Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a phytocannabinoid found in small quantities in the cannabis plant, has created a lot of debate. This is because Delta-8 can also be synthetically created from CBD—in fact, most Delta-8 products available today were formulated by manipulating CBD isolate into Delta-8 in a lab.
An estimated 18 states have banned the sale of Delta-8 THC for its use as a “loophole” cannabis product by folks in places that have not legalized THC-rich cannabis. Because CBD is found in large amounts in industrial hemp, a subspecies of cannabis with little to no THC that is federally legal in the U.S., other states have begun explicitly allowing the sale and consumption of Delta-8 as a by-product of hemp. One leading the way in this initiative is Louisiana.
The Louisiana Department of Health recently notified businesses about an opportunity to obtain a license for making foods that contain cannabinoids. This means retailers who sell CBD have an open door to add Delta-8 THC to their inventory. Louisiana’s law puts CBD and Delta-8 under a new category classified as consumable hemp. Consumable hemp is defined as “any product derived from industrial hemp that contains any cannabinoids and is intended for consumption or topical use.”
The move to regulate Delta-8 for legal use is significant for the residents of Lousiana, considering the state has not legalized recreational cannabis and the current medical program is subpar at best. Only two state universities—Louisiana State University and Southern University—are authorized to grow cannabis in the state, and only nine dispensaries can sell it to patients. This leaves the state’s medical patients with limited access to low-quality cannabis. Now, Delta-8 could be another option.
While more research is needed to definitively understand synthetically derived cannabinoids like Delta-8, the effects of Delta-8 are said to be slightly less potent than those of Delta-9 THC (the primary compound found in cannabis generally referred to as simply “THC”). Consumers of Delta-8 have said that the compound helps reduce pain, nausea, and anxiety while leaving the consumer with a clear head and stimulating appetite. Some even say Delta-8 is more effective than Delta-9 at treating chronic pain.
While Delta-8 THC itself has not been found to be harmful to consumers, concerns have been raised about the methods and quality of synthetically manufacturing the cannabinoid. Acknowledging the risks that come along with under-researched substances, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warnings to the public about producing and consuming Delta-8.
One of the largest concerns to health authorities is the fact that many consumers are making their own Delta-8 THC at home. A quick search of how to convert Delta-8 online instructs people to dissolve CBD in glacial acetic acid and allow the solution to sit at room temperature. It is then estimated that after three hours the CBD will have converted to over 50% Delta-9 THC concentration with a low 2% Delta-8 THC concentration.
When extremely diluted, glacial acetic acid is basically vinegar. Other organic solvents are also used to create Delta-8, such as heptane or toluene, in conjunction with p-toluenesulfonic acid. A major concern with this process is that the pH of Delta-8 products is currently not being tested, leading to the fear that residual metals and strong acids could be left behind. These particles are normally removed when chemists create products like Delta-8 in a regulated pharmaceutical environment.
When Delta-8 is produced in a regulated environment, the final product should, in theory, be completely safe for consumption. However, many experts have pointed out issues in manufacturing that leave them questioning the efficacy and purity of Delta-8 products. Delta-8 THC is tested using chromatographic methods combined with ultraviolet or mass spectrometry detection.
Christopher Hudalla, president of analytical testing firm ProVerde Laboratories, told C&EN that it’s rare to come across a “legitimate Delta-8 THC product,” as many contain unidentifiable chemicals. According to Hudalla, “There’s some Delta-8 in there but there’s very frequently up to 30 chromatographic peaks that I can’t identify.”
University of California Researcher Kyle Boyar also voiced hesitation about the current methods of Delta-8 production, pointing out, “Most people are not actually taking the time to distill it or use chromatography.” Kyle goes on to say, “A lot of irresponsible production is going on in the sense that most of these people are getting their information from online forums, and many of them aren’t necessarily trained chemists.”
Delta-8 can be produced cleanly in professional settings, but more regulation—like Lousiana’s new law about consumable hemp—is needed to oversee these processes and ensure consumers are receiving quality products. As more research is conducted on Delta-8 and manufacturing processes are perfected, Delta-8 could become a legal and effective option for cannabinoid therapy or intoxication.
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