Understanding Cannabis and Delta 8 THC


By Jessica M. Hancock

As research into the Cannabis plant continues to grow, and science can tell us in detail about the chemical properties and reasons for the physical reactions resulting from the main psychoactive compound – Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC — the world populous is learning more about the benefits and risks of using it, and its isomers, for recreational and medicinal purposes. 

The Cannabis plant itself is native to Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent and has been used and consumed by humans for various reasons for thousands of years. While the pharmacology could not be known in those early times, it is obvious that the psychoactive and physiological reactions to THC were observed and positively classified. The most prevalent examples of early use are those related to spiritual development and ritual in sacred contexts. Evidence is also found in the archaeological analysis of early settlements and in writings related to traditional remedies designed to alleviate everything from generalized body pain and digestive issues to anxiety and mania.

There are three main varieties of Cannabis, and each has its own distinct physical and chemical characteristics, many of which are just now being thoroughly understood. The flower and fruit of Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis are produced in various places throughout the world including the United States, Canada, China, India, the United Kingdom, Spain, Turkey, Thailand, and Afghanistan. Evidence shows that the plants have been grown since at least the 3rd millennium BCE, however, since the early 20th century Cannabis has been subject to various legal restrictions, and cultivation has been illegal or heavily regulated, mostly due to a lack of credible scientific research into the psychoactive compound THC.

The THC compound in Cannabis that provides many of the beneficial properties humans seek is delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol or delta-8-THC. An isomer of delta-9-THC, delta-8 is slightly less potent than delta-9 (being about ~50-66% as potent) but according to most scientific studies the psychological and physiological effects are subjectively similar. This means that a person can consume less delta-8 and achieve the same results as a full dose of delta-9. This also means that users of delta-8 will experience the same psychological and physiological effects.

The positive effects of delta-8-THC are a matter of perspective and opinions regarding benefits and risks vary widely. Delta-8-THC is known to cause undesirable effects such as increased heart rate, fatigue, difficulty thinking and remembering, red eyes, dizziness, ringing in the ears, and dryness in the mouth and throat. Other effects that might be considered negative for some, but desirable to others, include altered visual imagery and enhanced colors and contrast, changes in auditory perception, time distortion, and feelings of euphoria and relaxation. 

Cannabis, including its natural delta-9 and delta-8-THC compounds, as marijuana is long-listed in the United States as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, making it illegal to grow or possess in any form. Recent changes in some state laws, including those in California and Colorado, have relaxed these rules and many more states have enacted special laws supporting Cannabis for medicinal purposes. Additionally, extracts made from Cannabis, namely Cannabidiol (or CBD — one of 113 identified compounds along with THC found in Cannabis) started a new chapter for the plant. 

CBD is a commercial industry in the 21st century and valued at USD 2.8 billion in 2020 with growth expected to expand 21.2% from 2021 to 2028. The demand for CBDs healing properties is the major reason driving the market and CBD retailers aspire to answer the call and help people live healthier, more comfortable lives without the psychoactive effects typically associated with cannabis.

However, there is a subset of society that purposefully seeks out the psychological and physiological effects of THC, and industry has taken notice. Traditionally, cannabis was ingested through smoke inhalation. Later, dry-herb vaporizers (used for inhaling cannabis in its flower form) were invented. Then, in 1967 scientists identified that delta-8-THC could be made synthetically by exposing CBD to acids and heat and the process was subsequently refined enough that delta-8-THC could be reproduced reliably and in bulk.

Since then, these bulk delta-8-THC distillates have been sold in various consumable forms including prepared edibles (as food and drinks) and as atomizer cartridges that can be used for medicinal and recreational inhalation through devices such as e-cigarette vaporizers, water-cooling vaporizers, conduction-style vaporizers, vaporization pipes with flame filters, portable radiation vaporizers, and forced-air vaporizers. 

Studies conducted to track the degradation in the concentration of medical distillates of delta-8-THC using vaporizing devices have shown that loss is negligible over a few minutes but may exceed 50% over 90 minutes. Research has also shown that delta-8-THC boils at 175 °C (347 °F) and inhaling the vapors results in significantly lower amounts of harmful substances such as tar, carbon monoxide, and cancer-causing PAHs found in smoke without any loss of efficacy. These findings further suggest that vaporization of delta-8-THC may be a safer alternative to smoked cannabis, a welcome revelation especially for people with sensitivities and greater health concerns. 

In 2006, researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands concluded that vaporizers were “safe and effective cannabinoid delivery system(s)” and that the amount of TCH delivered through these devices was equivalent to the amount delivered by smoking. News headlines in 2019 and 2020 that spoke of severe lung illness in the United States linked to THC vaporizers have been traced back to black market THC vaporizers and the disease was the result of the device and not cannabis distillates. 

As additional research is made available, consumers are better educated, and manufacturers continue to improve the design and function of their delta-8-THC and CBD products, the benefits, usage, and acceptance of cannabis as a viable and sustainable form of recreational and medicinal therapy will continue to flourish.   

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