I'm not high as I'm writing this — but I was last night. And it was for a purpose, I swear. For journalism.
It all started a few months ago when my good friend texted me a photo of Smokiez Delta-8 THC Gummies and asked if I had tried them before. This friend is sober, mind you — and the person who sold her the gummies said that Delta-8 THC was like CBD in that it wouldn't get you high at all. My initial reaction was "Sounds fake but OK," and tried to do some Googling, but came up short.
And then I started seeing Delta-8 THC — AKA "the next big thing in weed" — everywhere.
In fact, the aforementioned Smokiez gummies had become so popular, they were sold out at the first dispensary I visited (I had to drive to a different county to get them). While inherently, Delta-8 has been around since the dawn of time (the dawn of cannabis's time, at least), it's experienced a huge surge in popularity in the past few months due to the Farm Bill, a loophole, and the desire to access any form of cannabis in spite of government red tape (more on that later). And it isn't just in-demand on the coasts: a variety of Delta-8 products can be found in places like Dallas and Michigan, and a bakery in Chicago is even putting Delta-8 into cookies.
Here, everything you need to know about this new "light" weed, including if it's more like CBD or regular 'ol weed with new marketing — and whether or not you should give Delta-8 THC a go.
What Is Delta-8 THC?
There are a lot of compounds in the cannabis plant, including flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids. Of the cannabinoids, you're likely already familiar with at least two: CBD and THC. But it gets more complicated with THC, as evidently there are different varieties.
The THC most of us are familiar with, or "normal" THC, is known as delta-9-tetrahydracannabinol, or Delta-9-THC. Delta-9's sibling — fraternal twin, perhaps? — Delta-8 THC (delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol) is "chemically nearly identical to Delta-9," says Benjamin Caplan, M.D., board-certified family physician, cannabis physician, and founder of CED Clinic. "It's the chemical equivalent of right-handedness versus left-handedness on the molecule. A natural variant; like different eye color." While this may seem like a trivial distinction, according to Dr. Caplan, this structural difference "gives the two molecules starkly different effects in the body."
Also of note: Delta-8 is often sourced from hemp, which is a type of cannabis plant. "Cannabis and hemp are different varieties of the same species," explains Robert Flannery, Ph.D., CEO of Dr. Robb Farms and the first Ph.D. in the U.S. with certified technical expertise in growing commercial cannabis. "It's like saying a red rose versus a white rose. They aren't all that different."
So, How Does Delta-8 Compare to "Regular" THC?
The biggest differentiator in the marketing of Delta-8 THC vs. Delta-9 (or "regular") THC is that it reportedly "doesn't get you high." When I asked a budtender at a San Diego dispensary for her opinion — she told me "It's somewhere between CBD and THC in its effects," noting that it wouldn't get me high high, but it'd have a little more punch than a CBD gummy.
"Delta-8 can be taken, absorbed, and processed in similar ways as it's twin-brother, Delta-9, but it does have some different properties," says Dr. Caplan. "Delta-8 is felt to be less euphoric, less stimulating of appetite, and to many, it is felt to be a less potent version of Delta-9."
As for whether or not Delta-8 has less of the anxiety-inducing potential of Delta-9 — a lot of this is marketing. Dr. Caplan says this entirely depends on the patient, their unique reaction, and their own endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Dr. Flannery echoes Dr. Caplan: "Since Delta-8 has a different shape than Delta-9 THC, it binds less intensely to the receptors in the endocannabinoid system," he says. "This means that more Delta-8 THC is necessary to feel the same intensity of a high as Delta-9 THC." He notes that you will still feel similar effects: stimulated appetite, analgesic properties, euphoria, psychoactivity, muscle relaxation, etc.
But it also depends on the form you're taking, according to Dr. Flannery, who says the edibles may pack more of a punch. "It does seem like Delta-8 THC, when consumed as an edible, acts differently than when it is inhaled," he says. "When eaten, Delta-8 THC acts more like Delta-9 THC. The concentration needed to medicate is going to be roughly the same between the two isomers of THC."
So, if you are more comfortable with inhaling cannabis, you may get the mellower effects through this delivery. The edible consumption of Delta-8 seems to be almost equally as potent as Delta-9, comparing at equal doses.
Does Delta-8 Still Get You High?
It can. In my case, absolutely. For the sake of this story, I tried five milligram doses of a Delta-8 THC gummy, three separate times to make sure the first time wasn't a fluke. So here's how Delta-8 might feel, depending on your own unique experience and cannabis use.
For reference, since I'm your control group: I'm a lightweight in every capacity, so five milligrams of conventional THC in a gummy will have me roaming the astral plane, so to speak. The last time I had an edible at this dose (of conventional, Delta-9 THC), I left my phone in the refrigerator and wandered around looking for it, and then watched an hour of Minecraft YouTube with my friend's eight-year-old kid while eating a family sized bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Classic.
So as for my experience with the same dose of Delta-8? Rather similar. It involved a lot of Oreo Os cereal and singing the Eurovision soundtrack. I laughed until I was crying, for no reason in particular. Pretty standard stuff. I tried it again two more times at the same dose (1/5th of the 25mg gummy), and had a similar experience each time. Last night I got the same warm-and-fuzzy body feeling, was very smiley, and then texted my family group chat "I have to go to bed because my dog is mad at me."
I have two friends who are more of the heavyweight variety when it comes to cannabis, who took the entire 25mg gummy and were absolutely fine; one was "mildly high" but normally functioning and clear-minded, the other "felt nothing but relaxed" with no high at all. My sober friend, unfortunately, fell into my category (the stoney baloney category). She said, "I felt like I was floating," and that the employees at the store were "in awe" that she felt anything.
What does this mean for you? If you're going to partake in Delta-8, be prepared to at least be mildly intoxicated. Everyone's body is different, and you could have a vastly different experience than someone else you know.
Is Delta-8 THC Even Legal?
Federally, no. It's been a topic of legal contention recently, though. Specifically with Delta-8, there's been a lot of confusion due to the nature of its sourcing, and the Farm Bill, which legalizes hemp but not THC.
"Currently the legality of Delta-8 is questionable, since in the US, most of it is [derived] from hemp, which is legal," says Jessica Peatross, M.D., internist, Gerson therapist and functional medicine leader. "So this area is hazy in many states." However, on a federal level, "The DEA recently clarified its position on Delta-8 in an addendum to the Farm Bill," she says. "The addendum redefines all THC by saying it's illegal to synthetically produce THC in any form, including Delta-8."
If a vendor of Delta-8 says otherwise, they're essentially exploiting a loophole. "Delta-8 THC is technically not the banned Delta-9 THC," explains Dr. Caplan. "So, in this way, companies are taking advantage of the government's ignorance of the situation, and selling Delta-8 under the Farm Bill, by postal mail, as a 'THC-light' sort of option. The FDA has caught wind of what's happening, and they are already starting to issue cease and desist notices to some of these companies, but surely not all."
In short, the DEA is still making this unnecessarily complicated, convoluted, and confusing for American citizens (Reminder: the DEA was created during the openly racist Nixon administration as a way to target and imprison people of color). As of now, legality is contingent on your state's own cannabis laws.
Should You Try Delta-8 THC?
I mean, sure! If it's legal for you, and you enjoy cannabis or use it as a therapeutic, definitely give it a shot. But is there a reason to use this variety of cannabinoid over the others? Not necessarily.
Dr. Caplan says that while scientific evidence supporting Delta-8 (and looking at its effects compared to Delta-9) does exist, it's scant and sometimes conflicting. "Most of the studies are in animals," explains Dr. Peatross. Citing a 2004 study on Delta-8 THC in mice and its effect on appetite regulation, she shared that this cannabinoid showed "increased appetite and improved cognitive function without the effects typically linked to cannabis," and that "Delta-8 might be a 'potential therapeutic agent in the treatment of weight disorders.'" Another study Dr. Peatross pointed to found that Delta 8-THC was linked to pain relief in rats.
If you live in a state in which cannabis is legal and easily accessible, this might be an option you'll want to consider, particularly if you're looking for health benefits with (potentially) less intoxication (or, you're fine with being high and just want to try something new). "If people are sensitive to the euphoria of Delta-9 THC and want a less potent version, then Delta-8 might be a pleasant alternative," says Dr. Caplan.
Is Delta-8 the New CBD?
In short, no. Not at all. This kind of marketing is disingenuous and lazy at best, and dangerous and irresponsible at worst. These two compounds serve different purposes, and as you probably know already, CBD on its own does not get you high. For some, CBD is not enough for their therapeutic needs, and for others, it's just right. The same goes for Delta-8 — it's entirely dependent on your goals, needs, woes, and reaction to cannabinoids.
As for my experience, I'll keep CBD for my day in, day out mood support and inflammation relief, and use the rest of these sour watermelon gummies on the nights when I want a couple glasses of wine, but don't want a hangover. IMO, Delta-8 is a brilliant substitute for just that.