Everything You Should Know about the Newest Cannabis Product: Delta-8

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These products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context

The signs have sprung up from local tobacco shops and gas stations, claiming "We sell delta-8 gummies" or "We have delta-8 vape products." But what are they actually selling? What is delta-8, and how is it different from other hemp, THC or CBD products?

Delta-8 THC is a newly-discovered psychoactive substance derived from hemp and cannabis that has recently gained popularity around the U.S., particularly in states where recreational marijuana (delta-9 THC) use is still illegal. Although clinical trials have begun, very little is understood about this new psychotropic chemical.

So let's take a look at the legality, safety, benefits and risks associated with ingesting delta-8, and how it differs from other cannabinoids and THC products.

When did delta-8 become popular?

The uptick in delta-8 consumption has been very recent: out of the 661 cases cited by the FDA, 660 of them occurred between January 1, 2021, and July 31, 2021. Here are some additional insights from the medical reports submitted to the FDA regarding delta-8 usage:

  • Forty-one percent of delta-8 THC cases involved "unintentional exposure," and 77 percent of unintentional exposures affected patients less than 18 years of age.
  • Thirty-nine percent of all cases involved patients less than 18 years of age.
  • Eighteen percent of cases required hospitalization, including young patients who required intensive care unit admission following exposure to delta-8 THC products.

What are the effects and benefits of delta-8 THC?

Early clinical trials have attempted to identify the therapeutic benefits of delta-8 THC. Because delta-8 is a recent discovery, the attempts to fully understand it are still ongoing.

Early reports suggest that delta-8 THC has a similar profile to delta-9 (recreational marijuana) but with a lower psychoactive potency—the high from delta-8 feels very similar to that of the better known THC, but it doesn't feel as intoxicating. Clinicians in treatment have heard patients describe delta-8 as a version of micro-dosing marijuana.

The benefits currently marketed by supporters of delta-8 are:

  • Promotes healthy sleep
  • Alleviates pain and inflammation
  • Improves body balance (regulates serotonin, dopamine and glutamate)
  • Stimulates appetite
  • Inhibits nausea and vomiting
  • Offers neuroprotective properties

But, as noted in our cannabidiol (CBD) article, all of these effects can be obtained from other more natural sources that are better substantiated by science.

In what forms is delta-8 THC ingested?

There are a few methods of delivery for delta-8, all of which affect how the cannabinoid is absorbed and processed by the body and mind.

Gummies are the most popular delivery method for delta-8 THC, but other common methods in addition to gummies are vape cartridges and vape pens, e-liquids, capsules and tinctures.

So what's the difference between delta-8 and delta-9?

So far, few differences have been detected between delta-8 THC and delta 9 THC. The two cannabinoids are very closely related, and both are found in the Cannabis Sativa plant. However, delta-8 is found at much lower concentrations in the plant, so the delta-8 gummies and other products that contain higher dosages are generally manufactured from hemp-derived CBD.

An article in hightimes.com states, "the only real difference [between delta-8 and delta-9 THC] is its [bond] placement. Both delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC contain double bonds, yet delta-8 contains the bond on the eighth carbon chain, while delta-9 contains the bond on the ninth carbon chain."

Interestingly enough, it's also suspected that delta-8 is derived from the breakdown of THC—often during the smoking of marijuana products—and is a possible cause of the "munchies."

What are the differences between delta-8 and CBD?

Delta-8 and CBD products have a few notable differences. Probably the most notable are the effects on the mind: CBD is non-psychoactive, meaning it does not produce any highs or feelings of euphoria, and CBD products are mostly used for medicinal purposes.

Although delta-8, in its natural form, has lower concentrations in cannabis compared to CBD, it is still a psychoactive drug that causes intoxication because of how it interacts with our endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors. This makes it a candidate for recreational use in addition to any of its potential medicinal qualities.

How long does delta-8 THC stay in your system?

Like other chemicals, the delivery method—gummies vs. vape, etc.—and the frequency/amount of use will all dictate how long delta-8 remains in your system. 

According to early research, the delta-8 and delta-9 THC strains both appear to have the same half-life, approximately 30 minutes, so its detection remains consistent with reports of one to four hours in the saliva, two to four weeks in the urine, and north of 90 days in hair follicle tests. 

Is delta-8 THC legal to use?

The legality of delta-8 THC is currently up for debate. It was made federally legal through the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, which declared all derivatives, isomers and cannabinoids of hemp legal when the final product contains less than 0.3 percent THC (delta-9). But the farm bill's final language left some loopholes, and many delta-8 products, like gummies and vape concentrates, are now legal.

Is delta-8 THC safe to use?

As is often the case when a new drug emerges, there have been no longitudinal studies to evaluate the long-term effects of delta-8 THC, and the lack of regulation often leaves room for bad-faith actors who want a quick buck, selling unfinished products with potentially toxic side effects.

The FDA released the following statement regarding delta-8 THC:

"The FDA is aware of the growing concerns surrounding delta-8 THC products currently being sold online and in stores. These products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context. Some concerns include variability in product formulations and product labeling, other cannabinoid and terpene content, and variable delta-8 THC concentrations."

Can people in recovery safely use delta-8 THC products?

People with a substance use disorder and those who are at risk of developing a substance use problem should not use delta-8 THC for several reasons:

  1. Delta-8 THC is a psychotropic substance and, unlike other hemp or CBD products, it produces a high.
  2. There are ongoing legal debates and risks, and there is uncertainty surrounding the production of delta-8 THC products—who is making it, and are they making it safely? Without regulation, there's no way to know.
  3. What's the motivation for using the substance? People in recovery know that relapse begins long before the return to use occurs and are taught to pay attention to the warning signs associated with relapse. Wanting to use delta-8 could be a warning sign.

A person who's thinking about using delta-8 is likely exhibiting other warning signs such as anxiety, stress, depression or fear. They might be hoping to escape, or they might express a desire to feel "normal" or recapture some aspect of their old using behaviors. They may also display dishonest or sneaky behaviors, ruminate about drug use, or exercise magical thinking that this chemical will somehow help alleviate the problems they're experiencing. If that sounds familiar, encourage them to learn about and implement a relapse prevention plan.

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