Move over cannabidiol (CBD). The popularity of another cannabinoid, ∆8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC), is on the rise. Found in gummies, vape cartridges, tinctures, and other products, delta-8-THC is popping up in gas stations, convenience stores, tobacco shops, and cannabis dispensaries throughout the US and beyond—often with no age restrictions.
Unlike CBD, delta-8-THC produces euphoric effects that are similar to but milder than those of delta-9-THC, the well-known psychoactive compound in cannabis. Delta-8-THC is an isomer of delta-9-THC. The only difference between the two molecules is the location of a double bond between two carbons.
The delta-8-THC craze began when an oversupply of CBD extracted from US-grown hemp caused the price of CBD to plummet. Producers began looking for ways to turn the glut of CBD into something profitable. Using simple chemistry reported in the 1960s, the industry got creative and started experimenting with ways to convert CBD into delta-8-THC. The resulting products target consumers who are looking to relieve stress and anxiety, especially those who don’t want to use traditional cannabis products or those who live in places where cannabis products are not legally available.
But with no regulatory oversight and limited laboratory testing, most products sold as delta-8-THC are not actually pure delta-8-THC. Such products typically contain a high percentage of delta-8-THC and small amounts of other cannabinoids, including delta-9-THC, and reaction by-products. Some of the cannabinoids are not naturally found in cannabis. In most cases, nothing is known about the health effects of these impurities.
Several states are starting to crack down on sales of delta-8-THC products. But as long as they are derived from hemp and contain no more than 0.3% of delta-9-THC on a dry-weight basis—the limit under federal law—many lawyers and hemp industry officials consider them legal. Regardless of whether delta-8-THC is legal, chemists are sounding the alarm after finding several unidentified compounds in products labeled as delta-8-THC.