February 25, 2021 5 min read

With legal Delta-8 products popping up all across the U.S., many people are wondering how it stacks up against the more common THC product on the market, Delta-9-THC. Here, we take an in-depth look at Delta-8 vs Delta-9-THC in terms of effects, legality, product types, and much more.

Let’s jump straight to the facts:

Table of Contents
Chemistry
Effects
Legality
Accessibility
Dosing Method
Use
Shelf Life
Resources

Key Takeaways

  • Delta-8 and Delta-9 are chemically similar, differing only by one atomic bond.
  • The effects of Delta-9 are a milder version of what you may experience from Delta-9.
  • Delta-8 is federally legal, which makes it far more accessible than Delta-9-THC products, which are still highly restricted in many areas across the U.S.

Chemistry

A model showing the Delta-8 vs Delta-9-THC molecules.

The molecular structure of Delta-8 and Delta-9-THC are almost identical.

In fact, the only difference between the two cannabinoids is one atomic bond. They share the exact same structure, except for a slight difference in their double bond (identified by the signifier "delta"). Delta-9's double bond is at chain position 9, while delta-8's comes one carbon atom sooner, at position 8.

If this sounds confusing, don’t fret.

Thankfully, it's really only important for cannabinoid researchers, extraction technicians, and manufacturers to understand. As a consumer you just need to know that Delta-8 and Delta-9 are very much alike with only a few key differences.

Effects

Because they are molecularly similar, there’s not a lot of difference in Delta 8 vs Delta-9-THC effects.

Generally speaking, Delta-8 is known for having psychoactive effects just like Delta-9’s, but to a lesser degree. The effects of Delta-8-THC are thought to be about half as potent as the effects of Delta-9, but are often described as “euphoric” or “relaxing.”

Delta-9-THC is known for having potent psychoactive effects that are sometimes sedating, but not always. Delta-8 is not frequently linked to the “couchlock” feeling of some potent Delta-9 products.

Just like Delta-9, Delta-8 is thought to encourage many of the same effects, like reducing stress, enhancing mood, and increasing appetite.

Read our article about Delta-8-THC effects to learn more.

Legality

Delta-9-THC’s legalityis a heavily debated topic and the political space surrounding cannabis use is constantly changing. Delta-9-THC is federally defined as a Controlled Substance, though some states have taken the initiative to legalize cannabis under their own jurisdiction.

Still, cannabis is legal only for medicinal use, which is subject to strict regulations, in just over half of the U.S. states. Even less states have legalized it for recreational use. Plus, the lack of federal support makes it difficult to get funding for research or business purposes in the cannabis space, which may hold the industry back in various ways.

Delta-8-THC legality is also a confusing subject that many people see as a “legal grey area.” Technical details seem to settle the matter for now, but keep in mind that laws regarding cannabinoids are still subject to change as hemp regulations are ironed out by the DEA and FDA.

Delta-8-THC has been listed in the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I substance alongside delta-9-THC since before hemp was legalized on a federal level. However, the 2018 Farm Bill (the bill that effectively legalized hemp) includes a clause in Section 12619b that specifically addresses tetrahydrocannabinols in hemp.

The wording clearly suggests that Delta-8-THC that is naturally derived from industrial hemp which contains less than 0.3% Delta-9-THC is specifically exempt from scheduling.

Hemp material growing indoors, the federally legal material used to make Delta-8-THC products that are ultra accessible.

In short, Delta-9-THC is considered a Controlled Substance, and is therefore federally illegal. Delta-8 derived from hemp is specifically exempt from the Controlled Substances act and is legal by federal law.

Accessibility

The accessibility of Delta-8 vs Delta-9-THC is the primary area where the two cannabinoids differ.

Delta-9-THC products are currently accessible to approved medicinal patients in roughly half of U.S. states, and only a fraction of those states have fully legalized cannabis products for adult use. Even in legal areas, use and possession is subject to tight restrictions.

Plus, Delta-9 products can only be bought at state licensed dispensaries that aren’t always wide spread and accessible. The cannabis market is known for having various hiccups and delays, especially in the first few years after a state legalizes cannabis.

Delta-8-THC is much more accessible for the average consumer. As we described above, Delta-8-THC is generally made from hemp, which is legal on a federal scale. Hemp-derived tetrahydrocannabinols have been specifically removed from the Controlled Substances Act, and many states have taken steps to legalize Delta-8-THC on a local level, too.

Unlike Delta-9, Delta-8-THC products are available in the majority of U.S. states and there are very few regulations (and no medical requirements) concerning who can buy Delta-8 products. Since it’s federally legal, you can buy Delta-8-THC online and have it shipped to your door.

For more information on where you can buy Delta-8-THC, check out “Where is Delta-8-THC legal?

Dosing Methods

A person smoking cannabis flower, the most common way to consumer Delta-9-THC

Delta-8 and Delta-9 can both be found in various forms, including tinctures, vaporizers, edibles, and more. The Delta-9 market generally has more variety because it’s a larger, more established space.

Delta-9 flower is the most popular traditional THC dosing method.

Because Delta-8 occurs in only small concentrations and generally needs to be made from legal CBD, Delta-8 flower is not nearly as accessible. Since Delta-8 is more difficult to source, vaporizers, edibles, and tinctures are the more efficient way to dose.

Use

Cannabis use is widespread across the world. In the U.S. particularly, Delta-9 is used for a variety of medicinal and recreational purposes. In states where cannabis is legal, a doctor may recommend cannabis to patients diagnosed with a range of medical conditions, like chronic pain, cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy, and more.

It’s unclear if Delta-8 carries the exact same medicinal potential as Delta-9, and more research is needed to understand all of Delta-8’s potential benefits.

Delta-8-THC is thought to have plenty of therapeutic potential (and because it’s more shelf stable than Delta-9, it may pose a range of benefits for pharmaceutical applications). However, it is not currently FDA approved as a treatment for any conditions.

Instead, people currently use Delta-8-THC to experience it's recreational, uplifting, relaxing, and euphoric effects. It’s commonly chosen as a Delta-9-THC alternative because of its widespread accessibility.

Shelf Life

Delta-8 is much more stable than Delta-9 and therefore has a longer shelf life. Over time, Delta-9-THC slowly degrades into CBN, a cannabinoid commonly linked to sleep.

Since Delta-8 is already a “degraded” version of natural hemp cannabinoids, it doesn’t degrade into CBN. While it may lose some potency over time due to natural factors, Delta-8 maintains its same chemical structure and offers the same effects even when stored for long periods of time.

Resources

  1. “Farm Bill” https://www.usda.gov/farmbill
  2. “H.R.2 - Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018” https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2/text

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