Delta 9 vs Delta 8 THC: Key Differences

endocannabinoid system

The cannabis industry has been ablaze for the past several months with news of a widely legal, popular form of THC called Delta-8. The compound has even caught the eye of mainstream news outlets like Time Magazine.

Given all of the buzz around Delta-8, cannabis entrepreneurs have begun aggressively marketing their products to an enthusiastic consumer base. Chances are that you’ve spotted some brand-new Delta-8 products at your local dispensary, smoke shop, or even a gas station.

In fact, Fortune magazine recently hyped Delta-8 as the “cannabis industry’s fastest-growing product” due to a variety of factors that we will explore here. 

Let’s get into the most important differences between Delta-8 THC and its better-known cousin, Delta-9 THC.

After our review, head over to Sympleaf’s wide selection of high-grade Delta-8 supplies produced with 100%-organic, US-grown hemp.

Bottle of Delta 8 Gummies by Sympleaf Wellness   

Delta-8 vs Delta 9 at the Molecular Level: Close Cousins

Molecularly, the differences between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are minute; the only essential difference is the location of a double-bond on the carbon atom, as we will explore in greater detail below. First, let’s discuss their similarities.

The Striking Similarities Between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC

The infamous Thai tourism expression — “same same, but different” – applies well to Delta-8 and Delta-9.

Delta-8 and Delta-9 are each variations of the unique cannabinoid compound tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known by its nickname THC. In technical literature, Delta-8’s full name is Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ8-THC) while Delta 9’s full title is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC).

As the component of the cannabis crop that causes psychoactive effects associated with its consumption, THC has historically been the target of regulation by the government and other authorities:

“THC or Tetrahydrocannabinol is the major psychoactive component and one of the 113 cannabinoids recognized in cannabis… Cannabis and, therefore, THC which is the major psychoactive component is legal in several states and used by several patients for medical and recreational purposes. However, FDA classifies cannabis under Schedule 1 and thus its use is forbidden in any products.”

We’ll go into greater detail regarding the legality of Delta-9 vs Delta-8 THC – an important distinction — in an upcoming section.

Delta-8 vs Delta-9 THC: The Double-Bond Difference

As we mentioned earlier, the only difference from a molecular perspective between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC is where the double-bond occurs on the carbon atom portion of the compound:

  • Delta-8’s double-bond is located on the 8th carbon atom
  • Delta-9’s double-bond is located on the 9th carbon atom

Structural formulas of Delta-8-THC and Delta-9-THC

However, although they are molecularly nearly indistinguishable, we will explore below more notable differences between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC both in terms of their physiological effects and their legality.

Delta 8 vs Delta 9: Interactions With the Endocannabinoid System (ECS)

The aforementioned psychoactive and physiological effects of both Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC occur due to interactions with the human endocannabinoid system (ECS):

“The biological effects of cannabinoids, the major constituents of the ancient medicinal plant Cannabis sativa (marijuana) are mediated by two members of the G-protein coupled receptor family, cannabinoid receptors 1 (CB1R) and 2.”

Cannabinoid receptors CB1 and CB2 and effects on human body

The Effects of Delta-8 vs Delta-9 THC

In light of their similar molecular structures and mechanisms of action in humans, Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC produce similar effects in vivo which can include (sometimes paradoxically):

  • Pain relief
  • Greater appetite
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Mood changes
  • Sleepiness
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Time distortions
  • Shifts in visual perception

Much of the psychoactive effects on THC derives from the cannabinoid’s triggering of dopamine release – the body’s natural chemical reward system. Each THC variation discussed here produces this effect, hence Delta-8’s popularity among many recreational cannabis users.

It’s should be noted here that, although Delta-8 and Delta-9 produce similar effects in human consumption, Delta-8 is considerably less potent:

“Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has activity in man similar to that of its double-bond isomer, delta-9-THC. Its relative potency to the other isomer, as judged following both oral and intravenous administration, is 2:3.

In practical terms, this means that users might need to consume a higher dosage of Delta-8 to achieve effects comparable to what they expect from Delta-9 THC.

Regarding safety profile, both Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are essentially impossible to fatally overdose on, as evidenced by numerous animal studies administering extreme doses (up to 9,000 mg per kg of body weight).

Potential Medical Applications of Delta-8 vs Delta-9

In clinical studies, Delta-9 THC has been concluded (often in combination with other naturally-occurring cannabinoids) to potentially be effective in the treatment of multiple health conditions such as:

  • Chronic pain
  • Side effects associated with chemotherapy (cancer treatment)
  • Epilepsy (seizure disorders)
  • Eating disorders (including anorexia)
  • Immunodeficiency syndromes such as HIV/AIDS
  • Gastrointestinal conditions like Crohn’s disease

Compared to Delta-9 THC – given the more recent widespread interest in the cannabinoid and the relative scarcity of clinical data – Delta-8’s medical applications are not as well-documented as its cousin compound.

Nonetheless, a bevy of clinical literature does support Delta-8’s potential to treat numerous health conditions with varying degrees of efficacy. For example:

One of the most promising clinical applications of Delta-8 is its potential use as an antiemetic agent to combat nausea and vomiting in cancer patients that present as side effects of anti-cancer drugs.

Via a 2007 US patent application for a proprietary Delta-8/CBD pharmaceutical formulation:

Delta-8 THC has also been shown to be more (200%) effective an anti-emetic than Delta-9 THC and has been used as an anti-emetic in children.”

The Legality of Delta-8 vs Delta-9 THC

Last but not least, perhaps most importantly, we come to the critical distinctions in legality between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC. Indeed, much of the appeal of Delta-8 to cannabis users in states with anti-cannabis laws still on the books is its favorable legal status.

Despite pledges from federal politicians for decades to reform laws governing cannabis, marijuana remains federally illegal. However, individual states have made significant progress in legalizing cannabis, making for a legal hodgepodge of varying laws regulating cannabis production and consumption.  

The follow map, via Rolling Stone, depicts cannabis law by state:

Map of United States depicting cannabis laws by state

Delta-8, on the other hand, is currently federally legal across the union due to the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp production and all “hemp-derived products” containing no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.

Delta-8 meets these criteria for federal legality because the formulations sold in dispensaries and online – such as Sympleaf’s 1:1 CBD:Delta 8 THC Oil – are synthesized using fully-legal cannabidiol (CBD).

Bottle of Sympleaf's 1:1 CBD: Delta 8 THC Oil

*Given Delta-8’s commercial boom, some jurisdictions have begun to take a hard look at regulating Delta-8 THC products. Certain states – like Michigan – have already passed new laws governing the sale and consumption of Delta-8.

The good news for Georgia natives, though, is that, as of July 2021, Delta-8 remains fully legal in the Peach State.

The Bottom Line on Delta-8 vs Delta-9 THC

Here is a brief rundown of some of the key points we covered here:

  • Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC have remarkably similar molecular structures
  • Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC produce similar effects
  • Both Delta-8 and Delta-9 have verified potential medicinal properties
  • Both Delta-8 and Delta-9 are largely well-tolerated and potentially safe with minimal risk of adverse effects
  • Delta-8 THC is legal both federally and in Georgia (and 38 other states) whereas Delta-9 THC remains illegal both under Georgia and federal law