Delta-8: What's the Deal?

Of the many chemical compounds in the cannabis plant, delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol has received a lot of attention in the past year.

Delta-8-THC, or delta-8, is a close relative of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the molecule most commonly associated with cannabis.

Let’s take a closer look at delta-8, the therapeutic effects it can provide, and the recent controversy surrounding the compound.

What is Delta-8?

First isolated in 1966, delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol is an “isomer” of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol. This means its atoms have a slightly different arrangement than those in a delta-9 molecule. To be exact, the delta-8 molecule’s eighth carbon has a double bond. (The double bond is on the ninth carbon in a delta-9 THC molecule.)

Although the two molecules share similar pharmacological profiles, delta-8 causes less psychoactivity than delta-9. This makes it ideal for Medical Cannabis patients who want to relieve their symptoms while minimizing the “high” feeling.

The Farm Bill Loophole

In 2018, the Agricultural Improvement Act—also known as the 2018 Farm Bill—took effect, removing Cannabis sativa plants with low concentrations of delta-9 THC from the federal definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act.

It wasn’t long before some hemp and CBD companies found an interesting loophole. The only requirement for a cannabis plant to be grown as hemp is that the plant contains less than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC. Since delta-9 THC is the only psychotropic cannabinoid specified, delta-8 was ripe for development. Within months, hemp and CBD companies began to introduce delta-8 products into the market.

Why has Delta-8 Been in the News Lately?

In September 2021, the FDA and the CDC both released statements warning of some of the potential risks of delta-8.

Both agencies raised concerns about an uptick in delta-8-related “adverse event reports,” hospital and emergency room visits, and poison control center calls.

They also warned consumers that some products containing delta-8 THC may be labeled as hemp or CBD products.

Furthermore, both agencies warned consumers about the chemical conversion processes used to make delta-8 products.

“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,” the FDA’s statement says.

delta-8-thcDelta-8 in Utah

As delta-8 products started becoming available to consumers, several states moved to amend or clarify their laws regarding THC isomers.

Utah treats delta-8 THC the same way it treats delta-9 THC, meaning the substance is illegal outside of the state’s Medical Cannabis program. Medical Cannabis cardholders in Utah can still purchase and use delta-8 products from cannabis pharmacies.

Delta-8 products sold in Utah have to go through rigorous testing to ensure they’re at least 95% pure.

“That’s why from a medical market side, you know that the Delta 8 being produced there is safe because of the stringent rules the state has set. If they can’t meet that criteria it can’t make it into the market. So any Delta you produce in the state that gets into the medical market meets that criteria,” Zion Pharmaceuticals Chief Scientific Officer Blake Smith told us on a recent episode of the “Utah in the Weeds” podcast.

Smith recommends avoiding delta-8 products sold in markets that don’t require purity testing.

What Conditions Can It Treat?

Utah Therapeutic Health Center’s Tim Pickett recommends products with delta-8 for several types of patients. People with cancer-induced nausea, chronic nausea, or conditions that cause abdominal pain may find relief with delta-8.

In 1995, delta-8 THC proved beneficial in reducing nausea in a study of eight children undergoing chemotherapy for different blood cancers.

“Vomiting was completely eliminated. The side effects were negligible,” the study authors wrote.

According to Smith, clinical data shows delta-8 products help with colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and other gastrointestinal conditions.

Persistent nausea, Crohn’s disease, colitis, and cancer are all qualifying conditions for Medical Cannabis patients in Utah.

Is It Right for Me?

If you think delta-8 THC has potential in your own treatment plan, talk with your Qualified Medical Provider or a cannabis pharmacist. Together, you can discuss the large array of available cannabis treatments, including products with delta-8.

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By David Wells
Content Producer & Analyst at
Published October 24, 2021

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