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What Is Delta-8 THC?

The milder form of THC is gaining popularity among cannabis consumers, but some legal kinks may still have to get worked out.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Even those with a passing interest in cannabis know that THC is the plant compound that gives you the high feeling. Less may understand that the THC compound most commonly found in cannabis plants in the United States is called Delta-9 THC, and it has an analog named Delta-8 THC.

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Delta-8 THC has become popular with some consumers because it promises the health benefits of cannabis but with a smoother high and less risk of feeling anxious or paranoid. In a way, it fits somewhere between Delta-9 THC and CBD, which contains no THC.

Delta-8 THC is also growing in popularity, much like CBD has done in the past two years. Benzinga listed a Delta-8 product as one of the notable new cannabis products in December 2020.

Related: Why Does Everyone Keep Talking About Terpenes?

What is Delta-8?

Delta-8 THC is not created through cannabinoid-synthesizing enzymes within the cannabis plant, as are many of the 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis. Rather, it occurs after Delta-9 THC is stored for a time and starts to degrade.

Delta-8 THC is considered a minor cannabidiol. The National Cancer Institute reports that it "exhibits a lower psychotropic potency than Delta-9-THC, the primary form of THC found in cannabis." The institute also lists many of the properties of Delta-8 THC, including "antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective."

According to Discover magazine, manufacturers have discovered that Delta-8 THC is more "shelf-stable" than Delta-9, making it a better fit for use in prescription drugs. The magazine reports that because most cannabis plants produce only small amounts of Delta-8, getting a usable amount requires processing and refinement.

Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Harvard Medical School and a board member of Doctors For Cannabis Regulation, told Discover that there's a difference between Delta-9 and Delta-8. "People report [Delta-8] as being less anxiety-provoking, less sedating, and a little more clear-headed than THC," Grinspoon said. 

He especially noted the potential use in medicine for older people and children who want "less confusion and spaciness or stoned ness or whatever you want to call it."

RELATED: THCA And THC: What's The Difference?

Is it legal?

Search the legality of Delta-8, and you will find a wide variety of opinions, some masquerading as facts. The truth is a bit complicated and mired in bureaucratic process and legal language.

Delta-9 THC is illegal at the federal level. One could say it's the reason cannabis is illegal at the federal level. However, federal law didn't directly address Delta-8 until the summer of 2020, when the Drug Enforcement Administration updated its language and added it to the list of illegal compounds derived from cannabis, according to Discover.

However, the 2018 Farm Bill made hemp legal, and much of the Delta-8 used in products on the market comes from hemp. Manufacturers have taken that to mean their product is legal. But the federal government has reopened the public comments period on legalizing hemp, which could lead to changes that may impact Delta-8 THC. At the moment, no one knows for sure what may happen.

According to Discover, many in the industry are waiting to see what changes, if any, occur. In the meantime, it's worth the time for every cannabis entrepreneur and consumer to learn all they can about what could become the next big thing in cannabis.

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