March 09, 2021 5 min read

You may have already heard the news—Delta-8-THC is federally legal because it’s made from hemp. What isn’t quite common knowledge yet is just how Delta-8-THC is made into the wide variety of products you can now find in stores and online all over the U.S.

The actual Delta-8-THC content in hemp is pretty low. Fortunately, savvy scientists have found a way to create Delta-8-THC through other methods by using legal CBD extracted from hemp.

Here’s a run down on the process:

Table of Contents
Natural Delta-8-THC in Hemp
How Delta-8-THC is Made from CBD
Is Delta-8 Synthetic?
How to Make Sure Delta-8-THC is Legally Made
Resources

Key Takeaways

  • Delta-8 can be found naturally in the hemp plant, but usually in low concentrations that make extraction techniques an inefficient way to make Delta-8 products.
  • Delta-8 can be synthesized from CBD through a process called “isomerization.”
  • Because this form of Delta-8-THC exists as an isomer, it is legal by the definition used to legalize hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill.
  • Delta-8 products should be accompanied by third-party lab tests to prove potency.

Natural Delta-8 in Hemp

An industrial hemp plant, the only federally legally source of Delta-8-THC products.

Little known fact: Delta-8 is a natural cannabinoid found in almost all varieties of cannabis, including hemp.

Just like Delta-9, it is created through a natural process starting with CBGA, a cannabinoid acid that’s known as “the mother of all cannabinoids.” CBGA becomes THCA, which becomes Delta-9-THC through a process called decarboxylation, which is basically just exposure to heat for a precise amount of time.

Delta-8-THC is a degraded version of Delta-9 that’s created when oxidation happens. This may be the reason that Delta-8 is thought to be less potent than Delta-9, and the reason that it doesn’t degrade quickly when exposed to air, giving it a long shelf life.

The two cannabinoids are only one carbon placement apart, but they have a few key differences. Particularly, Delta-9-THC can be found in concentrations as high as 30% in some strains, but delta-8-THC only exists in quantities lower than 1 percent in natural cannabis material.

This low concentration makes it extremely difficult to make use of Delta-8 through a simple extraction technique, the process used to extract many popular cannabinoids, like CBD or CBG, from hemp. Extracting enough Delta-8 to create a concentrated product would require a lot of cannabis material, and would therefore be far too costly for consumers to enjoy Delta-8’s effects.

Originally, Delta-8-THC products were being made from Delta-9-THC through a simple degradation process, but this type of Delta-8 product isn’t legal according to federal standards.

Thankfully, cannabinoid experts have now learned how to create Delta-8-THC from one bountiful hemp-derived cannabinoid—CBD—which makes it legal according to the 2018 Farm Bill.

How Delta-8-THC is Made from CBD

The process used to make Delta-8-THC can sound a little confusing if you aren’t a chemist, but it’s actually pretty straightforward. We’ll break it down:

The initial process for making Delta-8 is the same as the process used to make high-quality hemp CBD products. Hemp is grown and harvested at peak cannabinoid concentration, and then one of various extraction techniques is used to extract CBD (and sometimes other cannabinoids) from the raw plant material. The CBD is refined to remove unwanted plant materials, like various waxes, chlorophyll, or residual solvent. The final result is pure, unadulterated CBD extract.

Unless you’re making Delta-8-THC, in which case you’ll need to use a process called “isomerization.” As defined by Britannica, Isomerization is

“the chemical process by which a compound is transformed into any of its isomeric forms, i.e., forms with the same chemical composition but with different structure or configuration and, hence, generally with different physical and chemical properties.”

A model comparing the structure of the Delta-8 molecule and the CBD molecule.

This explains, using technical language, a phenomenon that rings true for almost all cannabinoids: they can easily be changed from one cannabinoid to the next.

Hence why CBGA transforms into a variety of different cannabinoids, including CBDA, THCA, and CBCA, which are precursors to CBD, THC, and CBC. The cannabinoid that CBGA transforms into depends on the enzyme it comes in contact with.

In other words, cannabinoids become other cannabinoids via particular chemical reactions. The same is true for CBD—a chemical process is used to transform it into its isomer, Delta-8-THC.

More specifically, CBD has to be dissolved in glacial acetic acid. This chemical process first converts some of the CBD to Delta-9-THC, but after 72 hours over half of the original CBD material will become Delta-8-THC. The final result is carefully refined to concentrate the Delta-8 material and remove any unwanted chemicals.

Thus, through this method, CBD extract becomes a highly concentrated Delta-8 extract that can be used to make a variety of different products, just like CBD. Regardless of whether the material is used to make vaporizers or edibles or something in between, a good manufacturer will also use a batch-testing process to verify potency and safety.

Although Delta-8-THC is a natural cannabinoid, there are various things that could go wrong during the isomerization process that would result in low Delta-8 concentrations. For that reason, third-party lab tests are used to hold a manufacturer accountable, prove label accuracy, and otherwise mark a Delta-8 product as honest and legitimate.

Is Delta-8 Synthetic?

Because the Delta-8-THC that is commonly sold in the U.S. market is a product of isomerization, many people speculate whether or not these Delta-8 products are synthetic.

That would pose some pretty big issues, since synthetic cannabinoids (aside from a few FDA approved pharmaceuticals) are listed as Controlled Substances.

Thanks to how Delta-8-THC is made, that isn't quite the case. The isomerization process doesn’t match the process used to make synthetic cannabinoids, like K2 or spice. These types of cannabinoids are generally made in a lab through a chain of chemical processes, and they contain no actual cannabis material at all.

Instead, Delta-8-THC is more accurately described as an “isomer.”

The Hemp Farming Act of 2018, or the bill that officially legalized hemp in the U.S., defines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”

By definition, Delta-8-THC as an isomer of CBD, falls under the definition of hemp and is therefore legal by federal law.

A Delta-8-THC vaproizer, one example of the many types of products that can be legally made with Delta-8-THC.

How to Make Sure Delta-8-THC is Legally Made

Since Delta-8-THC can be made through various methods, consumers must be careful to check how Delta-8-THC is made to ensure the products they buy are made through legal cannabinoid extraction techniques.

Check out the products before you buy. They need to be made from hemp that is Farm Bill Complaint. The original hemp material and the final product needs to contain less than 0.3% Delta-9-THC.

At Vida Optima, all of our Delta-8-THC products are 100% Farm Bill compliant and are accompanied by lab tests that prove label accuracy. For legal Delta-8 products you can buy online, check out our entire Delta-8-THC collection.

Resources

  1. “Cannabis, a complex plant: different compounds and different effects on individuals” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3736954/
  2. “H.R.2 - Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018” https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/2/text
  3. “Isomerization” https://www.britannica.com/science/isomerization

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