You’re probably familiar with THC, the compound responsible for the cannabis high. But did you know that it comes in many forms?
When people talk about THC, they’re usually referring to delta-9, its most common form. But there’s another type called delta-8 THC. Delta-8 has received much attention lately as a legal alternative to cannabis in states where it’s outlawed.
While these two compounds are similar, they also differ in some important ways. Here’s a detailed look at delta 8 vs. delta 9 THC.
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Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or delta-9 THC for short, is one of over 140 naturally occurring phytocannabinoids found in cannabis. ¹
This psychoactive compound is usually the most abundant cannabinoid in the plant, accounting for as much as 30% of the weight of dry cannabis flower.
What is Delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 THC is a less-common form of THC. Cannabis plants typically contain less than 1% of this phytocannabinoid.
Delta-8 is an isomer of delta-9 THC. That means it has the same chemical formula but the atoms are arranged differently. As a result, delta-8 THC is less potent than its better-known cousin.
Scientists have been aware of delta-8 THC for decades. But it’s only receiving attention now because manufacturers figured out a way to make large quantities of delta-8 THC from hemp.
Delta-8 vs. Delta-9 THC: Key Differences
Delta-8 and delta-9 THC have a lot in common, like the fact that they can both get you high. But they also differ in some key ways, including their structure, potency, legality, availability, and more.
Much of the difference between delta-8 and delta-9 THC stems from their molecular structure.
Although they have the same chemical formula, the double carbon bond is located in a different place. For delta-8, it’s found at the 8th carbon atom, whereas for delta-9 THC it’s at the 9th.
This small difference explains why delta-8 is weaker than regular THC and is sometimes referred to as “diet weed.”
A comparison of delta 8 vs. delta 9 THC effects suggests that they’re virtually identical. Both cannabinoids interact with the brain’s cannabinoid type 1 receptors (CB1), causing you to feel high.
User reports of delta-8 THC also mention euphoria, relaxation, sedation, pain and anxiety relief, happiness, sleepiness, and increased appetite, which matches the effects of delta-9 THC.
However, delta-8 THC is about 33% weaker than delta 9. ² Also, a study in mice found that delta-8 THC increased appetite more than delta-9. ³
Legality is a key factor when comparing delta 8 vs. delta 9 THC. After all, delta-8’s relaxed legal status is largely responsible for its sudden popularity.
Unlike delta-9 THC, which is a controlled substance, delta-8 THC is federally legal. It has to do with a loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp across the nation. The bill limits hemp products to no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC but makes no mention of delta 8.
Since delta-8 THC is typically made from hemp-derived CBD, it’s legal under the bill’s definition.
But the situation is different on the state level. Delta-9 THC is allowed in recreational cannabis states, such as California and Colorado, as well as a long list of states with medical programs.
Meanwhile, delta-8 THC is legal in most states but banned or regulated like recreational cannabis in others. Incidentally, many of the states where delta-8 is legal outlaw adult cannabis use, resulting in high demand.
Uses & Benefits
Thanks to their similar effects, delta-8 and delta-9 THC have largely overlapping uses and benefits. Many people use them both recreationally and therapeutically.
According to a 2020 survey of 591 Americans, medical cannabis, which is rich in delta-9 THC, is most commonly used to relieve anxiety (49%), insomnia (47%), chronic pain (42%), and depression (39%). ⁴
Dronabinol and nabilone, two pharmaceutical drugs similar to delta-9 THC, are also used for chemotherapy-induced nausea and wasting caused by HIV. ⁵
Meanwhile, a 2021 survey found that roughly half of delta-8 users (51%) take it for medical reasons. Similar to medical cannabis, the most common conditions included anxiety (69%), stress (52%), depression or bipolar disorder (46%), and chronic pain (41%). ⁶
Many respondents also reported substituting delta-8 THC for delta-9 THC and prescription drugs.
The researchers concluded that “in comparison to delta-9-THC, results suggest that delta-8-THC may be equally effective for desired purposes of cannabis use and lower in undesirable or adverse effects.”
So while the two have similar uses, delta-8 is usually chosen by people who don’t have legal access to delta-9 THC or experience unwanted effects.
Safety & Side Effects
Delta-8 and delta-9 THC can cause the same side effects, including anxiety, red eyes, dry mouth, sleepiness, impaired memory, and slowed perception of time.
However, the side effects of delta-8 THC are milder. According to one 1995 study, delta 8 has “nonsignificant side effects.” ⁷ That’s why delta-8 THC may be a better option for people who get anxiety or panic attacks from regular delta-9 THC products.
But there is one important caveat. The delta-8 THC market is unregulated and full of bad actors. As a result, many delta 8 products carry contaminants and potentially harmful levels of delta-9 THC.
In comparison, regulated delta-9 THC products are far safer because they have to adhere to strict testing, labeling, and other requirements.
Another difference has to do with how the two cannabinoids are made. Cannabis plants are naturally abundant in delta-9 THC, making it easy to extract.
Delta-8 THC is different. Although cannabis plants produce some delta-8 THC naturally, the amounts are very small and not worth extracting. That’s why all of the delta-8 on the market is made from CBD, the popular non-intoxicating cannabinoid.
The process involves dissolving pure CBD in a solvent and adding a catalyst to produce a mix of delta-8 and other THC isomers. In that sense, the delta-8 THC sold on the market is not strictly “natural.”
Delta-8 and delta-9 are typically inhaled or ingested and come in similar types of products. But their most-used products differ.
Delta-9 THC is most commonly consumed by smoking cannabis flower, followed by edibles, vapes, shatter, tinctures, and other products. ⁸
On the other hand, delta-8 THC is usually consumed in the form of edibles and vape cartridges, with tinctures, sprayed hemp flower, capsules, and other products being less popular.
If you’re looking for a healthy combination of CBD and delta-8 THC products, NuLeaf Naturals has a versatile selection.
Delta-8 and delta-9 also differ in availability. Delta-8 is not only legal in more states but can also be shipped across state lines.
As a result, dozens of unregulated online delta-8 retailers can ship products straight to your doorstep. You can also easily find delta-8 THC products in vape shops, supplement stores, gas stations, and other brick-and-mortar retailers.
In contrast, while there is a thriving black market, delta-9 THC is only legally accessible at licensed dispensaries in recreational and medical states.
You’ll also have fewer online options because cannabis can’t be shipped across state borders and is subject to specific delivery laws.
Another potential difference has to do with drug testing. When your body metabolizes (processes) any form of THC, it breaks down into compounds called metabolites.
Urine drug tests typically look for delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol carboxylic acid (delta-9-THC-COOH), the main metabolite of delta-9 THC.
Research suggests that delta-8 produces a similar metabolite called delta-8-THC-COOH.
In one 2021 Swedish study, routine urine drug tests were able to detect this metabolite because of its close similarity to the one produced by delta-9. ⁹ But it’s not clear if delta-8-THC-COOH will result in a positive test.
However, even if you don’t test positive from this metabolite, most delta-8 products also contain enough delta-9 THC to show up on a test.
The bottom line is that there’s a good chance you’ll test positive for THC after using a delta-8 product, especially after prolonged use.
Delta 8 and delta 9 THC are closely related phytocannabinoids that can get you high.
That aside, they differ in some key ways like potency, legality, and production. It’s enough to consider choosing one over the other.
As a general rule of thumb, most people prefer delta-9 THC. But if you’re looking for milder effects, want to avoid anxiety, or don’t have legal access to cannabis, then delta-8 is a popular alternative.
Gleb Oleinik is a freelance CBD & cannabis writer from Vancouver, Canada. He’s read thousands of studies about cannabinoids and other beneficial natural compounds, helping him translate complex science into plain language. He’s also written third-party lab test reports of CBD products and knows the industry inside and out. When he’s not writing, Gleb likes to spend his time in the gym and out in nature.
Frequently Asked Questions
Delta-9 THC is the main intoxicating cannabinoid in cannabis and the most common form of THC.
It depends on the individual. People prone to anxiety or other side effects of delta-9 THC may find that delta-8 suits them better. Similarly, people who want to use THC therapeutically and dislike getting high may prefer the milder effects of delta-8.