Delta-8 THC, explained
By Jayne Antino
I recently visited a farmer’s market on James Island in South Carolina.
As I explored the market, I saw multiple vendors selling delta-8 THC products in the form of lollipops, gummies, and beverages.
Shortly after, I noticed people enjoying their delta-8 candy as they lounged in the public green space nearby the market.
After a quick Google search, I learned that this is a product that people are actually getting high off of.
While state laws prevent some people from using marijuana, they can still get a similar high off of marijuana’s cousin, delta-8.
The delta-8 THC market is booming nationwide, although its safety and legality remain in question.
“It's just a wild gray market. The lack of enforcement kind of allows bad players to have a lane to make a quick buck… It is an industry that is ripe for cutting corners,” said Nabil Rodriguez, a Colorado associate attorney who specializes in cannabis law.
What is delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 THC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid that makes up a very small, insignificant portion of the cannabis plant.
Although delta-8 cannabinoids are naturally occurring, the delta-8 THC products that we see on the U.S. market are manufactured in a lab using hemp-derived CBD.
The delta-8 THC craze began when there was an influx of additional CBD on the market, and the price of CBD tanked.
People who understood the chemistry of CBD knew that if you expose it to certain acids, it can synthesize from CBD to delta-8.
They turned the glut of CBD into something profitable and high-inducing: delta-8.
What makes delta-8 THC legal?
Delta-8 cannabis products have become widely available around the U.S. following The 2018 Farm Bill.
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and its derivatives, including delta-8 THC, as long as they contain less than 0.3% delta-9 THC.
Therefore, delta-8 cuts through legal loopholes and is federally legal in the U.S.
It became particularly popular in 2020, and the industry has grown in the past two to three years.
Delta-8 is sold as edibles, vapes, tinctures, flowers, and beverages.
Products are popping up around the country in vape shops, gas stations, online stores, grocery stores, farmers markets, and beyond.
“There’s about four shops in Charleston [S.C.] that I can walk to to purchase delta-8 products. I’ve been using it for about a year and have no trouble obtaining it,” said delta-8 user Jess Chase.
The only requirement for purchasing delta-8 is that you must be 21+.
Although, this is not always strictly regulated like it is with marijuana and alcohol.
How is delta-8 different from delta-9 and CBD?
Delta-8 products are typically marketed as a “gentler, softer” high compared to their delta-9 THC (marijuana) counterpart.
“Delta-8 is a hemp-derived cannabinoid. So unlike CBD, where, yes, it is derived from hemp, it does not produce any sort of psychoactive feeling. Delta-8 does. It's different from delta-9 because it's not regulated in the way that traditional marijuana is. So, there's an accessibility factor for delta-8 THC and it's just as accessible, probably a little bit less accessible, than regular CBD,” said Riley Legaspi, the marketing director for Eighty Six Premium Hemp, a national delta-8 company.
People use delta-8 for many reasons, such as sleep, recreational use, pain relief, or an alternative to alcohol or marijuana.
“I would say it’s the closest you can get to the effects of marijuana,” said delta-8 User X. “Like myself, I think a lot of delta-8 users will use it as an alternative to smoking marijuana, especially in places where marijuana is illegal.”
Delta-8 can be referred to as “diet-weed” or “weed light” because it isn’t as potent or strong as delta-9.
But, if you use enough, you can get the same effects as delta-9.
“I sometimes use delta-8 as a substitute for alcohol when I hang out with my friends in a social setting. It makes me feel high without the extreme effects that regular marijuana can bring on. This is why I prefer delta-8 to traditional marijuana,” said Chase.
Regulations, standardizations, and safety
Delta-8 THC is not formally regulated and standardized by the federal government in the same way marijuana is in states where it’s legal.
Therefore, it does not legally need to go through any testing or standardization before it's sold to the public.
“Testing is not required. There are no true regulations, meaning the FDA is not saying hey, for every single batch, you need to test it to this standard this often. There is no regulatory guideline like that. So it’s up to the company to decide whether or not they are going to do that,” said Legaspi, whose company regularly tests their delta-8 products.
Testing is a very expensive process that some companies may skip because the government does not require it.
However, numerous companies sell delta-8 that choose to test and regulate their products to ensure they are safe.
“Technically anyone could sell delta-8 products. We choose to only do business with companies that have verified third-party lab testing, and we're able to see the live results ourselves,” said Mathew Hard, the store administrator at Gallery Smoke Shop in Charleston, S.C. “We really make sure it's a quality product…We would rather sell something that is actually safe and decent quality compared to some of the stuff you'll see on the market.”
Delta-8 is also relatively simple to create.
Unfortunately, this means that too many amateur chemists are creating synthetic cannabinoid products that may have residual chemicals.
Without federal standardized testing, there is no way to determine which products are safe to use.
The unregulated delta-8 market has prompted a nationwide conversation about whether or not it should be legal.
Why is there a legal argument regarding delta-8 THC?
Considering delta-8 is unregulated and can give someone a similar high to delta-9 marijuana, the legality of the product is a public debate.
The 2018 Farm Bill does not directly mention delta-8, but it remains federally legal because it contains less than .3% delta-9 THC.
Since delta-8 products are synthetically created in a lab and produce psychoactive effects, some state legislatures disagree with the assertion that it falls into the category of legal hemp.
Some states, specifically those where marijuana is legal and regulated, have also expressed concern with the limited federal regulations regarding delta-8.
Therefore, they decided to create their own rules concerning the use and distribution of delta-8.
While some states have decided to regulate the substance, others have banned it.
For example, in Colorado - where marijuana is legal and strictly regulated - they have banned delta-8.
“The Colorado Department of Health and Department of Public Health and Environment put out joint statements saying that they see delta-8 as a synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol and therefore it is prohibited to sell a product with that particular molecule in the state of Colorado… Other states have started taking similar positions or introducing bills to either make delta-8 illegal or try to regulate it in the same vein as a marijuana dispensary, meaning that it is subject to regulatory testing requirements,” said Rodriguez.
On the other hand, there are states such as South Carolina and Florida where delta-8 is regularly sold and enjoyed.
In most cases, whether or not those products are regulated depends on the company selling them.
“Living in South Carolina, I’ve found it to be relatively easy to get my hands on delta-8. It feels like it’s being sold everywhere. It must be legal here, although I am confused by the laws. I’ve definitely come across some sketchy products,” said User X.
The legal status of delta-8 THC is constantly evolving, and the federal government has yet to establish regulations and standardizations.
If you choose to use delta-8, staying up-to-date on local laws and ensuring you are purchasing it from a reputable source is important.
As with any cannabis product, it is also important to be aware of potential health risks and to use delta-8 THC responsibly and under the guidance of a medical professional.