marijuana plant | delta-8 thc
Read time: 6 min

Key points

  • Delta-8 THC is a less potent form of THC that’s legal in many states. 
  • The long-term effects of Delta-8 still aren’t understood, and some products may contain harmful substances.
  • With a lack of regulation, it’s incredibly important to make sure you research what you’re using. 

As the use of cannabis products becomes legal in states across the country, more and more marijuana derivatives—like CBD—are popping up in products from vapes and e-cigarettes to wellness teas and beauty balms. The latest cannabis compound to surge in popularity? Delta-8 THC. 

What is Delta-8 THC?

The cannabis plant (aka marijuana) contains 500 distinct compounds, including over 100 cannabinoids (the term used to describe the class of compounds found in the cannabis plant), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Those include the psychoactive Delta-9 THC (the compound that produces a “high”), non-high-inducing CBD, and Delta-8 THC, which falls somewhere in between.

THC

The compound in marijuana that gets you high is technically called Delta-9 THC, though most people know it simply as THC (short for tetrahydrocannabinol). When ingested or inhaled, it passes from the bloodstream to the brain, producing what most people experience as a slight euphoria and relaxation (although that’s not universal—for some people, THC triggers anxiety and paranoia). It’s not currently legal nationally, though many states have legalized medical and recreational use of marijuana in recent years. 

CBD

CBD, scientifically known as cannabidiol, is a non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant, meaning it doesn’t produce a high. CBD is completely legal, and the research on it is vast and varied. It’s been linked to health benefits like reducing anxiety, promoting sleep, and treating chronic pain, but it’s also unregulated, and there are concerns about dosing and sourcing in CBD products.  

Delta-8

Delta-8 THC, which is derived from hemp, is the new cannabinoid on the block. It’s essentially a light version of Delta-9, meaning it has similar but less potent psychoactive effects.

cannabinoid compounds | delta-8 thc
Is Delta-8 legal?

The short answer: It depends on where you live. On the federal level, Delta-8 is legal and unregulated thanks to a loophole in a 2018 farm bill, which legalized hemp (from which Delta-8 is often derived). But since then, several states have moved to ban its sale, including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Utah. 

Is using Delta-8 safe?

This is the real question. For starters, there’s almost no research on the effects of Delta-8 on humans, meaning it’s alleged benefits are unproven, and it’s unclear what risks might come with long-term use. 

The more immediate concern involves what you’re actually getting if you buy a product containing Delta-8, whether that’s a gummy or a vape. Since Delta-8 is unregulated, you can never be completely sure of what chemicals you’re actually ingesting. “If companies don’t third-party test their products for cannabinoid potency, [as well as] for heavy metals, pesticides, microbials, residual solvents, etc., then the public may be consuming potentially harmful products,” says Chris Adlakha, a pharmacist in Pflugerville, Texas, and owner of Elevated Wellness. 

For example, several studies by organizations—including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—that have analyzed commercially available CBD products (which are similarly unregulated) found that many not only contained wildly different doses of the cannabidiol than they claim but also contained contaminants such as nickel and mold. “That is why having third-party testing certificates of analysis is crucial when finding a product,” says Adlakha. 

cannabis product icons | delta-8 thc

If you’re using a vape pen to ingest Delta-8, there are additional contaminant concerns. E-cigarette vapor has been found to contain formaldehyde (an embalming agent), benzyne (a known carcinogen), and heavy metals. “As a whole, medical professionals do not know the long-term effects [of vaping] yet. I do not feel comfortable putting my health at risk,” says Renee M., a third-year undergraduate at Mount Carmel College of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio.

If Delta-8 is legal in your state and you’re old enough (between 18 and 21, depending on your state) to legally purchase it, Adlakha recommends doing your research—a lot of it. Make sure any brand you consider can prove it’s been tested by an independent third-party lab for both potency and contamination. “Find somewhere that not only does a great job of educating you on what to look for but also has the results to prove their products are safe and the labels have what they say they have,” he says. 

What should I use instead?

There is growing consensus among the medical community that cannabinoids including THC may be helpful in treating things like anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. But it’s important to be careful—and always consult with your medical provider—when using unregulated substances. 

“Without sweeping federal legalization, the risk of illicit and potentially dangerous products continues to fester,” says Steven Hawkins, interim president of the US Cannabis Council. If you want to avoid the risk, there are safer, better-regulated alternatives to Delta-8. 

In states where it’s legal, one option is Delta-9 THC. Many states that have legalized marijuana require dispensaries to submit to third-party testing so you know what you’re getting is safe. And, of course, there are many other non-cannabis-related ways to manage issues like anxiety and insomnia, ranging from mindfulness to therapy to doctor-prescribed medication. 

When in doubt, talk to your medical provider about solutions including Delta-8 and CBD. “It will always be a case-by-case basis for what is recommended because everybody’s body chemistry will be different,” says Adlakha.

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Article sources

Steven Hawkins, JD, CEO and interim president, US Cannabis Council, Washington DC.

Chris Adlakha, PharmD, pharmacist and owner, Grand Ave Pharmacy, Pflugerville, Texas. 

Blue Ridge Poison Center. (2021, March). Delta-8 THC: The latest cannabidiol. University of Virginia Health. https://med.virginia.edu/toxicology/wp-content/uploads/sites/268/2021/03/Mar21-Delta8THC.pdf 

Evans, D. G. (2020). Medical fraud, mislabeling, contamination: All common in CBD products. Missouri Medicine, 117(5), 394–399. 

Grinspoon, P. (2021, March 23). Beyond CBD: Here come the other cannabinoids, but where’s the evidence? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/beyond-cbd-here-come-the-other-cannabinoids-but-wheres-the-evidence-2021032322190 

Grinspoon, P. (2020, April 15). Cannabidiol—what we know and what we don’t. Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/cannabidiol-cbd-what-we-know-and-what-we-dont-2018082414476 

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. (2021, July). Marijuana laws by state. https://www.iihs.org/topics/alcohol-and-drugs/marijuana-laws-table 

Leafly. (2020, February 24). Cannabis testing regulations: A state-by-state guide. https://www.leafly.com/news/health/leaflys-state-by-state-guide-to-cannabis-testing-regulations 

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2021). PubChem compound summary for CID 638026, delta8-Tetrahydrocannabinol. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/delta8-Tetrahydrocannabinol

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 13). What is marijuana? https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-marijuana

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, April 19). What are marijuana’s effects? https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/marijuana/what-are-marijuana-effects

Sullivan, K. (2021, June 28). Delta-8 THC is legal in many states, but some want to ban it. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/delta-8-thc-legal-many-states-some-want-ban-it-n1272270