Delta-8 THC: What You Need to Know About This Cannabinoid

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on September 13, 2023
8 min read

photo of delta8 infographic

Delta-8 THC (or delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol) is a naturally occurring chemical compound, called a cannabinoid, that’s found in traces in hemp and cannabis (marijuana) plants.

In some states, you can legally buy products like gummies, vapes cartridges, and capsules that contain a concentrated form of this compound. The popularity of products that contain delta-8 is on the rise, and you can find them everywhere, from boutique weed dispensaries to convenience store shelves.

Delta-8 produces a fuzzy, euphoric high that's said to be similar to that from marijuana, but milder. Some people also use it to ease symptoms of conditions like stress, depression, or chronic pain. But there's little research to confirm that it's effective for those purposes.

Is delta-8 synthetic? 

Nearly all the delta-8 you can buy is made in labs with cannabidiol (CBD) from hemp plants along with several chemicals. It’s much more potent than the delta-8 found in nature. Because the FDA doesn’t regulate the chemical process to make delta-8, these products aren't tested for safety or quality. Harmful chemicals could be used to make them or created during the process.

 

 

Cannabis plants, which include marijuana and hemp, contain more than 100 chemical substances called cannabinoids. Some are psychoactive – which means they change how your brain functions – and some aren't.

The primary cannabinoids are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and CBD.   

The FDA has approved medical uses for some cannabinoids, including treatment of seizures and nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy. 

 

Why is there such a growing demand for delta-8? For starters, its chemical structure is similar to that of its well-known cousin, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC), the main compound in marijuana that gets you high.

Delta-8 vs. delta-9

Both delta-8 and delta-9 are forms of THC. But when people refer to THC, they usually mean the delta-9 that’s found in high concentrations in marijuana. While it doesn’t produce as intense a high as delta-9 THC, delta-8 can affect your mood, thoughts, feelings, and how you act.

In fact, delta-8 is often referred to as “marijuana lite” or “diet weed.” Other common THC side effects like paranoia, anxiety, and drowsiness are also less potent with delta-8 than delta-9.

Delta-8 vs. CBD

You can get CBD either from hemp or marijuana plants, both of which are types of Cannabis sativa. (Hemp has much less THC than marijuana.) Unlike delta-8, CBD doesn't cause a high.

You can find both delta-8 and CBD in products you buy online or in a store, but you can also be prescribed pure CBD. The FDA has approved it as an anti-seizure drug for people with epilepsy. 

CBD is being studied as a treatment for many health issues like anxiety, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and schizophrenia. Less is known about delta-8. 

Delta-8 vs. delta-10

You may have seen products that contain delta-10 THC. It’s in the same chemical family as delta-8 and delta-9. Like delta-8, delta-10 can be made in a lab using hemp. Beyond that, little is known about its potential health benefits or how it works. 

Some people claim that delta-10 helps you feel happier and more focused, but doesn't get you as high as you would with delta-8. Many products that contain delta-10 also claim it has health benefits, such as anxiety relief. But so far, none of that has been verified by research. 

Delta-8 vs. HHC

Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is THC that’s gone through a chemical process called hydrogenation. Like delta-8, it's made from hemp, and you can find it in a lot of products, from gummies to vapes. 

Both HHC and delta-8 bind to brain receptors that control functions in your body like sleep and memory. But the way they affect you can feel different. Users say the feeling from HHC is like that of delta-9 THC. That means you may feel a more intense high than you would from delta-8. 

Learn more about CBD vs. THC.

There are many ways to use delta-8, including:

  • In edible products such as brownies or gummies
  • In liquid extracts called tinctures, which you can put in food or drinks or place under your tongue
  • Inhaled as vaped concentrates like oil or wax
  • Smoked as buds, flowers, or as hemp on which delta-8 concentrate has been sprayed
  • As capsules you take by mouth
  • On the skin through creams, lotions, or patches

Delta-8 gummies

Delta-8 gummies are made by adding delta-8 to chewy, fruit-flavored candies. Depending on the brand, each gummy may contain 10 to 50 milligrams of delta-8. But because they aren't FDA-regulated, you can't be sure exactly how much you're getting.  

It's safest to start with a low dosage, perhaps a portion of a gummy. Manufacturers recommend waiting up to 2 hours to see how this affects you before using more. 

Be very careful with delta-8 gummies and other edibles around children, who can easily mistake them for ordinary treats. Delta-8 can be dangerous for both children and pets.

Delta-8 carts

You can buy vape cartridges, or carts, that are either pre-filled with a liquid containing delta-8 or can be refilled with vaping liquid. You attach the carts to a reusable vape battery, which heats them to produce vapor you inhale. Like delta-8 edibles, these aren't regulated and you can't be sure exactly what you're getting. The levels of THC they contain vary from brand to brand. Delta-8 carts often contain flavorings and other additives, including other cannabinoids.

We don't know much about the safety of vaping delta-8. But the Drug Enforcement Administration warns that vaping any substance is thought to be unsafe. That's especially true for teens and young adults whose brains are still developing.

Delta-8 pens

Delta-8 liquid also comes in disposable vaping devices called pens. You can also buy dab pens, which are used to inhale thick, highly concentrated cannabinoid substances called wax or shatter. 

Psychoactive properties of delta-8 THC

Chemically, delta-8 THC is almost identical to the delta-9 THC in marijuana. The main difference is in the location of a bond between two of its carbon atoms. This variation means there's less attraction between delta-8 and the cannabinoid receptor found on cells in your body. That's why a delta-8 high is less intense than the high you get from delta-9.

How delta-8 THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system

Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of cell signals and receivers throughout your body. You have more cannabinoid receptors in your brain than nearly any other kind. Called CB-1 receptors, they help control and adjust your central nervous system. That means they help control functions like your mood, hunger, body temperature, sense of pain, and alertness.

CB-1 receptors need to be “unlocked” by tiny particles in your body called endocannabinoids. Delta-8’s structure is close enough to the chemical makeup of endocannabinoids that it can turn on these cells and “hijack” your ECS for a little while. That's how delta-8 gets you high. (Delta-9 mimics your body’s endocannabinoid structure even more closely.) 

How delta-8 THC affects brain chemistry

Because delta-8 is unregulated and we don't have much research on it, we don't know what effect it will have on your brain, especially in the long run. But cannabinoids in general are thought to temporarily boost levels of the "feel-good" chemical dopamine in the brain. 

 

There’s not much research or evidence about delta-8’s impact on your overall health. Many people have reported – mostly via social media posts – that they use delta-8 along with their prescription medications to help with depression and substance use. Users say delta-8 can also:

But experts say these benefits are unproven, and there's a lack of research on how it affects your health. Just because you can buy it off the shelves doesn’t mean it’s risk-free.

Short-term side effects of delta-8 THC

Some people have reported side effects like:

If you try delta-8 products and notice any of these reactions, tell your doctor right away. If it’s an emergency, call 911 or head to a hospital near you. If a child eats or is exposed to delta-8 products, like gummies or candies, get medical care right away.

Don't use delta-8 or any other type of cannabis product if you're pregnant or nursing. It could be risky for you or your baby.  

Long-term risks and effects of delta-8 THC

Because there's been little research into delta-8, we don't know what its long-term effects might be. We know a bit more about delta-9 THC. Research has suggested that people who use marijuana over several years saw brain effects like lower IQ, slower processing speed, and memory and attention issues. 

There could also be long-term effects from additives in delta-8 products. One small study found lead and mercury, among other potentially harmful ingredients, in a sampling of delta-8 vape oils. 

Learn more about possible delta-8 side effects.

Federal and state laws regarding delta-8 THC

Another reason for delta-8’s growing popularity is that, unlike heavily regulated THC, delta-8 is legal to use in most states. That’s because it’s extracted mostly from CBD derived from hemp, which is legal to farm across the U.S.

But delta-8 sits in a legal gray area. Hemp’s legality stems from the so-called federal farm bill (the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018), which removed hemp and its byproducts from the list of controlled substances. The reason: hemp’s low THC levels (less than 0.3%). The bill doesn’t mention delta-8 anywhere. Hemp advocates and others who sell it have used this loophole to legally market delta-8 products, usually with no age restrictions. As a result, it’s now the fastest-growing product from the hemp industry.

Because there’s little oversight or lab testing on what goes into delta-8 products, chemists and other scientists have safety concerns. Products labeled as delta-8 may contain impurities, including high levels of THC. As a result, around a dozen states, including New York and Colorado, are beginning to restrict or ban the use of delta-8.

Risks of consuming delta-8 THC in states where it's illegal

You could face charges for possessing, making, or selling delta-8 in states where it's against the law. Even in states where delta-8 is legal, you could face charges if you drive while under the influence of it. 

 

 

 

You can buy delta-8 products over the counter at gas stations, convenience stores, and weed and vape shops. Many online sellers also offer them. 

It’s important to note that there’s no quality control for these products and its ingredient list. It’s also easy to confuse delta-8 products for CBD, which doesn’t cause a high.

It depends. Delta-8 is a form of THC. Drug tests often look for traces of delta-9, but delta-8 could show up as a positive for THC. Whether it’s delta-8 or delta-9, people also react differently to cannabinoids, depending on the type of products they use and how long they use them for.

Currently, commercial urine drug tests don’t distinguish between different cannabinoids. So if you have a drug test coming up, it’s best to avoid delta-8 products.

Delta-8 has become popular among people who think the substance provides a mellower high than other cannabis products, or are interested in possible medicinal benefits. But there are lots of questions about delta-8's safety, how well it works, and whether it's legal. Check with your doctor, and research delta-8 laws in your area, before you try these products.