Delta-8 THC vs. Delta-9 THC: What's The Difference? (2024)

In states where recreational or medical marijuana use is legal, cannabis dispensaries offer a wide range of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC) products. Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8 THC)—a less potent cannabis compound with similar psychoactive effects as delta-9 THC—is also legal in several states.

Delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC come from the cannabis sativa plant, which naturally produces more than 100 cannabinoids, or active constituents. However, while the plant contains significant amounts of delta-9 THC, it contains very little delta-8 THC, a minor cannabinoid.

Depending on quality, quantity and other factors, both delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC can produce intoxicatingly psychoactive effects, or a “high.” In spite of their similarities, delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC also have important differences you should understand before consuming either substance.

Read on to learn more about delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC, their similarities and differences, potential risks and benefits, and more.

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What Is Delta-8 THC?

Because cannabis sativa contains only a small amount of delta-8 THC, it’s typically manufactured in concentrated amounts from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD). While CBD doesn’t have any intoxicating effects, delta-8 THC has similar psychoactive properties to delta-9 THC, although it is generally less potent than delta-9.

Delta-8 THC products are available in many forms, including CBD gummies, chocolate and other candies, cookies, tinctures, vaping cartridges, infused drinks and even breakfast cereal.

Some manufacturers market delta-8 THC products as treatments or cures for medical conditions; however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has neither evaluated nor approved these claims. In fact, in May 2022, the FDA issued warning letters to five manufacturers of delta-8 THC products for violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

The warning letters address misbranding, such as not providing adequate instructions for use, illegal marketing of products as treatments for medical conditions or other therapeutic uses and adding delta-8 THC to foods, such as gummies, chocolate and other consumables.

Potential Benefits of Delta-8 THC

Making general statements about whether using cannabis is good or bad doesn’t paint an accurate picture of delta-8 THC or delta-9 THC, says Dave Gordon, M.D., a double-board certified integrative and functional medicine physician with expertise in cannabis therapeutics and advisory board member for Leaf411, an online resource for using cannabis safely and effectively.

To understand the risks and benefits of delta-8 THC or delta-9 THC, according to Dr. Gordon, consider:

  • All compounds/constituents being consumed
  • The dose consumed
  • The frequency of consumption
  • The method of administration
  • The quality of production (cultivation, extraction and formulation for cannabis products)
  • The demographics and health status of the individual consuming

With that said, potential benefits of delta-8 THC may include:

  • Pain relief
  • Improved sleep quality
  • The calming of an overactive nervous system or immune system
  • Improved appetite
  • Sensory overstimulation prevention
  • Reduced inflammation

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Potential Risks of Delta-8 THC

“Like any compound, consuming more delta-8 THC than the body wants or needs can cause some short-term adverse effects,” says Dr. Gordon. These negative side effects tend to depend on dosage, meaning they become more severe with increased consumption, he adds.

According to Dr. Gordon, short-term adverse effects of overconsuming delta-8 THC may include:

  • Lethargy
  • Disorientation
  • Anxiety (and potentially panic)
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Increased heart rate
  • Impaired coordination

Generally, adverse effects resolve within a couple of hours with inhalation and within several hours of edible consumption, says Dr. Gordon.

“Individuals with preexisting conditions may have risks that others do not,” adds Dr. Gordon. “In patients with high risk for (or already diagnosed) psychotic diseases, over-consuming delta-8 THC could increase frequency or severity of psychosis.”

Consuming large amounts of delta-8 THC, especially when smoked, could precipitate heart damage or abnormal heart rhythms in those with significant underlying cardiovascular disease, says Dr. Gordon.

Additional risks associated with delta-8 THC consumption are linked to the product manufacturers themselves. According to the FDA, delta-8 THC products may contain potentially harmful chemicals or contaminants, including household chemicals used during the chemical synthesis process that yields delta-8 THC.

When weighing the potential risks of consuming delta-8 THC, it’s important to consider that the FDA hasn’t evaluated or approved any delta-8 THC products for safe use. Delta-8 THC manufacturers may also market their products with unproven claims of health benefits that could put public health at risk.

What Is Delta-9 THC?

Delta-9 THC is the major naturally-occurring intoxicating component of the cannabis plant. When someone smokes or consumes delta-9 THC beyond a certain threshold, they typically experience a “high.”

In states where delta-9 THC is legal, cannabis dispensaries offer delta-9 THC products in many forms, including gummies, cookies, candies, infused beverages, tinctures, vaping cartridges, topical lotions and pre-rolled “joints.”

Some manufacturers market delta-9 THC products as able to treat or mitigate symptoms of certain medical conditions or diseases. However, the FDA has approved only two synthetic THC formulations—dronabinol and nabilone, which are used to alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Nabilone is also used to increase appetite in patients with AIDS.

Potential Benefits of Delta-9 THC

Potential benefits of consuming delta-9 THC may include:

  • Relaxation
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Increased appetite
  • Feelings of happiness or exhilaration
  • Heightened imagination
  • Improved sensory perception

Studies show using delta-9 THC may have therapeutic benefits for certain conditions, including nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy, seizure disorders, chronic pain, spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) and sleep disorders in people with other chronic conditions, says Dr. Gordon.

“While we don’t have definitive proof that delta-9 THC or other cannabinoids are [the] clear reason for the effects, patients in structured medical cannabis programs repeatedly show benefits in the conditions mentioned above. Also, [benefits are seen in people with] depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), neurodegenerative disorders, seizures, autism and autoimmune diseases, just to name a few,” he adds.

Research on long-term use of delta-9 THC and its effects on sleep is limited, with some studies showing improvement in sleep patterns and others indicating that chronic delta-9 THC use can have the opposite effect, disrupting sleep and delaying sleep onset.

Potential Risks of Delta-9 THC

Depending on several factors, including the amount and quality of delta-9 THC consumed, adverse side effects may include:

  • Paranoia
  • Heightened anxiety
  • Sedation
  • Confusion
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling uneasy, unhappy or dissatisfied (dysphoria)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)

There are increasing numbers of case reports detailing recurring nausea, severe vomiting, dehydration and abdominal pain in long-time delta-9 THC users. Multiple studies have also linked delta-9 THC use with increased risk for psychosis, anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and other psychiatric conditions, along with substance abuse disorders.

Can Delta-8 Show Up on a Drug Test?

Unlike delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC probably won’t lead to a positive result for THC on a drug test unless the test specifically searches for delta-8 THC metabolites. However, if the delta-8 THC product contains concentrations of delta-9 THC, a drug test may show a positive result for THC. With the increasing popularity of delta-8 THC, some commercial laboratories are now adding confirmation analysis for delta-8 THC to drug tests.

In short, it’s impossible to day definitively that delta-8 THC won’t show a positive result on a drug test, as it comes down to the quality and contents of the specific delta-8 THC product used, as well as the type of drug test administered.

Delta-8 THC vs. Delta-9 THC: Differences and Similarities

Both delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC are composed of the same set of elements (carbon, hydrogen and oxygen), only differing slightly in how those elements are arranged, says Dr. Gordon. Although similarly composed, delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC exhibit many differences.

Similarities

Delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC can produce the positive or adverse effects mentioned above, since both delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC activate the body’s CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, including those in the central nervous system.

“Activating CB1 receptors can reduce pain, help with sleep, increase relaxation, calm an overactive nervous system, improve appetite, protect and heal nerves and prevent sensory overstimulation,” says Dr. Gordon. “Activating CB2 receptors primarily calms an overactive immune system and reduces inflammation, both of which are crucial to improving many chronic conditions.”

Meanwhile, overstimulation of CB1 receptors by overconsumption of delta-8 THC or delta-9 THC can cause lethargy, disorientation, anxiety (and potentially panic), dry mouth and eyes, increased heart rate and loss of coordination, adds Dr. Gordon.

Differences

Delta-9 THC has been studied extensively for nearly 60 years, but little research is published on delta-8 THC, says Dr. Gordon. Another major difference is how they are (or aren’t) regulated.

“Delta-9 THC is highly regulated in states where legalization measures have passed with specific rules on testing, extracting and labeling,” he adds. But many manufacturers of delta-8 THC products aren’t following specific regulations, says Dr. Gordon. For example, they may not ensure their products are free of adulterants or that the end product contains exactly what’s stated on the label.

Potency is another difference between delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC. “I think it’s reasonable to assume properly labeled delta-8 THC would be about one-quarter to one-third less potent than an equivalent amount of delta-9 THC,” says Dr. Gordon.

Delta-9 THC can be smoked or vaporized in flower (bud) form without requiring extraction, although edibles, topicals and other preparations do require an extraction process. On the other hand, nearly all delta-8 THC products are synthesized, extracted and purified from cannabis-sourced CBD.

Are Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 THC Legal?

Currently, delta-8 THC is legal at the federal level, but it’s not legal in every state. Delta-9 THC is illegal at the federal level but legal recreationally and/or for medical use in several states. With that said, laws regarding the production, sale and use of delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC are continually evolving.

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