam isolated and synthesized CBD and THC, renewing international academic interest in the compounds produced by the hemp plant. The pioneering work of Mechoulam and his team led to the discoveries of more than 100 phytocannabinoids, a scientific exploration that continues to this day.

Image courtesy Dr. Raphael Mechoulam


Delta-9 THC Fast Facts

  • Role: Results from THCA

  • Biosynthetic pathway: CBGA > THCA > THC > CBN

  • Psychoactivity: Psychoactive

  • Acidic precursor: THCA

  • Boiling point: 311° F

  • Primary medical benefits: Anti-inflammatory, anticancer, antidepressant

Upstream biosynthetic pathway of delta-9 THC


Downstream biosynthetic pathways of delta-8 and delta-9 THC


Delta-9 THC Medicinal Benefits

Like many cannabinoids, the primary potential medicinal benefits of delta-9 THC are numerous and include benefits for patients with cancer, anxiety, depression, Crohn's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease, chronic pain, arthritis, and sleep disorders—among others. As the most dominant cannabinoid produced by modern cannabis, THC and CBD are also the most researched.


A 1997 study entitled "Medicinal Applications of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and Marijuana" explored the medical use of delta-9 THC for "nausea associated with cancer chemotherapy, glaucoma, stimulation of appetite, and spinal cord spasticity." The study declared that, even a quarter century ago, the scientific evidence at the time warranted the "selective use of pure THC preparations" to treat conditions such as nausea from cancer chemotherapy and the concurrent stimulation of appetite.


The scientists observed that delta-9 THC resulted in "a significant improvement of both tics and behavioral symptoms."

A 2018 study entitled "Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol for the Treatment of a Child with Tourette Syndrome: Case Report" investigated whether treatment-resistant cases of Tourette syndrome (TS), the childhood-onset neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by motor and vocal tics, might gain benefit from the application of delta-9 THC.


The researchers presented the case of a 7-year-old boy with severe TS, along with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The child experienced an episode of increased tics and depression that included suicidal ideation and separation anxiety resulting from social isolation. "As treatment with various antipsychotics and Habit Reversal Training turned out to be unsuccessful, we implemented therapy with oral delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as oil-based drops," reported the study's authors.


Their dosing regimen involved a starting dose of only 0.7 mg of delta-9 THC once per day, which was gradually increased to a maximum dose of 29.4 mg of THC per day. The scientists observed that this resulted in "a significant improvement of both tics and behavioral symptoms." They reported that follow-up visits with the test subject over a four month period "demonstrated a sustained treatment effect without any adverse events."

"From this single case report, it is suggested that THC is effective and safe in the treatment of tics, depression, and ADHD in children with severe and otherwise treatment-resistant TS," concluded the study's authors.


A study published in 2019 entitled "The Effects of Cannabidiol and Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol Concentrations on Breast Cancer Cells" explored the potential ability of THC to effectively treat breast cancer. "The purpose of this study is to determine the exact concentration of CBD and THC needed to kill MCF-7 breast cancer cells," reported the study's authors. It explored the ability of both CBD and delta-9 THC to cause cancer cells to kill themselves in a genetically pre-programmed chemical mechanism called apoptosis.


A 2022 study entitled "Cannabis Containing Equivalent Concentrations of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) Induces Less State Anxiety than THC-dominant Cannabis" investigated the relationship between CBD and THC and how the former might buffer the anxiety and paranoia that sometimes accompanies delta-9 THC, especially in potent doses and when involving novice consumers with very low tolerances (this is especially true with edible cannabis).


When participant anxiety was low, CBD "completely counteracted THC-induced anxiety."

The design of this study was that of a "placebo-controlled, randomised, within-subjects study including 26 healthy recreational cannabis users." It tested the effects of vaporized "THC-dominant cannabis (13.75 mg THC), CBD-dominant cannabis (13.75 mg CBD), THC/CBD-equivalent cannabis (13.75 mg THC/13.75 mg CBD), and placebo cannabis on anxiety."


The study's authors concluded that "both THC and THC/CBD significantly increased self-rated anxiety compared to placebo," but that increases in anxiety among the test subjects were "significantly lower" with a CBD/THC mix rather than THC alone. The researchers noted that when participant anxiety was low, CBD "completely counteracted THC-induced anxiety." However, it also reported that when participant anxiety was high, "CBD did not counteract THC-induced anxiety."


How to Get Delta-9 THC

The most common way to consume delta-9 THC is the smoking or vaporization of loose-leaf cannabis flower. Increasingly popular are concentrate products intended for dabbing, including wax, shatter, crumble, and other forms of marijuana concentrate that typically are very potent, containing 45-95 percent delta-9 THC.


"However, delta-9 THC, like other cannabinoids, can also be ingested (eaten) via infused foods, including beverages and confections."

However, delta-9 THC, like other cannabinoids, can also be ingested (eaten) via infused foods, including beverages and confections. This cannabinoid is readily available as tinctures, gummies, capsules, and oils.


While standard oil-based edibles feature an onset period of about two hours (unacceptable for pain patients and those treating severe anxiety), nanoemulsified edibles take effect in only 10-20 minutes and feature greater bioavailability, making them more effective and a greater value.


Like what you just read? Check out our new Cannabis for Cancer Hub that features links to all of our articles about marijuana for cancer.

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