Article written by
Dipak HemrajHead of Research and Education
Content reviewed by
Dr. Lewis JasseyMedical Director - Pediatric Medicine
Table of contents
Delta-8 THC and CBD are both cannabinoids in the cannabis plant and have the same chemical formula. However, the main difference between the two is their chemical structure, with delta-8 THC having more in common with delta-9 THC. Delta-8 THC is therefore considered to have intoxicating and psychoactive effects, but not to the same extent as delta-9 THC. CBD does not have the same intoxicating effects as delta-8 THC but is considered psychoactive due to its physiological effects.
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What Is Delta-8?
Delta-8 THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is an isomer of delta-9 THC, i.e., they have the same empirical formula but differ by how the atoms are arranged.
Delta-8 THC is a tricyclic terpenoid in small quantities in the cannabis plant. Most if not all delta-8 THC products on the market today are typically manufactured from hemp-derived CBD, putting them in a regulatory gray area where they could be considered semi-legal (some states have restricted its sale and use, whereas others have not).
Semi-legal, high concentration delta-8 THC products are synthesized from CBD using industrial chemicals. Converting CBD to delta-8-THC requires refluxing CBD in an organic solvent such as toluene or heptane with an acid (e.g., p-toluenesulfonic acid) that serves as a catalyst. Refluxing is a technique involving the condensation of vapors and the return of this condensate to the system from where it originated. Condensers are used to heat a reaction in a controlled manner to ensure the solvent doesn’t burn.
Making delta-8 THC in this manner is an aggressive industrial process that leaves a lot of chemical byproducts in the final product. There are concerns surrounding the safety and purity of these products.
How It Works
Like delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC is a partial agonist of CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors. This gives delta-8 THC psychoactive as well as anti-inflammatory effects. However, due to its chemical structure, delta-8 THC is not as potent as delta-9 THC and has a lower affinity for CB1 receptors than delta-9 THC. Delta-8 THC has been said to bring users a sense of euphoria and relief. Delta-8 THC is less sedative than delta-9 THC, and some have described it as having a “brighter” effect by comparison.
Delta-8 THC could be beneficial for managing many of the same health problems as delta-9 THC, including:
As delta-8 THC is not as psychoactive as delta-9 THC, it could be beneficial for managing conditions where delta-9 THC is helpful in lower doses but may cause issues in higher doses, such as anxiety and depression. Getting the dosage right with delta-8 THC could be more accessible and provide a more gentle and uplifting effect with a reduced chance of paranoia.
Other areas where delta-8 THC could be beneficial are those who might be more sensitive to delta-9 THC, such as pediatric patients who may require THC for serious health problems (e.g., cancer, severe asthma).
However, the potential benefits of delta-8 THC tend to apply more to the natural version. The synthetically produced version may not have such benefits or have some but come hand-in-hand with safety concerns.
Risks and Drawbacks
Even though it is less potent than delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC can have similar side effects when overconsumed. These include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Loss of consciousness
Many of the more severe negative effects of delta-8 THC could result from consuming the chemical byproducts left behind during the conversion of CBD to delta-8 THC.
Unfortunately, as it is found in very low doses in the cannabis plant, finding a delta-8 THC-rich product made with natural cannabis is unlikely. As it currently stands, the semi-legal delta-8 THC products available on the market are not the safest bet.
We do not know much about the long-term effects of regular delta-8 THC consumption.
What Is CBD?
CBD stands for cannabidiol. It is the second most abundant cannabinoid in the cannabis plant, after THC. Most CBD products on the legal market are hemp-derived, and they include:
- CBD isolates: CBD-only products containing no other cannabis compounds.
- Broad-spectrum CBD: CBD products that contain cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids but no THC.
- Full-spectrum CBD: Products containing up to 0.3% THC and other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids.
Many CBD-rich medical cannabis products contain various combinations of cannabinoids and THC:CBD ratios. CBD from hemp plants containing no more than 0.3% THC is legal at the federal level, and CBD derived from psychoactive cannabis (sometimes referred to as “marijuana”) is not legal.
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How It Works
CBD is an antagonist of CB1 and CB2 receptor agonists like THC, helping dampen its effects. CBD has a low affinity for binding to CB1 and CB2 receptors but “behaves as a non-competitive negative allosteric modulator of CB1 receptor,” reducing the potency of THC and anandamide while at the same time inhibiting their reuptake. This increases the level of anandamide in one’s body.
CBD also interacts with the serotonin receptor 5HT1A, modulating serotonin levels and transmission across the synapse. CBD also targets various other receptors and channels, including sodium, potassium, calcium, adenosine, dopamine, and glycine receptors. CBD is also a COX-2 inhibitor.
CBD is also biphasic, meaning it has different effects in different dosages. CBD may stimulate lower doses (under 50 mg per day), and CBD has more stimulating effects in higher doses (150 mg and more). CBD also tends to work better as an anti-inflammatory when working alongside other compounds in cannabis, including THC.
CBD has a wide range of potential uses due to its stress-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. Many people have found CBD to help manage:
- Chronic pain
- Neuropathic pain (nerve pain)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Stress and inflammation
There is no definitive evidence that CBD helps manage all of the above conditions (except seizures associated with epilepsy, where Epidiolex may be prescribed). Still, many anecdotal reports and clinical trials are taking place, with some positive results.
CBD has a variety of uses and, unlike THC, is not intoxicating. This makes CBD an ideal cannabinoid for people of all ages, although more research needs to be done on its long-term effects.
Risks and Drawbacks
CBD is generally well-tolerated, but some people may face some negative side effects such as:
- Dry mouth
- Reduced appetite
- Gastrointestinal upset
Research on mice suggests that high doses of CBD may cause liver damage, but this has not been replicated in humans. Indeed, CBD may help alleviate liver injuries. Beta-caryophyllene, another atypical cannabinoid, and terpene often found in cannabis, also has anti-inflammatory effects that can help reduce liver inflammation.
Similarities and Differences Between Delta-8 THC and CBD
THC and CBD have the same chemical formula, but the compounds are structured differently. This can give the two cannabinoids entirely different effects. CBD is not intoxicating, whereas delta-8 THC is. However, when it comes to their therapeutic uses, both share some similarities. Both delta-8 THC and CBD could be useful for managing chronic pain, stress, and anxiety, for example.
How to Decide Which Is Best For You
There is no “best” cannabinoid, and they all have their uses, and different people may need different combinations, concentrations, and doses of cannabinoids.
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When to Use Delta-8
Delta 8 may be useful for managing chronic pain, mitigating nausea, or helping one get to sleep. Although it is not necessarily as psychoactive as delta-9 THC, you may still wish to avoid consuming delta-8 THC during the day. Some may prefer to take delta-8 in the evening to help them get to sleep.
When to Use CBD
If you are in employment where you are tested for THC, you may want to avoid delta-8 consumption. CBD, particularly CBD isolates, may be a better choice, although you may lose some efficacy due to the lack of other cannabinoids. Low to moderate doses of CBD may also be better for daytime use if you want to stay awake.
The Bottom Line
Both CBD and delta-8 THC have their uses, but ideally, you would be using both when consuming natural cannabis for the full range of their therapeutic benefits. It is best to avoid synthetic CBD and delta-8 THC products.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What does delta-8 do to your brain?
It is not known precisely what effect delta-8 THC has on the brain, but it does bind to CB1 receptors.
What is stronger CBD or Delta-8?
From a psychoactive perspective, delta-8 is undoubtedly stronger. However, CBD has a broad range of impacts on how it works.
Does CBD Delta-8 give you energy?
There are reports of low doses of delta-8 THC and CBD having stimulating effects.