Difference Between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC

By: | Updated: Jan-24, 2023
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Cannabis consumption has come a long way from simply lighting up a joint or firing up a bong. These days, there’s no shortage of methods consumers can access the therapeutic potential of cannabis compounds like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Of these methods, there’s arguably been none more popular in recent years than vaping — which has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry in itself.

While there’s no shortage of cannabis enthusiasts and vapers who know what delta-9 is, there’s still a significant degree of confusion among newer consumers as to what distinguishes it from delta-8 THC. In this post, we go over the key differences between the two, as well as important considerations around vaping them.

What is Delta-9 THC & Where Does It Come From?

Delta-9 THC is a cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It’s known as the primary active ingredient in marijuana and is largely responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects. Delta-9 is produced in the trichomes of cannabis flowers and can be extracted from the plant material using one of several methods — the most common being solvent-based extraction. Solvent extraction uses anything from hexane to supercritical CO2 to separate THC from cannabis plant material.

Delta-9 THC is also produced synthetically in laboratories and sold as a Schedule I drug in the United States. Delta-9 (whether in the form of marijuana or an isolate) is commonly prescribed for a variety of medical applications today, and can be used to reduce the symptoms of common chronic conditions including pain, nausea, and appetite loss. While Delta 9 THC is now legal for recreational consumption in 19 states and counting, it’s still considered a controlled substance at the federal level in the United States, and is illegal to possess, manufacture, or distribute in many localities.

What’s Different About Delta-8 THC?

Delta-8 THC is an analog of Delta-9 THC, meaning it’s very similar in molecular structure. The main difference between the two is that Delta-8 has a double bond in the 8th position, while Delta 9 has a double bond in the 9th. This might not seem like a big difference, but it actually makes the former more stable and less psychoactive than Delta-9 THC. In other words, Delta-8 will give you a milder high that’s less likely to cause anxiety or paranoia.

Delta-8 THC is a cannabinoid that occurs naturally in cannabis plants, however, it’s only present in trace amounts. In order to obtain delta-8 THC in appreciable amounts, product manufacturers within the legal cannabis industry usually source large amounts of CBD from high-quality hemp flowers. The extract is then put through a refinement step, refluxing CBD in organic solvents such as heptane or toluene with acids like p-toluenesulfonic acid utilized as a catalyst to essentially “convert” the CBD to delta-8 THC.

Once obtained, delta-8 can be used to create products such as edibles, tinctures, and topicals. Delta-8 THC is observed to provide a similar experience to that of delta 9 THC, with key differences in psychoactivity. While the latter is known for a relaxant, sedative effect that can affect motor function, delta-8 is associated with feelings of enhanced focus and cognition.

Emerging scientific research suggests delta-8 may be a more practical choice than delta-9 when used as an anxiolytic, and plays a role in the regulation of inflammatory cytokines — making it potentially viable in the reduction of pain or swelling associated with inflammatory conditions like arthritis.

What to Expect

When it comes to the question of vaping delta-8 vs. delta-9 THC, each has its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of each, specifically in the context of vaping:

Delta 8 THC

Pros

  • Delta-8 is said to provide a more clear-headed high than delta-9 THC, given it binds primarily to CB1 endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, as opposed to delta-9 which binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptor groups. This difference in interactions with the endocannabinoid system is how delta-9 can produce physical sensations like fatigue, while delta-8’s effects are almost entirely neurophysiological (e.g. anxiolytic, antidepressant).
  • Delta-8 is observed to have significantly less risk of producing sensations of anxiety than delta-9 THC at higher doses.
  • In terms of their respective side effect profiles, many consumers find that delta-8 provides a more “pleasant” high than delta-9 THC, as delta-8 doesn’t affect the same level of paranoia or anxiety that delta 9 THC can.

Cons

  • Delta-8 THC is less potent than delta 9 THC, which means you may need to consume more of it to get your desired effects.
  • The effects of delta-8 are shown to be considerably more short-lived, lasting an average of only an hour or two.

Delta 9 THC

Pros

  • Delta-9 THC is more potent than delta-8, so you’re likely to need less of it to get your desired effects.
  • The effects of delta-9 THC are also observed to be longer-lasting when compared with delta-8, with its effects lasting for up to several hours.
  • Live resin products contain terpenes, which may contribute to the entourage effect. For Delta 9 THC distillate products, manufacturers often add the best terps for vape cartridges to improve taste and effects.

Cons

  • Delta-9 is said to provide a more couch-locked “high” than delta-8 THC. This is because delta-9 THC binds to the CB1 receptors in the brain in a way that produces relaxant and sedative effects.
  • Many consumers have reported that delta-9 THC provides a less pleasant high than delta-8, because the former can create sensations of paranoia and anxiety in some people — particularly at higher doses.

The Role of Individual Factors in Dosing With Cannabinoids

As with any cannabis compound (e.g. cannabinoids, terpenes) individual factors such as height, weight, gender and individual tolerance all play a role in determining the right delta-8 and delta-9 doses for different consumers. In the case of cannabis greenhorns and new users, a good rule of thumb is to start at low dose ranges before scaling up as needed, in order to avoid unwanted side effects.

Availability of Delta-8 & Delta-9 THC Products for Vaping

In states where recreational cannabis consumption is legal, a wide variety of delta-8 and delta-9 THC products can be found at brick-and-mortar dispensaries and weed shops. These can include anything from various marijuana strains — to be used with dry herb vaporizers — and best terps for vape cartridges. Bottled isolates are also available for DIYers, who might prefer to mix their own cartridges to their desired proportions.

Delta-8 and delta-9 THC is also available online through numerous online retailers. However, it’s important for prospective consumers to check their local laws around vaping cannabis before making a purchase, to ensure they stay on the right side of existing restrictions or regulations in their respective areas.

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