Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, known commonly as simply THC, is the most popular cannabinoid in the world due to its unique effects and its status as the most abundant cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Because of its popularity, delta-9 THC has been the focus of the majority of cannabis-related research regarding the human body and diseases.
What consumers may not realize is that with the cannabis market opening up between widespread state legalization of medical and adult-use marijuana and the federal legalization of hemp via the 2018 farm bill, there are many more cannabinoids to explore. Cannabinoids work by binding with receptors in our bodies’ endocannabinoid systems that control pain, mood, and much more.
While some cannabinoids work with the CB1 receptors located in our brain and throughout the body and others bind to the CB2 receptors found mostly in our immune and gastrointestinal systems, THC can bind to both—hence, its infamous power. Let’s break down some of the newly marketed forms of THC that are hitting the market, including what they are and how they might affect you when consumed.
THC is just one of over 100 different cannabinoids that exist in the cannabis plant. The combination of cannabinoids and terpenes present will vary in each strain, depending on the genetics of that plant mixed with many other factors like growing conditions and cultivar experience.
Hemp’s federal legalization not only opened up a whole new market for cannabis research and scientific studies to be performed, but it also allowed the consumer market to explore cannabinoids beyond THC in isolation to understand their unique effects as well as how they work in combination with other cannabinoids. Many of these newly discovered and marketed cannabinoids are processed from hemp-derived CBD.
Due to marijuana’s federally legal status, not every patient seeking relief with medical marijuana has access to delta-9 THC legally, which is why I believe we’ve seen such a successful market emerge for minor cannabinoids. These minor cannabinoids function as legal alternatives to THC that offer their own unique psychoactive effects but are not prohibited from use by the federal drug schedules.
Probably the most buzzed-about new form of THC on the market is delta-8 THC, an isomer of delta-9 that is found much less frequently in the cannabis plant. With similar (but milder) euphoric effects, the main difference between the two molecules is the location of a double bond between two carbons.
In non-legal marijuana states, delta-8 is providing relief for users who are looking to relieve stress and anxiety among other things. Some question the legality of delta-8—which is largely unregulated—but as long as the products are derived from hemp and contain no more than 0.3% delta-9 on a dry-weight basis, many lawyers and hemp industry professionals consider them legal (but check your state’s specific laws).
Similarly to delta-8, delta-10 THC occurs naturally only in trace amounts, making it difficult to find in cannabis strains. While little research has explored how it affects the body, delta-10 has binding affinities toward CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system, which produce varying levels of psychotropic effects.
Anecdotally, delta-10 is commonly reported to provide energizing effects, whereas delta-8 is reported to be more sedating. Because of its low amounts naturally, delta-10 is commonly synthesized from hemp-derived CBD using the same process used to create most of the delta-8 products found on shelves. Because hemp is legal all over the U.S., delta-10 is also considered federally legal. However, as with delta-8, certain states have outlawed delta-10.
THC-O acetate is a compound derived from hemp that has quickly gained popularity. THC-O’s appeal lies in its legal status and potency: Research has found that it’s roughly three times stronger than delta-9. It has been called “the psychedelic cannabinoid” for its borderline hallucinatory effects and has an intriguing history starting with the U.S. military’s studies on its effects in 1949.
Through its research, the military observed that THC-O diminished dogs’ muscle coordination two times as much as conventional delta-9 THC. Due to its potency, THC-O made its way onto the DEA’s radar in 1978 but was ultimately left alone because it didn’t pose a growing problem. Today, concerns have been raised regarding the safety and efficacy of manufactured THC-O products. Because there are wide variations in product quality, some consumer caution should be taken with this cannabinoid.
THCV stands for tetrahydrocannabivarin, and its name may sound familiar because of its resemblance to the OG delta-9 THC. Just like it sounds, THCV has a very similar molecular structure to THC, meaning it holds a lot of the same psychoactive properties. Early reports on THCV have shown the compound to help with appetite suppression as opposed to the appetite stimulation caused by delta-9.
Preclinical work also has shown THCV could play a role in aiding Parkinson’s disease, psychosis, and fatty liver disease, but human research with THCV is still limited. However, a small trial from 2015 explored THCV’s potential to reduce some of the negative effects of THC, suggesting 10 milligrams of THCV may reduce the increased heart rate, subjective feeling of intoxication, and verbal recall issues caused by THC.
While the efficacy of these newly marketed cannabinoids is still questionable, many of them hold great potential and demonstrate the unique robustness of the cannabis plant. With the wide variety of effects and benefits offered by each cannabinoid, today’s consumers can now tailor this plant medicine to their specific needs more effectively than ever before. Being able to explore different forms of THC, for example, can be a key to unlocking and understanding the plant’s best use for your body.
Note from the author: I am not a doctor nor a lawyer; I am speaking personally from my experience as an industry professional who follows trends and tries to understand their legitimacy in the consumer market. I am not promoting the efficacy of these cannabinoids but am simply presenting them for reference to promote discussion and education about the current industry landscape. Always do your research on products and check for third-party testing and other signs of brand quality standards.
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