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What is THC Delta-8?

If you’ve stumbled upon any of the recent articles or gas station convenience stores touting “Delta8— a new legal form of cannabis,” you’re probably wondering “what the heck is that?”

While Delta-8 might seem like a suitable and possibly cheaper alternative to getting high, there are a number of potential risks and things you should consider before trying it out.

The big question: overall, how safe is Delta-8?

Because the molecular structure of Delta-8 is extremely similar to Delta-9, in theory, it would seem safe, and under carefully regulated production, it probably is. Some anecdotal stories about it helping with sleeplessness and appetite even suggest potential benefits. However, due to the fact that Delta 9 naturally occurs in much higher concentrations than Delta-8 and both are so similar in their molecular structures and effects, research since the ’70s has focused almost exclusively on Delta-9. The lack of attention has allowed Delta-8 to fly under the legal radar to some extent as well, meaning most of it comes from an entirely unregulated industry.

It’s important to trust your source. You may spot the occasional Delta-8 product in a legally licensed dispensary, however, if you plan to try Delta-8 from another source, it’s important to understand there may be risks involved due to its severe lack of regulatory oversight. Anyone can produce it anywhere, including their garage, and there is no verification check to ensure the processes used in production produce a final result that is safe for you to consume. In contrast, the products you see at Dockside or any other legally licensed dispensary in WA are heavily regulated from seed to sale, including tests for microbes, pesticides, and residual solvents. While that can seem restrictive to some, these regulations offer peace of mind to the customer who wants to be sure that they are purchasing something safe to consume.

Cannabis does not naturally contain significant amounts
of Delta-8.

Whether or not you know it, if you’re a cannabis user, you’re already familiar with Delta-9. Delta-9 is what most people commonly refer to as just THC. It is responsible for producing that desirable “high” feeling. Although there are several naturally occurring compounds in cannabis that affect our body’s endocannabinoid system, Delta-9 typically occurs in the highest concentration (except in some cases, where selective breeding produces higher concentrations of CBD). The concentration of all other compounds, including Delta-8, is very low.

Our endocannabinoid system is super complex and helps
regulate all sorts of functions, which you can read more about
in our post, There’s More to Cannabis Than Just THC.

If hemp/cannabis barely produces any Delta-8 on its own, then how is Delta-8 made?

You may be surprised to know that virtually all Delta-8 is produced synthetically using a chemical process that converts other compounds from the plant into Delta-8. In most cases, due to recent overproduction, the source compound is CBD. While that doesn’t sound inherently bad, a lot of CBD outside of the regulated cannabis industry is actually a by-product of the industrial hemp industry. Industrial hemp is grown for fiber and fuel, not necessarily with the same standards that agricultural products intended for human consumption have. There is little transparency and regulation to ensure your safety from potentially harmful pesticides.

Read Hemp or Cannabis CBD Here’s What you Need to Know
to get up to date on the risks of unregulated CBD.

Over the past handful of years, the CBD industry has encountered a problem; it has produced way more supply of isolated CBD than there is a demand for. The recent hype over Delta-8 is giving those growers and processors an opportunity to sell their supply before it spoils. But, unfortunately, that means they’re probably more concerned with profit than your safety. Furthermore, due to the lack of regulation, there isn’t anyone overseeing the process of converting that material to Delta-8.

Most Delta-8 products are sold as edibles or vapes because Delta-8 must be isolated (or converted) from the other compounds and then concentrated in order to produce the effect of being “high.” If you see Delta-8 flower for sale, just know that it wasn’t grown naturally, because Delta-8 dominant hemp varieties don’t exist. You’re likely looking at a hemp bud with less than 0.3% THC that has been sprayed with Delta-8 isolate from an unregulated source, and there’s no research saying that it is safe to combust.

Why is Delta-8 legal in most places?

There is a loophole in the wording of the law that currently leaves Delta-8 in a legal grey area. In the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, legal hemp (or cannabis) is defined as:

“…any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

So, even though Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are similar, the wording of the law implies that regulation only applies to Delta-9. Due to scientific developments in cannabis processing and extraction methods, consumption of Delta-8 in concentrations that are enough to experience similar psychotropic effects as Delta-9 is a relatively new thing. Some states are currently working on bills to regulate Delta-8, and twelve states have already banned sales indicating more changes to this legal loophole are on the horizon.

Why wasn’t the law written to include Delta-8 in the definition of hemp/cannabis?    

Simply put, the law hasn’t caught up. Decriminalization and/or legalization of cannabis in many states have pushed what we know about extracting and modifying the plant, but all of this has only happened in the last handful of years. Since Delta-8 isn’t a compound that naturally occurs in a significant quantity, it’s only recently entered the conversation.