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The Differences Between Delta-8 vs CBD Explained

Delta-8 and CBD have both risen in availability—and popularity—since hemp officially became a legal agricultural crop in the United States in 2018, but there are some key differences that are important to understand.


For medical patients and adults interested in the therapeutic potential of the compounds in cannabis, becoming familiar with the similarities and differences between delta-8 vs. CBD will help you choose the compound that is best suited to your situation and needs.


The Differences Between Delta-8 and CBD

The main difference between delta-8 and CBD is that delta-8 is a psychoactive isomer of THC while CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that’s completely separate from THC. We'll get into the science of these compounds a little later on, but right off the bat, there are a few things every cannabis consumer should know about delta-8 vs. CBD:

  • Both CBD and delta-8 can be extracted or manufactured from hemp plants or marijuana plants.

  • Both delta-8 and CBD are consumed by people looking for relief from inflammation, discomfort, nausea, anxiety, and mood issues.

  • Delta-8 has intoxicating effects that alter cognition whereas CBD does not.

  • Delta-8 is typically manufactured from CBD using chemicals and solvents whereas CBD can be isolated using ethanol or supercritical CO2.

  • Delta-8 has been outlawed in many states whereas hemp-derived CBD products remain legal under federal law.

In short, delta-8 offers many of the same benefits as CBD with the addition of mildly intoxicating effects. As delta 8 is now illegal in many states, CBD is often a more accessible alternative for individuals who are seeking relief.


Delta-8 Is Much Closer to THC than CBD

While we're focusing here primarily on the differences between delta-8 and CBD, delta-8 is actually an analog of delta-9 THC—the chemical in cannabis plants that gives marijuana its intoxicating effects.


Whereas regular THC has a double bond at the 9th carbon chain (hence delta-9), delta-8 THC has a double bond at the 8th carbon chain. In delta-10 THC, the double bond is located at the 10th carbon chain, and so on.


Effects of Delta-8 THC

As delta-8 has such a similar molecular structure to delta-9 THC, it follows that consuming it produces similar effects. Delta-8 THC, like delta-9 THC, is intoxicating (it gets you high) and is often taken for pain relief, nausea, appetite loss, anxiety, depression, stress, and muscle spasms—many of which, in their severe forms, are AZ qualifying conditions. Like delta-9 THC, delta-8 binds to CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and can cause dry mouth, red eyes, confusion, and fatigue.


Differences Between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC

Because of the slight difference in molecular structure, the high that you would experience from delta-8 THC compared to delta-9 THC is also slightly different.

  • The potency of delta-8 is around 50-70% of the potency of delta-9 THC.

  • Delta-8 THC is less likely to make you feel anxious, panicked, or confused compared to delta-9 THC.

  • Delta-8 THC has stronger appetite-stimulating properties than delta-9 THC.

The more clear-headed, calm high of delta-8 THC has made this compound popular with patients with conditions like cancer who could benefit from THC products but want to feel alert. It is also popular among recreational consumers in states where adult-use marijuana is not allowed but hemp-derived THC analogs are.


CBD and Its Effects

Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a completely different compound from THC. It has a different molecular structure and is non-intoxicating, i.e. it won't get the consumer high. Typically sold in tinctures, oils, topicals, gummies, and edibles, CBD may offer a wide range of potential health benefits, including:

Unlike delta-8 THC, CBD does not heighten the senses, cause confusion, or impair coordination. Instead, it helps to regulate the body's own cannabinoid system, moderates the effects of THC, and keeps "feel-good" hormones like serotonin and anandamide (an endocannabinoid) circulating in the brain for longer periods of time.


A note about the psychoactive effects of CBD: It's often said that THC has psychoactive effects whereas CBD doesn't. However, this isn't entirely accurate. CBD relaxes and calms the consumer's mind and lifts the consumer’s mood, all of which fit the definition of “psychoactive”. However, CBD is not intoxicating like THC in the sense of altering perception and coordination. Some consumers have experienced symptoms like dry mouth, drowsiness, diarrhea, and drowsiness when taking CBD, but when taken at low doses, unpleasant side effects are rare.


How CBD and Delta-8 Are Produced

CBD and delta-8 THC are both produced naturally by the cannabis sativa plant. While delta-8 THC is a relatively minor cannabinoid, CBD is the second most abundant cannabinoid in marijuana (defined as cannabis with more than 0.3% THC) and the most abundant cannabinoid in hemp (defined as cannabis plants with no more than 0.3% THC).


To isolate CBD, manufacturers typically pass the plant material through pressurized carbon dioxide or ethanol, or a mixture of both. Depending on the level of refinement, the resulting CBD oil can be:

  • CBD Isolate: 100% CBD with all of the other compounds removed

  • Broad-spectrum: CBD along with terpenes, flavonoids, and other cannabinoids, minus the THC

  • Full-spectrum: CBD plus terpenes, flavonoids, and the other cannabinoids present in the plant, including up to 0.3% THC

Unlike CBD, delta-8 THC is present in much more minute quantities in cannabis plants, so the delta-8 THC you would buy commercially is typically synthesized from CBD. To convert the CBD into delta 8 THC, the isolate is combined with a solvent like heptane or toluene along with an acid to serve as a catalyst—such as toluenesulfonic acid. Once the reaction is complete, the vapors are turned into condensation, collected, and the chemicals purged.


Safety Concerns Surrounding Delta-8 THC

Because it's hard to remove all of the industrial chemicals from synthetically produced delta-8 THC, there are safety concerns about these products causing adverse events. In fact, at least one poison control center has been receiving increasing numbers of calls relating to adverse reactions from delta-8 THC edibles, some of which were consumed by minors.


If you do decide to try delta-8 THC, make sure to purchase one from a reputable company that provides the certificate of analysis (CoA) for every batch and keep it out of the sight and reach of children. If you experience a racing heartbeat, confusion, agitation, feel faint, or become unresponsive, discontinue use and seek emergency medical attention.


The Legality of Delta-8 vs CBD

The final difference between delta-8 vs. CBD lies in their respective legal status. Since the passing of the Farm Bill 2018, hemp-derived products (containing no more than 0.3% THC on a dry-weight basis) can be sold, purchased, possessed, and consumed without sanctions from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Therefore, CBD and delta-8 THC—both of which can be produced from either hemp or marijuana—are technically legal at the federal level when extracted from hemp.


However, and this is a big “however,” delta-8 THC is so similar to delta-9 THC in its structure and psychoactive and intoxicating effects that it's a gray area under federal law. In fact, many states have banned it explicitly. Some states that allow cannabis-derived products for adult use (i.e. have a recreational marijuana program) have even banned delta-8 THC. CBD is much easier to come by and, in most states, you can buy CBD from a dispensary without an MMJ card or online. In selected states, you may need a medical marijuana card to purchase hemp-derived cannabis products, including CBD.


Testing for Delta-8 vs CBD

Some workplaces, sports clubs, and other institutions test for THC metabolites as part of their standard substance testing program because THC and marijuana are still illegal at the federal level. Due to the similarities in the way delta-9 THC and its analogs are metabolized by the liver, both delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC will show up in a drug test that’s looking for THC.


Unless your state specifically outlaws CBD, drug tests won't typically test for cannabidiol. And unless you've downed an entire packet of full-spectrum CBD gummies in a single sitting (which is practically the only way to ingest a sufficient quantity of THC to test positive), you shouldn't fail a test.


If you do consume any cannabis products for medical reasons and have a qualifying condition, it’s usually best to book an in-person or MMJ telemedicine appointment and get a patient card as proof that your consumption of cannabis is medical. Many states—including Arizona—provide some workplace protections for employees who consume medical marijuana at home.


Know What You're Getting and Check the CoA

The cannabis industry continues to identify and manufacture new and innovative compounds, with delta-8 THC and CBD being two of several that are currently being sold in dispensaries and online. Delta-8 THC offers milder effects than delta-9 THC along with many of the same benefits, whereas CBD is non-intoxicating and promotes a longer circulation of "feel-good" hormones in the body.


When comparing products on the cannabis market, be sure to analyze the benefits and risks and always ask to see the certificate of analysis. Once you get home, keep these products safely locked away from children. As long as the hemp or cannabis products you’re looking at buying are legal, well-made, and tested by a third-party lab, you can confidently go ahead and give them a try!

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