Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of the most abundant compounds in the cannabis plant. In clinical trials, it has been proven effective for the treatment of glaucoma, anxiety, pain, nausea, and other conditions, reports Medical News Today. But despite its benefits, it has a bad rap due to its psychoactive effects.
What you may not know is that there are four main forms of THC, and each has different properties. These include delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, THCA, and THCV, with the first two being the most popular. Their benefits and potential risks depend on the dosage used.
When it comes to delta-8 vs. delta-9 THC, it’s important to know that both compounds occur naturally in the hemp camp. Cannabis-based products with less than 0.3% delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis were legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. The legal status of delta-8 THC is still unclear—but more on that later.
So, what’s the difference between delta-8 and delta-9 THC? And which one is right for you? Below we’ll discuss their similarities and differences to help you make an informed decision.
Understanding the Different Forms of THC
As mentioned earlier, the cannabis plant contains several forms of THC. Some are more potent than others. Let’s see a few examples:
- THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid), a THC precursor found in the leaves, flowers, and steams of the cannabis plant.
This compound comes in different forms and exhibits neuroprotective, anti-inflammatory, and antiemetic properties. In the U.S., it’s typically sold in powder form in medical and recreational marijuana dispensaries.
- THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), a major cannabinoid that results from THCA breakdown. Unlike CBD (cannabidiol) and other compounds, it’s not available in isolated forms, but it can be found in full-spectrum cannabis and hemp products. Its effects are similar to those of delta-9 THC.
Some studies suggest that THCV may protect the brain, regulate blood sugar, and improve glucose metabolism. It also suppresses appetite and may aid in weight management. Plus, it’s non-psychoactive, meaning that it won’t get you “high.”
- Delta-8 THC, a psychoactive compound with neuroprotective, analgesic, antiemetic, and anti-anxiety effects. This cannabinoid isn’t as potent as delta-9 THC, but it has several potential benefits on human health.
Research suggests that delta-8 THC may benefit people with glaucoma, reduce nausea and vomiting, and relieve ocular pain.
- Delta-9 THC is the primary active component of cannabis. When used in appropriate doses, it may alleviate chronic pain, improve fibromyalgia symptoms, and relieve depression. Like other forms of THC, it has neuroprotective and antiemetic effects.
Note that hemp and cannabis products usually contain a combination of THC and CBD, with varying amounts of delta-8 and delta-9 THC.
Here’s what you should know about these two forms of tetrahydrocannabinol so you can choose the best products for your needs.
What Is Delta-8 THC?
The cannabis plant contains trace amounts of delta-8 THC, an analog of tetrahydrocannabinol. This compound has similar effects to delta-9 THC, but it’s about half less potent than the latter, says Discover Magazine.
Delta-8 THC is also less psychoactive than Delta-9 THC. Therefore, it’s less likely to cause adverse reactions. Moreover, it may have additional health benefits compared to regular THC, but further research is needed to confirm these findings.
The primary difference between delta-8 and delta-9 THC lies in their molecular structure. The former has the double bond on the eighth carbon in the chain, explains Discover Magazine.
Delta-8 THC appears to be safer for older adults and other individuals who are sensitive to regular THC. However, its effects depend largely on the dosage used. When consumed in high doses, this compound can get you high—just like delta-9 THC.
Consumers can purchase delta-8 THC in the form of vape cartridges, tinctures, pre-rolled joints, or edible gummies. These products have a more gradual effect than those based on delta-9 THC. They’re generally safe, but large doses may cause dizziness, tinnitus, dry mouth, fatigue, and other mild-to-moderate side effects.
Potential Health Benefits of Delta-8 THC
As discussed above, delta-8 THC produces similar effects to delta-9 THC.
One of the first studies conducted on this substance found that it may prevent vomiting in children. These findings confirm its antiemetic properties. Other studies suggest that delta-8 THC may help with the following:
- Reduce pain and inflammation
- Decrease anxiety
- Stimulate appetite
- Enhance mental focus
- Increase energy levels
- Promote relaxation
- Support brain health
For example, a 2018 study published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research reports that delta-8 THC may reduce pain and inflammation resulting from corneal injuries.
This compound may also protect against brain damage by reducing the turnover rate of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that regulates memory, muscle function, and other processes. Moreover, it may help decrease anxiety levels, according to the experts at Compassionate Healthcare of Florida.
Other studies report that delta-8 THC stimulates appetite and may help increase food intake. Therefore, it may benefit individuals who are ill or struggling with eating disorders.
Compassionate Healthcare of Florida also states that delta-8 THC may improve mental focus. Unlike other forms of THC, this substance doesn’t cause brain fog, paranoia, and other symptoms affecting mental clarity.
Delta-8 THC Side Effects
This cannabinoid has a good safety profile. However, it may still cause adverse reactions when used in large doses.
In one study, rats treated with Delta-8 THC experienced dose-dependent increases in blood pressure followed by hypotensive responses. Their resting heart rate decreased, too. Delta-9 THC had similar effects.
In human studies, delta-8 THC had the opposite effect. Subjects who used this compound experienced an increase in heart rate. As the researchers note, THC tends to affect humans and animals differently.
Also, note that delta-8 THC carries similar side effects as delta-9 THC. Large doses may cause memory problems, hallucinations, racing thoughts, muscle tension, and other adverse reactions. These effects are milder than those associated with delta-9, but they can still occur.
As a general rule, start with a low dose and increase it gradually. Purchase delta-8-THC from reputable brands that can guarantee the purity and quality of their products.
What Is Delta-9 THC?
Most cannabis products available on the market contain delta-9 THC. This compound is more intoxicating and has stronger psychotropic effects than delta-8, but it also offers potential health benefits.
Delta-9 THC was discovered in 1964. After ingestion, it binds to the endocannabinoid receptors located in the cerebral cortex and other brain areas that regulate memory, thinking, and motor function.
Compared to delta-8, this substance is absorbed and distributed to the brain and other organs in a shorter time.
Once ingested, it reaches peak levels in the blood within 60 to 120 minutes. Sometimes, it takes up to six hours to feel its effects, reports the World Health Organization (WHO).
Its absorption rate depends on the dosage, route of administration, and the presence or absence of food. It also varies from one individual to another. After consumption, it’s metabolized by the liver and distributed to the heart, lungs, and other organs and tissues.
Consumers can purchase delta-9 THC in liquid, spray, capsule, or tablet form. Many brands also sell gummies, brownies, truffles, and other cannabis edibles containing varying amounts of THC. Some users prefer to smoke or vape THC products.
Another option is to use creams, lotions, oils, and other topical products formulated with THC. This route of administration may help with localized pain and inflammation.
What Are Its Benefits?
Delta-9 THC may relieve nausea, prevent vomiting, stimulate appetite, and decrease pain, according to the National Institutes of Health. When used in low doses, this compound may help with opioid addiction and improve multiple sclerosis symptoms.
Other potential benefits include:
- Reduce depression and anxiety
- Suppress inflammation
- Alleviate chronic pain
- Improve the symptoms of ulcerative colitis and other inflammatory bowel diseases
- Relieve migraines
- Reduce seizures
- Decrease stress and promote relaxation
- Improve sleep
For example, a 2016 study featured in Behavioural Pharmacology suggests that THC may benefit those who are addicted to heroin and make it easier to quit the drug. As the WHO notes, this cannabinoid stimulates the brain’s reward center, inducing feelings of pleasure.
Like CBD, delta-9 THC may also reduce depression symptoms in some users, reports the University of Washington. Other studies indicate that it may lead to better sleep.
In a clinical trial, more than 60% of the migraine patients using medical cannabis (which contains both CBD and THC) experienced significant improvements in their symptoms. As the scientists point out, both compounds have anti-migraine effects.
Potential Risks and Side Effects of Delta-9 THC
Despite its potential benefits, this compound carries a higher risk of adverse reactions than delta-8.
First of all, it’s highly psychoactive and can lead to addiction. Second, it may cause withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, cravings, and insomnia.
But even so, delta-9 THC has low toxicity compared to most recreational and prescription drugs, says the WHO.
A lethal dose would be around 4 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to the same source. It’s virtually impossible to use that much THC, regardless of the administration route.
However, large doses may affect the nervous, cardiovascular, reproductive, and immune systems. The WHO warns that delta-9 THC can increase heart rate, cause hallucinations, and impair memory. Other side effects may include:
- Cognitive impairment
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dissociative thinking
These adverse reactions are dose-dependent and may vary among users.
The cannabis products available on the market contain less than 0.3% THC, so they’re unlikely to cause major side effects. Dabs, on the other hand, contain up to 80% THC, which may increase the risks involved.
Delta-8 vs. Delta-9 THC
By now, you should have a better understanding of delta-8 vs. delta-9 THC. Both compounds can benefit your health or cause toxicity, depending on the dosage used. While they have similar effects, delta-9 is stronger and more potent.
First, consider their molecular composition. As mentioned earlier, delta-8 THC has a double bond on the ninth carbon in the chain. Delta-9, by comparison, has it on the ninth carbon.
Another difference lies in their availability. Delta-8 occurs in small amounts (about 1%) in the cannabis plant. Delta-9, on the other hand, occurs in significantly larger amounts.
Let’s see other differences between the two:
- Delta-8 THC has a slow, gradual onset, whereas delta-9 acts quickly.
- Delta-9 has stronger psychoactive effects than delta-8 THC. For this reason, it’s more likely to cause paranoia, anxiety, and other side effects.
- Delta-8 isn’t as widely available on the market as delta-9 THC. The latter comes in dozens of forms, from tinctures to edibles and capsules.
- Delta-8 is more stable than delta-9 from a molecular perspective.
- It also has lower toxicity and longer shelf life compared to delta-9 THC.
As far as their legal status goes, both compounds can be used under specific conditions.
The 2018 Farm Bill states that it’s legal to grow, sell, and consume cannabis products with less than 0.3% delta-9 THC on a dry-weight basis. There are no specific references about delta-8 THC, which only occurs in trace amounts in the cannabis plant and has a different chemical makeup than delta-9.
All in all, both delta-8 and delta-9 THC are legal under federal law, but each state has its own regulations. Depending on where you live, you may need a medical marijuana card to use either product.
Research Your Options
Now that you know more about delta-8 vs. delta-9, consider their potential benefits and drawbacks. While delta-8 is safer than delta-9 THC, it also has lower potency.
If you have a debilitating disorder or chronic pain, then delta-9 might be a better choice. The downside is that it carries a higher risk of addiction and side effects than delta-8. One option would be to try delta-8 THC gummies, see how your body reacts, and switch to delta-9 only if necessary.
Researchers are currently studying new forms of THC, such as THC-O (THC acetate ester) and THCP (tetrahydrocannabiphorol), reports Westword. We can expect to hear more about these compounds in the near future.
Remember that you can always use CBD, which is safer than THC in all its forms. See our guide to learn more about this compound and how it works.