Delta-8-THC vs. Delta-9-THC: What’s the Difference?

According to the National Institute for Health (NIH), there are over 540 chemical substances in the cannabis plant. Estimates vary, but there are potentially over 110 cannabinoids. THC and CBD are the best-known and are the subject of the greatest level of research.

However, many people are unaware that the famed cannabinoid, THC, is called Delta-9-THC. There are other forms of tetrahydrocannabinol, including Delta-8-THC, which is starting to come to prominence. This article looks into the recent delta 8 vs. delta 9 debate.

What Is Delta-8-THC & How Is It Different from Delta-9?

Delta-8-THC is classified as a minor cannabinoid because it is available in tiny concentrations in cannabis and hemp plants. It is a degraded THC form that isn’t produced directly by the cannabinoid synthesizing enzymes in the plants. Storing THC for a significant period could cause it to degrade into delta-8.

Delta-9-THC is the cannabinoid associated with the intoxicating high we feel after using marijuana.

Delta-9-THC is the cannabinoid associated with the intoxicating high we feel after using marijuana. It is significantly more abundant than delta-8. Also, the laws surrounding delta-9 are far clearer.

Let’s further explore the delta-8-THC vs. delta 9 question by looking at the cannabinoids separately first.

What Is Delta-8-THC?

Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol is an analog of delta-9. This means it is a molecule with a similar structure but with some important differences.

Molecularly speaking, the cannabinoids are a lot alike. Both are isomers of THC, but there’s a difference in their chemical bonds. Delta-9-THC has a double bond on the ninth carbon chain. In contrast, Delta-8-THC has the same double bond on the eighth carbon chain. The result is a significant difference in potency.

Delta-8-THC Studies

A growing number of companies are trying to extract it from cannabis. There are several studies available that suggest delta-8-THC has therapeutic properties.

A study published in Life Sciences in 1995 looked at how delta-8 affected children aged 3-13 who had a form of hematologic cancer. The eight children had received various standard chemotherapy drugs for eight months before using the delta-8-THC cannabinoid. They consumed the delta-8 two hours before every chemotherapy session and continued every six hours for 24 hours.

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Overall, vomiting as a side effect of chemotherapy was entirely prevented. Moreover, the patients reported hardly any side effects.

A preclinical study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2018 looked into delta-8-THC’s effects on mice’s pain and inflammation. Researchers found that when applied topically, the cannabinoid helped reduce inflammation and pain. It achieved this via its impact on the CB1 receptors.

The United States National Library of Medicine suggests that delta-8 has anxiety-reducing properties like delta-9. According to anecdotal reports, delta-8 results in a focused and calm high.

What Is Delta-9-THC?

Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol is the best-known cannabinoid in the marijuana plant. Most people know it as THC, the compound responsible for causing an intoxicating high. It is also the best-researched cannabinoid, although legality issues have reduced the number of possible studies. However, it is believed to help with potentially dozens of medical conditions.

Delta-9-THC Studies

A study published in Toxicon in 2004 looked at the good and bad effects of delta-9-THC on humans. The author reviewed evidence from the previous 30 years. He found that it has clear positive effects on some pain conditions and nausea due to cancer chemotherapy. However, he also said that delta-9 could cause hallucinatory experiences and disturbing changes in perception.

There are thousands of other studies which suggest that delta-9-THC could help with a significant array of conditions.

A huge review of 10,000 studies regarding cannabis’ pain-relieving properties was published in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2017. It found that pain from inflammation and tissue damage were potentially treatable with cannabis.

There are thousands of other studies which suggest that delta-9-THC could help with a significant array of conditions.

Delta-9 Vs. Delta-8 – Similarities and Differences

When it comes to delta-9 vs. delta-8, the primary similarity is that they are both cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant. Both compounds:

  • Have molecular chains with double bonds.
  • Offer intoxicating effects.
  • Bind to the CB1 receptor.
  • Likely deliver similar impacts when used with other compounds. This phenomenon is called the entourage effect.
  • Seem to have medical potential. Delta-8 and delta-9 could boost appetite, decrease nausea, act as an analgesic, and much more.

However, there are plenty of differences too.

Potency & Effects

One of the most noticeable differences lies in their contrasting potencies. Although delta-8 and delta-9 bind to the CB1 receptor, the compounds don’t have the same action mechanisms. This is because their different molecular structure results in a different bond with the CB1 receptor.

The CB1 receptor is responsible for mediating most of THC’s psychotropic effects. The fact that delta-8 has a weaker bond with such receptors means it is about half as intoxicating as delta-9. Possible benefits could include a calmer, more manageable high.

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Also, delta-8 tends to bind with CB2 receptors present in the immune system and digestive tract. This could explain why delta-8 seems to have significantly better antiemetic effects than delta-9.

Adverse Effects

Both cannabinoids could cause negative side effects. We still know relatively little about delta-8-THC. However, a study published in 1976 found that delta-8 and delta-9 caused increased blood pressure in animals. This was because it constricted the blood vessels temporarily. The animals subsequently experienced a slower heart rate and fall in blood pressure.

Excessive delta-9 consumption could result in side effects such as anxiety, paranoia, and even hallucinations. As delta-8 is only half as potent, it is less likely to cause such problems.

Concentration in Plants

Breeders are constantly finding new ways to produce high-THC cannabis plants. It is common to find strains with over 25% THC, most of which becomes delta-9-THC. In contrast, most dried marijuana flower contains less than 1% delta-8-THC. Companies require the use of sophisticated equipment to extract delta-8 properly.


There is no debate as to whether delta-9-THC is illegal in the United States on a federal level. However, there is confusion over the legality of delta-8-THC. It was only in August 2020 that the DEA updated its list of controlled substances to include delta-8. Now, delta-8 derived from marijuana is illegal.

The regulations that have been introduced since the legalization of hemp have caused more confusion than ever.

Yet, no one seems sure if it is the same situation when the delta-8 comes from hemp. The assumption is that the 2018 Farm Bill allows it. After all, the legislation says that industrial hemp with a maximum of 0.3% THC is legal to grow in the United States. The suggestion is that this rule relates to delta-9-THC. As things stand, no one is sure, as the regulations that have been introduced since the legalization of hemp have caused more confusion than ever.

Final Thoughts on the Difference Between Delta 8 and Delta 9

In the delta 8 vs. delta 9 debate, both cannabinoids are indeed found in cannabis and hemp plants. However, there is relatively little delta-8 compared to delta-9, and it is about half as potent. Individuals looking to use cannabinoids to help manage various symptoms turn to delta-8 because it provides less intoxication.

As things stand, delta-8 from hemp is technically illegal, although no one is 100% sure. Hopefully, the law will become clear, so delta-8 manufacturers know where they stand.

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