What is delta-8 THC?
Hemp derived products were intended to allow the benefits of hemp without the intoxicating effects found in marijuana. Yet, there has been recent emergence of cannabinoids derived from hemp that will get you high. These products are sold online or at locations such as gas stations with little to no regulatory oversight in their creation and distribution. These compounds exist due to a loophole left in the 2018 farm bill and have left states scrambling to pass laws to control the use and sale of these products.
What is Delta 8-THC?
This was one of the first intoxicating hemp derived cannabinoids to reach the market. This compound is a structural isomer of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (∆9-THC), which is the compound responsible for the high from cannabis. Structural isomers are compounds made of the same amount and types of elements, just arranged differently. In the case of ∆8 versus ∆9-THC,the structural change is simply a movement of a single double bond.
Since the structure of ∆8-THC is so similar to that of ∆9-THC, the effects elicited in the body are similar as well, and the user will experience a very similar intoxication.
Where does ∆8-THC come from?
While there can be some amount of ∆8-THC found in hemp, the levels at which this cannabinoid are found are incredibly low, therefore, extracting this cannabinoid straight from the plant would not be economical.
Currently, all of the ∆8-THC on the market was created via chemical synthesis, specifically a conversion from cannabidiol (CBD) isolate to ∆8-THC. Typical conversions use solvents such as heptane to create a CBD solution to which an acid reagent is added and then heated. ∆9-THC is also formed during this reaction and small variances in the reaction conditions effect the ratio of ∆9-THC to ∆8-THC formed, often creating a product that is no longer complaint. Besides the ∆9-THC formation, this reaction requires several intensive post processing steps to remove byproducts and neutralize or remove the reagents used.
∆8-THC products can contain hidden and high amounts of ∆9-THC.
Most testing labs utilize high-performance liquid chromatograph (HPLC) to quantify cannabinoids within a product. HPLCs are fast and accurate, though in the case of ∆8-THC are not always suitable for the task. The HPLC's detector (typically a diode array detector (DAD)) can see ∆8-THC, the issue is it cannot differentiate it from ∆9-THC.
Liquid chromatography (LC) relies on differences in compounds whether that be size, polarity, or charge to separate them over time before reaching the detector. Since these two cannabinoids are so similar in structure and chemical makeup, the LC column (which does the separating) traditionally used for cannabinoid analysis is not able to separate the two sufficiently. ∆8 and ∆9-THC will reach the detector at nearly the same time, thus the detector only sees one large overlapped signal (this is called co-elution).
The overlapped signals presents the problems of both misidentification as well as error in quantification. Products that are high in ∆9-THC, which is present inherently from the conversion, maybe misidentified as having only ∆8-THC, and vice versa. Many products currently on the market are subject to this error and therefore may be misrepresented as a compliant ∆8-THC product. In reality many of the products in the market contain more than the legal amount of ∆9-THC which is a liability for both the consumer and the seller.
While some labs have addressed this issues using confirmatory testing with other methods or instrumentation, the problem remains widespread.
Chemical conversions can be imperfect, meaning unintended and unknown byproducts can be made.
Since this product is made by chemical synthesis and not a simple extraction from the hemp plant it is much harder to justify the safety. Hemp extracts are generally thought of as safe for consumption based on the abundance of historical data for cannabis use. As a caveat, hemp extracts concentrate certain compounds from hemp which could have an impact on safety due to sheer concentration.
The issue with byproducts is that they are hard to detect, identify, or quantify in a commercial setting. Testing is mostly outsourced from the manufacturer to a third party laboratory due to regulations. The tests being performed at these labs are routine and defined. These tests are looking for contamination, potency, or other parameters commonly related to hemp or cannabis extraction.
Novel and undefined analytes that may be present from a chemical conversion process are not part of the routine analysis, and thus will likely be overlooked.
When looking at full spectrum hemp extracts we can confidently say that anything not quantified in the extract is from hemp and therefore is likely safe. For example, if an ethanol extraction of hemp tests at 80% cannabinoids, we can assume the rest of the makeup is fats, waxes, terpenes, and other compounds from cannabis. There may be residual ethanol in the extract, but that will be caught by testing as it is a routine analyte.
When chemical synthesis is introduced to the mix, compounds that were considered safe now have a chance to convert into something with unknown toxicology through conversion. Therefore, we cannot make the same safety assumptions about these ∆8-THC products as we can for hemp products that did not undergo chemical synthesis.
Legality of ∆8-THC?
For now, at the federal level, the consensus is that while ∆8 is in a grey area, it may be legal per the 2018 farm bill as ruled recently by our court system. This does not mean that all parts of the federal government consider this product legal, which makes it grey area.
State regulators are taking a more aggressive approach with many states highly regulating or outright banning the substance.
The loopholes in the farm bill still do not allow for noncompliant ∆9-THC levels which many of these ∆8-THC products contain.
This means the burden falls on the consumer. The consumer needs to do their own research, especially into state specific regulation. Additionally, the consumer will need to stay up to date as the laws surrounding this controversial substance are constantly changing.
Note that none of this is legal advice and Planetarie does not manufacture, sell, endorse, promote, or distribute ∆8-THC.
Can I buy safe ∆8-THC?
The various safety concerns regarding the synthesis and resulting byproducts of CBD to ∆8-THC conversion mean only the most trusted and professional sources should be used when buying these products. Additionally, while a full suite of certificates of analysis should be provided at a minimum, these tests are routine and will not provide confidence in safety due to possible untested contaminates.