March 24, 2021 5 min read

The way that Delta-8-THC is made has everything to do with whether it’s legal, safe, and effective. Unfortunately, not every company is willing to expose the gritty details behind their manufacturing process, but we’re going to break it down.

So, how is Delta-8-THC extracted so that it’s legal? And why does the Delta-8-THC extraction process matter so much?

Here’s what you need to know:

Delta-8 Extraction Table of Contents
Sourcing Delta-8-THC
The Delta-8-THC Extraction Process
Converting CBD to Delta-8-THC
Does Delta-8 Extract Contain Delta-9-THC?
Is Delta-8-THC Legal?
Resources

Key Takeaways

  • Delta-8-THC is naturally occurring in only very low quantities, so it’s typically made from CBD derived from legal hemp.
  • CBD is converted to Delta-8-THC through a process called “isomerization,” a unique conversion process that’s been around for decades.
  • The rest of the extraction process is the same as the process used to make CBD products.
  • If Delta-8 is extracted correctly, it’s legal in the U.S. in most states and can be ordered online with no hassle.

Sourcing Delta-8-THC

Before we can answer questions about Delta-8-THC extraction, we need to discuss where Delta-8 actually comes from:

A close up of a hemp plant, the natural material used for Delta-8-THC extractions.

Legal Delta-8-THC is Hemp-derived

Delta-8 is a natural cannabinoid found in almost all varieties of cannabis, including hemp. Manufacturing Delta-8 from hemp material makes it legal and accessible by federal law, so the majority of Delta-8 on the market is hemp-derived.

Delta-8 Degrades from Delta-8-THC

Hemp contains CBGA, a cannabinoid acid that’s known as “the mother of all cannabinoids,” which becomes THCA, which becomes Delta-9-THC through a process called decarboxylation, or a precise amount of heat exposure.

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.

Hemp-derived Delta-8-THC Concentrations are Low

Since Delta-8 is a product of Delta-9 degradation, it’s safe to assume that it’s available only in low quantities, especially in legal hemp material (which must contain less than 0.3% Delta-9-THC by law). In fact, Delta-8 is usually found in quantities lower than 1%.

Originally, this posed an issue for the researchers who discovered Delta-8-THC, especially after cannabis was made illegal in 1970.

That is until one prominent cannabinoid researcher, Raphael Mechoulam, discovered that Delta-8-THC existed as a CBD isomer, meaning the CBD molecule could be rearranged to create Delta-8-THC. Mechoulam filed for a patent in the early 2000’s that detailed a method for converting CBD into Delta-8-THC.

What is an isomer?

Delta-8-THC extraction relies on this "isomerization process," but what does that mean?

An "isomer" is the terminology used to describe two compounds that have the same components, just in a different order. In other words, CBD contains everything needed to become Delta-8, it just needs to be rearranged.

CBD (cannabidiol) is available in abundance in hemp material that is federally legal and accessible. Extracting cannabidiol is the first step to making many of the Delta-8-THC products on the market today.

The Delta-8-THC Extraction Process

Before Delta-8-THC can be made, CBD needs to be extracted from legal hemp material, usually using hemp flowers or hemp biomass (meaning the entire hemp plant). There are a variety of different methods that can be used for extracting Delta-8, but they all share a similar first step: Decarboxylation.

The decarboxylation process, commonly called “decarbing,” involves heating the hemp material to precise temperatures. Heat converts CBDa to CBD, which helps boost the potency of the extracted material.

After the material has been decarbed, one (or a combination) of various methods can be used to remove the CBD material from the dried plant material.

Common Delta-8-THC Extraction Methods

The methods used to make CBD products vary greatly, but they boil down to three popular, basic methods: solvent-based extraction, solventless extractions, and oil extractions.

Solventless extractions

These extractions, like Supercritical CO2 extractions or high-performance liquid chromatography, use no solvent. Instead, they require special equipment but are frequently described as “cleaner,” because no solvent can be left behind.

Solvent-based extractions

This method, like the infamous ethanol wash, requires a solvent. Ethanol breaks down and extracts the hemp material, and then some extra steps are required to remove leftover solvent from the extracted material.

Oil extractions

This is the oldest method, which involves using an oil base, like olive oil, and gently heating it to remove the cannabinoid material. This is similar to the way you make cannabis butter at home.

(Read Hemp and CBD Extraction Methods to learn more about the various techniques and how they differ.)

After the CBD material is extracted, it is carefully refined (through methods like winterization and distillation) to create CBD isolate. CBD isolate, a form of CBD that is 99% pure, is the material that is most frequently used to make Delta-8-THC products in the U.S.

Converting CBD to Delta-8-THC

A model showing the similarities in the CBD molecule and the Delta-8-THC molecule.

Once the CBD isolate material is ready, it needs to be transformed into Delta-8-THC through a process called “isomerization.”

More specifically, CBD has to be dissolved in a certain acid, most commonly 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.

Finally, the material is carefully refined once more to remove any unwanted materials, like leftover acids, to create a pure and potent Delta-8-THC oil. This material can be used to make the wide variety of Delta-8 products you’ll find on the market today.

Production After Delta-8-THC Extraction

In some cases, the Delta-8 extract is used as-is, or it may be mixed with various carrier oils, terpenescannabinoids, or flavor additives to create a Delta-8 product that is entirely unique.

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.

Does Delta-8 Extract Contain Delta-9-THC?

Usually, Delta-8 is made from a CBD-rich extract and the final product will contain no Delta-9-THC. In some cases, a full-spectrum product may contain trace amounts of Delta-9. Hemp products can legally contain up to 0.3% Delta-9-THC, but these trace amounts aren't enough to impact the effects of Delta-8 products.

Is Delta-8-THC Legal?

Since Delta-8-THC can be made through various methods, consumers must be careful to ensure that the Delta-8-THC they buy is made through legal manufacturing techniques.

In most cases, that means that the Delta-8 must be hemp-derived and made according to the hemp agriculture standards in the state where it was manufactured. Delta 8 that is made from federally legal hemp generally has the same legal status.

Keep in mind that Delta-8 laws vary by state. Read "Where is Delta-8-THC Legal?" for more information about your local Delta 8 laws.

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.

Looking 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. “Conversion of CBD to Δ8-THC and Δ9-THC” https://patents.google.com/patent/US7399872B2/en

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