It’s everywhere from gas stations to grocery stores and trendy boutique shops, all advertising the availability of “delta-8-THC.” It’s a hemp-derived cousin of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – more commonly known as cannabis – the active ingredient in the cannabis plant that provides the “high” people feel after using it.
And it’s the subject of a lot of debate and conversation in state legislatures, among public health practitioners and especially consumers, many of whom have turned to delta-8-THC to treat a broad range of health and medical conditions.
Although it didn’t specifically address delta-8-THC, the 2018 U.S. Farm Bill effectively legalized it through a loophole that allowed the sale of hemp-derived delta-8-THC products in areas where recreational use of cannabis was prohibited, as well as where medicinal marijuana required medical authorization. By late 2020, delta-8-THC had exploded in popularity.
Despite its rapidly increasing availability, there is still a lot to learn about delta-8-THC’s properties and effects.
Now, through a unique collaboration, researchers from the University at Buffalo and the University of Michigan are shedding important new light on this compound. They’ve partnered with a Buffalo-based manufacturer of cannabinoid (CBD) products in an effort to learn more about the benefits and potential drawbacks of delta-8-THC, and better inform lawmakers, public health officials, consumers and others.
The words of one user best describe the overarching views shared by survey participants: That delta-8-THC is like delta-9’s “nicer younger sibling” because it provides all the benefits with fewer adverse reactions.
Largest delta-8-THC study to date
It’s the largest study to date on users’ experiences with delta-8. The findings have been published over two papers, one that appears in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research, the top peer-reviewed journal in the field, and another, just-published paper in the open access Journal of Cannabis Research.
“Because this is one of the first studies of its kind on delta-8-THC and so many states have changed their legislation, we wanted to really explore what people felt as they were using it compared to delta-9-THC. We found that people who are utilizing delta-8-THC feel fewer negative side effects, and they are using it in modalities that are safer, like vaping or edibles or using topically,” said Jessica Kruger, Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior in UB’s School of Public Health and Health Professions.
Research on delta-8-THC is scarce, and the Krugers’ work comes as more states are legalizing cannabis for recreational and medicinal use, while prohibiting delta-8-THC. Of the 14 states that have banned delta-8-THC, six allow recreational use of cannabis, 10 allow medical use and three have decriminalized recreational use.
“It’s paradoxical that different states and municipalities are opening up to delta-9, it’s becoming more available and increasingly legalized, and yet they’re putting the brakes on delta-8, even though it seems to have a better profile in terms of its effects,” said Daniel Kruger.
“It’s almost like the opposite of what you would do if you were informed of the evidence.”
Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol is more potent than delta-8 and accounts for most of the THC that occurs naturally in the cannabis plant, which makes it easy to extract, explaining why it’s more commonly smoked. Delta-8-THC, however, is about half as potent. It’s also produced in far less quantity and thus has to be processed from a concentrate. That’s why most people consume it in edibles such as gummies or brownies, or by vaping.
Surveying delta-8 users
The Krugers partnered with Buffalo-based Bison Botanics, which used its social media channels to put out a call to delta-8-THC consumers to participate in a research survey the Krugers developed. Respondents were asked to compare their experiences with delta-8-THC vs. delta-9.
“The Krugers, and partnerships like this, are ahead of the curve. This type of research just isn’t happening at the federal level because it’s classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance,” said Cory Muscato, regulatory liaison for Bison Botanics.
In all, 521 people from 38 states—29% from New York—participated in the survey.
Here’s what they found:
- About two-thirds said they consume delta-8-THC through edibles such as gummies.
- Experiences with delta-8 were characterized predominantly by relaxation, pain relief and euphoria, with most participants saying they could perform their normal daily activities without experiencing the adverse side effects associated with cannabis use, such as paranoia, anxiety or the munchies.
- 51% reported using delta-8-THC to treat a range of health and medical conditions, primarily anxiety or panic attacks, stress, depression or bipolar disorder and chronic pain.
- 78% said they have not told their primary care provider that they use delta-8 because they lacked confidence in their physician’s ability to integrate medical cannabis into their treatment.
- On average, participants’ experiences of paranoia and anxiety while using delta-8-THC were between “not at all” and “a little.”
- Participants also showed little knowledge on effective doses of delta-8 and said most of what they did know about it came from the internet or their own experiences.
Delta-8 product users were more than enthusiastic to share their experiences, said Justin Schultz, Bison Botanics’ founder and president. “A lot of customers that use delta-8 are so happy with its therapeutic effects, and they’re worried it might be taken away. They want to do anything they can to help prevent that,” Schultz said. “We’re confident the state is taking this information seriously and is willing to adapt or build its legislation based on public feedback. They’re not ignoring our industry.”
The researchers say it’s critical to study delta-8-THC and other cannabinoids coming to market to inform policies, regulations and practices that minimize the costs, risks and harms while maximizing delta-8-THC’s potential benefits.
“While delta-8-THC appears to have some really big, positive attributes, we need to know more, and we should be cautious with any product that’s hitting the market unregulated and untested,” Jessica Kruger said. “More research needs to be done because this could be a possible way to reduce harm for those who are using cannabis, and for people to have fewer negative reactions.”
“There’s this huge boom in cannabis related research now, just as there is in the cannabis industry, but there are still so many unknowns,” said Daniel Kruger. “Delta-8-THC came to market largely after the Farm Bill and everyone was saying, ‘We don’t know anything about this.’ As researchers, if the challenge is ‘we don’t know enough about this,’ the answer is ‘well, let’s study it’ because all policies should be informed by empirical evidence.”
Among hundreds of cannabinoids, delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC, Δ8-THC) has rapidly risen in popularity among consumers of cannabis products. Delta-8-THC is an isomer or a chemical analog of delta-9-THC, the molecule that produces the experience of being high when ingesting cannabis (Qamar et al. 2021).
Delta-8-THC differs in the molecular structure from delta-9-THC in the location of a double bond between carbon atoms 8 and 9 rather than carbon atoms 9 and 10 (Razdan 1984). Due to its altered structure, delta-8-THC has a lower affinity for the CB1 receptor and therefore has a lower psychotropic potency than delta-9-THC (Hollister and Gillespie 1973; Razdan 1984). Delta-8-THC is found naturally in Cannabis, though at substantially lower concentrations than delta-9-THC (Hively et al. 1966). It can also be synthesized from other cannabinoids (e.g., Hanuš and Krejčí 1975).
The 2018 Farm Bill did not specifically address delta-8-THC, but effectively legalized the sale of hemp-derived delta-8-THC products with no oversight. Its popularity grew dramatically in late 2020, gaining the attention of cannabis consumers and processors throughout the United States.
As of early 2021, delta-8-THC is considered one of the fastest-growing segments of hemp derived products, with most states having access (Richtel 2021). Yet, little is known about experiences with delta-8-THC or effects in medical or recreational users (Hollister and Gillespie 1973; Razdan 1984).
In 1973, delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC were administrated to six research participants. Despite the small sample size, researchers concluded that delta-8-THC was about two-thirds as potent as delta-9-THC and was qualitatively similar in experiential effects (Hollister and Gillespie 1973; Razdan 1984). In 1995, researchers gave delta-8-THC to eight pediatric cancer patients two hours before each chemotherapy session.
Over the course of 8 months, none of these patients vomited following their cancer treatment. The researchers concluded that delta-8-THC was a more stable compound than the more well-studied delta-9-THC (Abrahamov et al. 1995, consistent with other findings (Zias et al. 1993), and suggested that delta-8-THC could be a better candidate than delta-9-THC for new therapeutics.
In recent months, 14 U.S. States have blocked the sale of delta-8-THC due to the lack of research into the compound’s psychoactive effects (Sullivan 2021). All policies and practices, including those related to substance use and public health, should be informed by empirical evidence.
The current study seeks to better understand the experiences of people who use delta-8-THC to inform policy discussions and provide directions for future systematic research. Because this is the first large survey of delta-8-THC consumers, we take an exploratory approach to describe experiences with delta-8-THC.
We combine quantitative rating items with open-ended qualitative items enabling participants to provide feedback which is rich in content.
Participants mostly consumed delta-8-THC through edibles (64%; brownies, gummies, etc.), vaped concentrates (48%; hash, wax, dabs, oil, etc.), and tinctures (32%). Some participants consumed delta-8-THC through smoking concentrates (23%; hash, wax, dabs, oil, etc.), smoking bud or flower (18%), vaping bud or flower (9%), topical products (9%; lotion, cream, oil, patch on skin), capsules (6%), suppositories (1%), and other methods (1%). Most participants (83%) also reported consuming delta-9-THC cannabis and products and reported substitution for delta-9-THC (57%) and pharmaceutical drugs (59%).
Experiences with delta-8-THC were most prominently characterized by relaxation, pain relief, and euphoria (see Table 1 and Fig. 1). Participants reported modest levels of cognitive distortions such as an altered sense of time, difficulties with short-term memory, and difficulty concentrating. Participants reported low levels of distressing mental states (anxiety and paranoia). There were large statistical effect sizes in differences between items in the first set of experiences (relaxation, pain relief, and euphoria) and items in the second set (cognitive distortions), and medium statistical effect sizes in differences between cognitive distortions and anxiety and paranoia.
On average participants reported that the effects of delta-8-THC were less intense, t(433) = 23.86, p < .001, d = 1.15, and had a shorter duration, t(421) = 10.08, p < .001, d = 0.49, than the effects of delta-9-THC (see Fig. 2). Proportionally, participants reported the intensity of effect as much more with delta-9-THC (36%), somewhat more with delta-9-THC (44%), about the same (15%), somewhat more with delta-8-THC (4%), and much more with delta-8-THC (2%). Proportionally, participants reported the duration of effect as much more with delta-9-THC (20%), somewhat more with delta-9-THC (27%), about the same (41%), somewhat more with delta-8-THC (8%), and much more with delta-8-THC (5%).
Demographic analyses indicated that women perceived delta-8-THC effects to be somewhat more intense, t(420) = 3.55, p < .001, d = 0.36, and longer lasting, t(408) = 3.45, p < .001, d = 0.36, compared to delta-9-THC than did men. Older individuals perceived delta-8-THC effects to be somewhat more intense, r(429) = .141, p = .003, and longer lasting, r(418) = .293 p < .001, compared to delta-9-THC than younger individuals. Controlling for age, those completing more years of education perceived delta-8-THC effects to be somewhat more intense, r(383) = .158, p = .003, and longer lasting, r(383) = .139 p = .006, compared to delta-9-THC than those with less education.
Participants (n = 204) provided text responses in one or both open-ended questions (see Table 2 and S1). The most common theme was comparisons between delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC. Participants’ responses containing this theme included: “Delta 8 feels like Delta 9’s nicer younger sibling”; “It has all the positives and many fewer drawbacks/side effects. It is less impairing and much less likely to cause anxiety or paranoia. It has much milder to nonexistent aftereffects”; “Delta 8 is not as heavy as Delta 9. With Delta 8, I am able to perform my normal day to day activities, i.e., no couch lock, paranoia, munchies. I am able to function well at work under the influence of Delta 8 whereas under the influence on Delta 9 at work, I am paranoid and feel less motivated to do work activities. Delta 8 has more of just a euphoria feeling than any other feeling for me. I want to do activities and I want to have a pleasurable time. Whereas if I have too much of Delta 9, all I want to do is watch TV, eat snacks, distance myself from the outside world. Delta 9 is better for sleep.”
The second most common theme was the therapeutic effect or benefit from delta-8-THC, participants’ responses containing this theme included: “It is like “lite” Delta 9. I can focus and work more with Delta 8 than Delta 9. It helps my pains and relaxation and I feel more able. Depending on the strain it has taken the place of melatonin for sleep.”; “As with any newer drug with limited study, care should be taken with its use. But I’ve personally found it immensely useful and therapeutic, with management of anxiety and sleep issues. Which nothing but far more addictive drugs (regarding anxiolytics), have helped with in the past. I hope lots more studies will be able to be done.”; “Delta-9 I pretty regularly experience panic attacks. Delta-8 I do not and it relieves symptoms of PTSD and anxiety pretty quickly.” The third most common theme was comments on the study or researchers. Some examples of this praise are “I’m glad that there’s more academic research being done on the subject, thank you for doing it!” and “Keep up the good work. Need more studies and information on cannabinoids.”
The fourth most common theme was expressions of concern, particularly for continued legal access to delta-8-THC. Participants’ responses containing this theme included: “D8 is Great for daytime relief when you need to get stuff done. It has helped me a lot! I HOPE THEY DON’T BAN IT!”; “I feel that delta-8-THC is a very effective alternative to delta-9-THC with less side effects. I primarily consume it in combination with high CBD or CBG hemp. I do wish there was regulation purely for safety concerns; more reliable lab testing, testing specifically for solvents and reagents used in delta-8-THC production, etc. But I do fear that harsh regulation may get in the way of a wonderful substance that could improve the lives of many people. I hope against hope that a fear mongering campaign doesn’t put an end to the golden age of D8 that we are currently experiencing.”
The fifth most common theme was general expressions of praise for delta-8-THC. Many participants had similar statements such as “Delta 8 is a great thing. It needs to stay accessible and affordable for the people that can really benefit.” The sixth most common theme was substitution of delta-8-THC for other substances. One participant stated: “The therapeutic and medicinal effects of Delta 8 have significantly improved my life, treating pain and sleeplessness while not making me feel the high I get from Delta 9. I have stopped taking pharmaceutical drugs and my health and wellbeing has improved.”
The seventh most common theme was the dual use of delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC. One representative comment was: “It seems a lot more of a ‘functional’ high, at my job we call it work-weed. I get too much anxiety to effectively deal with customers on Delta 9, Delta 8 is just about perfect for when you gotta actually do things. I still do prefer Delta-9 after a long day though.” The eighth most common theme was adverse effects of delta-8-THC, for example: “I love Delta 8 because I do not need to take it daily. I’ve never had withdrawals when I did not take it. What I dislike about Delta 8 is the feeling of always being cold. I did read the dosage had something to do with this but unfortunately even reducing the dosage gave me the same result.” Participants also made comments that did not fit into the major themes. The most frequent of these comments was that delta-8-THC edibles or tinctures were more powerful than when delta-8-THC was inhaled as a vape: “How Delta 8 is consumed plays a large role in the effects, when eaten or taken in a tincture it feels much closer to Delta 9 in effects compared to when vaping/dabbing Delta 8.”
reference link :https://jcannabisresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42238-021-00115-8
BUT the FDA warns
Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as delta-8 THC, is a psychoactive substance found in the Cannabis sativa plant, of which marijuana and hemp are two varieties. Delta-8 THC is one of over 100 cannabinoids produced naturally by the cannabis plant but is not found in significant amounts in the cannabis plant. As a result, concentrated amounts of delta-8 THC are typically manufactured from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD).
It is important for consumers to be aware that delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context. They may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk and should especially be kept out of reach of children and pets.
Here are 5 things you should know about delta-8 THC to keep you and those you care for safe from products that may pose serious health risks:
1. Delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use and may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk.
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. Additionally, some of these products may be labeled simply as “hemp products,” which may mislead consumers who associate “hemp” with “non-psychoactive.” Furthermore, the FDA is concerned by the proliferation of products that contain delta-8 THC and are marketed for therapeutic or medical uses, although they have not been approved by the FDA. Selling unapproved products with unsubstantiated therapeutic claims is not only a violation of federal law, but also can put consumers at risk, as these products have not been proven to be safe or effective. This deceptive marketing of unproven treatments raises significant public health concerns because patients and other consumers may use them instead of approved therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.
2. The FDA has received adverse event reports involving delta-8 THC-containing products.
From December 2020 through July 2021, the FDA received adverse event reports from both consumers and law enforcement describing 22 patients who consumed delta-8 THC products; of these, 14 presented to a hospital or emergency room for treatment following the ingestion. Of the 22 patients, 19 experienced adverse events after ingesting delta-8 THC-containing food products (e.g., brownies, gummies). Adverse events included vomiting, hallucinations, trouble standing, and loss of consciousness.
National poison control centers received 661 exposure cases of delta-8 THC products between January 2018 and July 31, 2021, 660 of which occurred between January 1, 2021, and July 31, 2021. Of the 661 exposure cases:
- 41% involved unintentional exposure to delta-8 THC and 77% of these unintentional exposures affected pediatric patients less than 18 years of age.
- 39% involved pediatric patients less than 18 years of age
- 18% required hospitalizations, including children who required intensive care unit (ICU) admission following exposure to these products.
3. Delta-8 THC has psychoactive and intoxicating effects.
Delta-8 THC has psychoactive and intoxicating effects, similar to delta-9 THC (i.e., the component responsible for the “high” people may experience from using cannabis). The FDA is aware of media reports of delta-8 THC products getting consumers “high.” The FDA is also concerned that delta-8 THC products likely expose consumers to much higher levels of the substance than are naturally occurring in hemp cannabis raw extracts. Thus, historical use of cannabis cannot be relied upon in establishing a level of safety for these products in humans.
4. Delta-8 THC products often involve use of potentially harmful chemicals to create the concentrations of delta-8 THC claimed in the marketplace.
The natural amount of delta-8 THC in hemp is very low, and additional chemicals are needed to convert other cannabinoids in hemp, like CBD, into delta-8 THC (i.e., synthetic conversion). Concerns with this process include:
- Some manufacturers may use potentially unsafe household chemicals to make delta-8 THC through this chemical synthesis process. Additional chemicals may be used to change the color of the final product. The final delta-8 THC product may have potentially harmful by-products (contaminants) due to the chemicals used in the process, and there is uncertainty with respect to other potential contaminants that may be present or produced depending on the composition of the starting raw material. If consumed or inhaled, these chemicals, including some used to make (synthesize) delta-8 THC and the by-products created during synthesis, can be harmful.
- Manufacturing of delta-8 THC products may occur in uncontrolled or unsanitary settings, which may lead to the presence of unsafe contaminants or other potentially harmful substances.
5. Delta-8 THC products should be kept out of the reach of children and pets.
Manufacturers are packaging and labeling these products in ways that may appeal to children (gummies, chocolates, cookies, candies, etc.). These products may be purchased online, as well as at a variety of retailers, including convenience stores and gas stations, where there may not be age limits on who can purchase these products. As discussed above, there have been numerous poison control center alerts involving pediatric patients who were exposed to delta-8 THC-containing products. Additionally, animal poison control centers have indicated a sharp overall increase in accidental exposure of pets to these products. Keep these products out of reach of children and pets.
Why is the FDA notifying the public about delta-8 THC?
A combination of factors has led the FDA to provide consumers with this information. These factors include:
- An uptick in adverse event reports to the FDA and the nation’s poison control centers.
- Marketing, including online marketing of products, that is appealing to children.
- Concerns regarding contamination due to methods of manufacturing that may in some cases be used to produce marketed delta-8 THC products.
The FDA is actively working with federal and state partners to further address the concerns related to these products and monitoring the market for product complaints, adverse events, and other emerging cannabis-derived products of potential concern. The FDA will warn consumers about public health and safety issues and take action, when necessary, when FDA-regulated products violate the law.
How to report complaints and cases of accidental exposure or adverse events:
If you think you are having a serious side effect that is an immediate danger to your health, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency room. Health care professionals and patients are encouraged to report complaints and cases of accidental exposure and adverse events to the FDA’s MedWatch Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program:
- Call an FDA Consumer Complaint Coordinator if you wish to speak directly to a person about your problem.
- Complete an electronic Voluntary MedWatch form online or call 1-800-332-1088 to request a reporting form, then complete and return to the address on the form, or submit by fax to 1-800-FDA-0178.
- Complete a paper Voluntary MedWatch form and mail it to the FDA.
- To report adverse events in animals to the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, please download and submit Form FDA 1932a found at: www.fda.gov/ReportAnimalAE.
More information: Daniel J. Kruger et al, Consumer Experiences with Delta-8-THC: Medical Use, Pharmaceutical Substitution, and Comparisons with Delta-9-THC, Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research (2021). DOI: 10.1089/can.2021.0124
Jessica S. Kruger et al, Delta-8-THC: Delta-9-THC’s nicer younger sibling?, Journal of Cannabis Research (2022). DOI: 10.1186/s42238-021-00115-8