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Delta-8-THC: Delta-9-THC’s nicer younger sibling?

Published: 04 January 2022

Journal of Cannabis Research volume 4, Article number: 4 (2022) Cite this article


Background Products containing delta-8-THC became widely available in most of the USA following the 2018 Farm Bill and by late 2020 were core products of hemp processing companies, especially where delta-9-THC use remained illegal or required medical authorization. Research on experiences with delta-8-THC is scarce, some state governments have prohibited it because of this lack of knowledge. Objective

We conducted an exploratory study addressing a broad range of issues regarding delta-8-THC to inform policy discussions and provide directions for future systematic research.

Methods We developed an online survey for delta-8-THC consumers, including qualities of delta-8-THC experiences, comparisons with delta-9-THC, and open-ended feedback. The survey included quantitative and qualitative aspects to provide a rich description and content for future hypothesis testing. Invitations to participate were distributed by a manufacturer of delta-8-THC products via social media accounts, email contact list, and the Delta8 discussion board. Participants (N = 521) mostly identified as White/European American (90%) and male (57%). Pairwise t tests compared delta-8-THC effect rating items; one-sample t tests examined responses to delta-9-THC comparison items.

Results Most delta-8-THC users experienced a lot or a great deal of relaxation (71%); euphoria (68%) and pain relief (55%); a moderate amount or a lot of cognitive distortions such as difficulty concentrating (81%), difficulties with short-term memory (80%), and alerted sense of time (74%); and did not experience anxiety (74%) or paranoia (83%). Participants generally compared delta-8-THC favorably with both delta-9-THC and pharmaceutical drugs, with most participants reporting substitution for delta-9-THC (57%) and pharmaceutical drugs (59%). Participant concerns regarding delta-8-THC were generally focused on continued legal access.

Conclusions Delta-8-THC may provide much of the experiential benefits of delta-9-THC with lesser adverse effects. Future systematic research is needed to confirm participant reports, although these studies are hindered by the legal statuses of both delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC. Cross-sector collaborations among academics, government officials, and representatives from the cannabis industry may accelerate the generation of knowledge regarding delta-8-THC and other cannabinoids. A strength of this study is that it is the first large survey of delta-8 users, limitations include self-report data from a self-selected convenience sample.

Background Among hundreds of cannabinoids, delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC, Δ8-THC) has rapidly risen in popularity among consumers of cannabis products. Delta-8-THC is an isomer or a chemical analog of delta-9-THC, the molecule that produces the experience of being high when ingesting cannabis (Qamar et al. 2021). Delta-8-THC differs in the molecular structure from delta-9-THC in the location of a double bond between carbon atoms 8 and 9 rather than carbon atoms 9 and 10 (Razdan 1984). Due to its altered structure, delta-8-THC has a lower affinity for the CB1 receptor and therefore has a lower psychotropic potency than delta-9-THC (Hollister and Gillespie 1973; Razdan 1984). Delta-8-THC is found naturally in Cannabis, though at substantially lower concentrations than delta-9-THC (Hively et al. 1966). It can also be synthesized from other cannabinoids (e.g., Hanuš and Krejčí 1975).

The 2018 Farm Bill did not specifically address delta-8-THC, but effectively legalized the sale of hemp-derived delta-8-THC products with no oversight. Its popularity grew dramatically in late 2020, gaining the attention of cannabis consumers and processors throughout the United States. As of early 2021, delta-8-THC is considered one of the fastest-growing segments of hemp derived products, with most states having access (Richtel 2021). Yet, little is known about experiences with delta-8-THC or effects in medical or recreational users (Hollister and Gillespie 1973; Razdan 1984).

In 1973, delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC were administrated to six research participants. Despite the small sample size, researchers concluded that delta-8-THC was about two-thirds as potent as delta-9-THC and was qualitatively similar in experiential effects (Hollister and Gillespie 1973; Razdan 1984). In 1995, researchers gave delta-8-THC to eight pediatric cancer patients two hours before each chemotherapy session. Over the course of 8 months, none of these patients vomited following their cancer treatment. The researchers concluded that delta-8-THC was a more stable compound than the more well-studied delta-9-THC (Abrahamov et al. 1995, consistent with other findings (Zias et al. 1993), and suggested that delta-8-THC could be a better candidate than delta-9-THC for new therapeutics.

In recent months, 14 U.S. States have blocked the sale of delta-8-THC due to the lack of research into the compound’s psychoactive effects (Sullivan 2021). All policies and practices, including those related to substance use and public health, should be informed by empirical evidence. The current study seeks to better understand the experiences of people who use delta-8-THC to inform policy discussions and provide directions for future systematic research. Because this is the first large survey of delta-8-THC consumers, we take an exploratory approach to describe experiences with delta-8-THC. We combine quantitative rating items with open-ended qualitative items enabling participants to provide feedback which is rich in content.



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