Cannabis has been used as a herbal remedy for millennia. Cannabis sativa, the marijuana plant, is most well-known for the high it elicits when smoked. This high comes from cannabinoids, chemical constituents of cannabis that bind to receptors in the brain and body. Most mental and physical effects that we equate with this high come from the cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC), which is often just referred to as THC. Many users and even non-users know of this cannabinoid given its prominence in media and scientific literature, but there are over a hundred more cannabinoids that lack the attention and research of THC and cannabidiol (CBD), its popular anti-psychoactive moderator.
One of these rarely-mentioned cannabinoids with untapped potential is delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-8-THC. Similar to its psychoactive relative delta-9-THC, there are nevertheless several key differences between these two cannabinoids that are worth learning more about.
WHAT IS DELTA-8-THC?
Although you probably haven’t heard of delta-8-THC before, delta-8-THC is considered a major cannabinoid compound and has been researched almost as much as CBD and cannabinol. It is both a chemical class of cannabinoids and a cannabinoid itself. Although its potential therapeutic properties have been of considerable scientific interest, it makes up less than 1% of the cannabis plant.
Delta-8 has been found to be an effective antiemetic (ie. prevents nausea and vomiting), even more effective than delta-9-THC. A study looking at children undergoing chemotherapy (a procedure known to induce vomiting and nausea) found that delta-8 completely prevented vomiting and had negligible side effects. A more recent study backed these findings up by also demonstrating complete prevention from emesis (vomiting). It also showed that delta-8 had greater antiemetic potency and efficacy than delta-9. Ondansetrone is usually the go-to drug for chemotherapy-induced vomiting and nausea, but its side effects and considerable expense make delta-8 an appealing alternative. Delta-8 has also been shown to stimulate appetite, provide pain relief, and has demonstrated neuroprotective properties in clinical trials.
HOW DOES DELTA-8-THC COMPARE TO DELTA-9?
Delta-8 is often compared to delta-9, its more popular analogue, and for good reason. They are similar in chemical configuration and bodily effects. The name delta-8 comes from its molecular structure: its double bond is located on the 8th carbon in the chain, whereas delta-9 has its double bond on the 9th carbon. Although a lot is still not understood about the mechanisms behind how individual cannabinoids produce a “high”, we do know that delta-8 and delta-9 both bind to cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 in the brain.
But even though they bind to the same receptors, many users notice a difference between the high produced by delta-8 vs. the usual high of marijuana from delta-9. According to a study from 1973 comparing delta-8 and delta-9, delta-8 has two-thirds the potency of delta-9. This makes sense as delta-9 has been shown to possess higher affinity and potency for CB1 and CB2. Delta-9-THC highs have well-documented downsides, including paranoia, anxiety, drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches. Individuals often report that delta-8 produces a high that is less anxiety-provoking and less sedating, and feel they can remain more clear-headed. However, these claims have yet to be supported in clinical trials, in part because federal laws regarding THC and marijuana derivatives make cannabinoid research expensive and difficult to carry out.
Delta-9-THC is the primary form of THC found in cannabis, and many plants are specifically bred to produce a lot of delta-9. There is very little natural delta-8 in cannabis – usually just a fraction of a percent. However, with more research about the purported health benefits of delta-8, distillate oils and extracts of delta-8 are slowly making their way into the market and becoming more popular. Delta-8 is also more stable, oxidises at a lower rate, and is less expensive to produce than delta-9. As more research emerges and delta-8 becomes more accessible to users, it may just be worth a try.