Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (D8, Delta-8, or D8-THC) is a less psychoactive cannabinoid that gives users a “gentler” high than the natural delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D9-THC or THC) found in marijuana. Delta 8-THC doesn’t naturally occur in significant amounts in hemp or marijuana. It is made by chemically converting non-psychoactive cannabinol (CBD). After conversion, it is used to make products like delta-8 vapes or hemp flower sprayed with delta-8 that can be smoked like marijuana.CBD is also being converted to other intoxicating cannabinoids like delta-O THC, delta-10 THC, and HHC.
These intoxicating cannabinoids that are artificially created from non-psychoactive CBD are technically legal because they started from hemp. However, there is a lot that is unknown about them and most cannabis laboratories don’t even have the ability to test the potency of delta-O THC, delta-10 THC, and HHC. The recent article “The Dark Side of Cannabidiol: The Unanticipated Social and Clinical Implications of Synthetic Δ8-THC. Cannabis and cannabinoid research” explains what consumers need to be aware of when it comes to these new cannabinoids.
What are THC Isomers?
Delta-8-THC is made using a process called “the acid-catalyzed ring closure of cannabidiol (ACRCC).” This chemical process creates isomers of THC, that is, molecules with the same formula but a different arrangement of atoms. These THC-alike synthetic cannabinoids have soared in popularity in states where recreational cannabis is not legal. CBD companies have struggled to profit as the popularity of CBD dwindles, so this new rush to market intoxicating hemp products has also benefitted them. However, there are many issues of safety and quality that are quickly arising.
Researchers explain that THC isomer production requires the use of flammable reaction solvents, highly corrosive acidic reagents, hydrochloric acid, and heat. Since delta-8-THC and other THC isomers are not regulated, these dangerous chemicals are not necessarily being used, handled, or disposed of under any sort of regulation. There is the potential that workers could be endangered, and the possibility that dangerous chemicals are being left in the end product. No residual solvent or heavy metal testing is required for these products so while we hope best practices are being used, nothing can be confirmed.
Another big issue is that, unlike recreational cannabis, hemp products have little requirement for accurate potency testing. Hemp must be tested at harvest to ensure it contains less than 0.3% THC. CBD and delta-8-THC products also must have less than 0.3% THC by volume. However, there are no requirements to ensure accurate sampling that produces reliable results. Recreational cannabis products have statistically derived sampling requirements to ensure test accuracy. A CBD or delta-8-THC producer might just test a single unit though. This is why many CBD companies have been warned by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for not having accurate potency that matches their labeling. As mentioned, it is also not possible for most cannabis labs to test the potency of novel cannabinoids and the testing methods for delta-8-THC are not necessarily accredited methods since it is unregulated.
Delta-8-THC and EVALI
Another risk this research paper addresses is the surge in vaping-related lung injury (EVALI) since 2019. A major cause of this was the use of Vitamin E as a thinning agent in vapes, however, there are elusive cases that do not involve Vitamin E. Researchers are still working to fully understand this medical condition. Currently, researchers believe that Vitamin E is dangerous to inhale because it has a long carbon tail in its chemical structure. THC isomers like delta-8-THC are concerning because they also have long carbon tails. These tails are shorter than Vitamin E’s, but long enough to raise alarm. Hospitals lack the ability to test EVALI patients for delta-8-THC, so it is unknown if D8 vapes are contributing to EVALI cases. Researchers do point out that the places where the most cases of EVALI are occurring are also places where delta-8-THC consumption is the highest.
Is Delta-8 THC Dangerous?
Scientists really don’t know if delta-8-THC and other THC isomers like HHC, delta-10-THC, and delta-O-THC are safe. The short and long-term adverse effects of these synthetic cannabinoids are truly unknown. These products have a lot of risks and little to no regulation. The FDA has largely failed to take action to protect consumers so the industry has run wild. The concerns pointed out in this research paper aren’t new, but they do reveal more about how THC isomers are being produced. It is always safest to purchase cannabinoid products in a state-licensed dispensary, but not all Americans live in a state where that is possible. At the end of the day, federal cannabis legalization is a simple step that could eliminate the ongoing gray market of sketchy marijuana-alike products and give consumers access to safe cannabinoid products.
Geci, M., Scialdone, M., & Tishler, J. (2022). The Dark Side of Cannabidiol: The Unanticipated Social and Clinical Implications of Synthetic Δ8-THC. Cannabis and cannabinoid research.
Sabine Downer is a scientist and cannabis writer with a passion for education. She has been writing for various clients in the cannabis space since 2015 and has worked in biotechnology since 2010. Along with content creation, she is also a knowledgeable resource on quality assurance, regulatory, and legal topics.