Whether you’re a veteran stoner or enthusiastic cannabis newcomer in the last days (hopefully) of prohibition, you’re probably hip to the fact that THC and CBD aren’t the only therapeutic or psychoactive cannabinoids on the block. THCV, CBN, CBG, and CBC are all compounds native to the cannabis plant, which, though not as prominently expressed as THC and CBD, have been found to exhibit either medicinal or intoxicating effects that warrant further excavation.
There’s also delta-8-THC, a separate cannabinoid from the more prominent and well-known delta-9. Though delta-8-THC, like many therapeutically viable cannabinoids, only exists in trace amounts in most cannabis varieties, high-concentration delta-8-THC products such as edibles, capsules, and delta-8 extracts are starting to creep into the legal market. Delta-8-THC is reported to offer a calmer high than delta-9 and may have anti-anxiety, antiemetic, pain-killing, neuroprotective, and even cancer-killing properties.
So what is delta-8-THC, how is it supposed to make you feel, what does the research say about its therapeutic benefits, and what are the immediate effects of delta-8 products currently on the market?
What is delta-8-THC?
Delta-8-THC is a cannabinoid that differs from delta-9-THC by a double bond in its structure. delta-8 has a double bond in the 8th position, while delta-9 has a double bond in the ninth. What may be the most significant difference between the two cannabinoids is the way they bind to our cannabinoid receptors. Similar to CBD, delta-8-THC binds to both the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, where delta-9 only binds to CB1. Consider it, if only figuratively, as a hybrid of CBD and the more prominent delta-9-THC — exhibiting tempered cannabis intoxication, as well as its own distinct profile of medicinal benefits.
How is delta-8-THC Supposed to Make you Feel?
Delta-9-THC is the primary intoxicating component of cannabis, but that it doesn’t mean it’s peerless. Though not present enough in most strains of flower to have a more noticeable effect than delta-9, delta-8-THC is also capable of eliciting psychotropic effects when taken in higher concentrations.
Simply put, delta-8 reportedly offers a milder cannabis high, still potent but with a curbed intensity, at least compared to the effects of the more common delta-9. It may specifically be less likely to elicit the THC effects that make people feel uneasy or uncomfortable. What are the Potential Therapeutic Benefits of delta-8-THC?
Most cannabinoids share at least one or two of the same potential therapeutic benefits, with their own distinct efficacies in treating specific ailments. Delta-9-THC and CBD both have pain-relieving properties, for example, but where THC alleviates neuropathic pain, CBD has greater efficacy for treating inflammatory pain. Delta-8 is no different, offering many of the same medicinal applications as Delta-9, but with varying degrees of effectiveness, depending on the ailment in question. While research into the benefits of delta-8 is limited thus far, the cannabinoid has shown potential in treating the following ailments:
A 1974 study on mice, meant to test the impact of delta-8 on the immune system, found that the cannabinoid may instead have cancer-killing potential. Additionally, a 1995 study led by well-known Israeli cannabis researcher Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, found medicinal potential in administering child cancer patients with 18mg of delta-8-THC in an edible oil, noting that 480 child cancer patients had been successfully treated with delta-8 at the time of the study’s publishing.
Commercial extraction of delta-8 is still in a relative state of infancy, but back in 2017, Guild Extracts told High Times that their new delta-8 distillate had greater medicinal benefit, especially for cannabis patients, because it had more power to stimulate appetite than delta-9, without the added discomfort of high psychoactive intensity. Mechoulam’s 1995 study also noted that delta-8-THC treatment had helped participants to reduce nausea and vomiting associated with traditional cancer treatment.
Pain and Neuroprotection
Because delta-8 binds to CB1 receptors, which are prolifically expressed in the brain and present throughout the central nervous system, the cannabinoid may have similar pain-relieving and neuroprotective properties to delta-9.
In direct contrast with delta-9, which may contribute to anxiety or mental discomfort rather than take away from it, delta-8 is far less likely to cause anxiety in high doses, and may even curb anxiety symptoms with its relaxing effects.
Let’s Try It
I had my first encounter with a delta-8-THC product of the California market last week when I visited a local dispensary in Santa Ana to stock up on edibles. (Side note: delta-8’s relatively new inclusion as an isolated cannabinoid makes it extremely rare, so consumers outside the West Coast market may be out of luck.)
My budtender recommended Sativa ProTab, which contained 25mg of delta-9-THC per tablet in a package of 10. He also happened to mention that they carried a delta-8 ProTab, which contained 25mg of delta-8 per tablet, with an added total of 26mg per package of 10 tablets. He told me he’d tried both, that the Sativa ProTab had gotten him really high, and the delta-8 offered a more manageable, relaxed high in the same dose. I bought a pack of each, figuring it was the perfect opportunity to make a direct comparison between delta-8 and delta-9 as they currently exist in the legal California market.
Now obviously, the inclusion of delta-9-THC in the delta-8 tablets may alter the effect profile, but unless consumers are dabbing pure delta-8 extract, they’re more likely to experience the cannabinoid in combination with other cannabinoids, especially in edibles.
Consumers should also keep in mind that every person will react to a given cannabis product differently based on how their genetics influence the expression of their endocannabinoid system. But what I can do by sampling both tablets is give you a general idea of what to expect from a delta-8 product you’re likely to find in a California dispensary.
To start, I took 1 ½ tablets of the Sativa ProTab (around 37.5mg) to test out the exact flavor of its effects and compare it to the same dose of delta-8 tablets the next day. The package said effects would kick in within 30 to 60 minutes, though for me, it took a solid three hours before I noticed anything. But when they did kick in, they crept up fast. I was sitting on my couch doing some work with episodes of Atlanta playing from my Hulu account in the background. It was when I found myself starting to get lost in the show, tapping into its genius, ethereal, multi-layered system of jokes and ideas that I picked up on the fact that this shit was starting to work.
Within about 10 minutes I was meeting the peak and I literally had to get up and walk around my apartment to deal with the energy of the head high. Now I’m not exactly a lightweight, so this was a level of intensity I’m well trained for, but it was certainly the first time in recent memory that I felt a full, classic Sativa-like head high. I guess 37.5mg of THC in tablet form will do that.
In any case, it was a slightly intense, shocking, and mostly enjoyable experience overall. For those with a lower THC tolerance, I would recommend starting with half a tablet and working up from there.
The next day I tried 1 ½ tablets of the delta-8 ProTab, and was surprised to find the effects kicking in much sooner than they did with the Sativa tablet. The creep-up to the moment of impact was a little more immediate. Indica-like effects — a dull tingle up the spine, intoxicating pressure behind the eyes — all came through about 1 ½ hours after I took the tablets. My vision started getting soft, and the head buzz, though certainly less energizing, felt very familiar to the head buzz from the Sativa ProTab.
I also felt way more at ease and was able to focus the energy of the head buzz into whatever work I was doing at the time, a clear departure from the busy, high-energy head high of the Sativa ProTab, which left me unable to focus on one thing for too long. I’d compare the overall experience to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s classic ’80s hit “Relax.” The beat is ecstatic and forward-driving, but it’s infused with an even tempo and smooth groove, and the lyrics are literally telling you to relax, over and over again. The end result is a winning combo of high energy and smooth sailing, just like the delta-8 ProTab.
A Final Hit of delta-8
Both the Sativa and delta-8 ProTabs delivered on the common effects of their respective THC compounds. They offered two noticeably distinct highs, albeit with similar durations and levels of intensity. True to delta-8’s reputation, the delta-8 ProTab seems to curb the Sativa-like effects of the Sativa Pro-Tab and turns the dial up on the Indica-like body high. In other words, the delta-8 ProTab packs a punch, but it’s a soft, smooth head high with a healthy dose of full body relaxation. Again, this is a specific product that won’t necessarily tell you exactly how delta-8-THC will make you feel on its own, but it does seem to match up to what scientists and cultivators say about the differences between delta-8 and delta-9.
Delta-8-THC may also be a significant alternative to delta-9 in the future. Those who worry about their THC high getting out of hand when dabbing or eating edibles may want to consider delta-8-THC for a buzz that’s more even-keeled and relaxing in the body without really sacrificing too much potency. This, combined with it’s winning therapeutic profile, makes delta-8 a cannabinoid well worth further medical research and inclusion in new weed product lines.