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Delta 8 THC vs. Delta 9 THC

Updated: May 16

WARNING: No bleach or battery acid was used in the production of this blog posting… or anything else that comes out of our lab, for that matter!

Today we’re going to discuss two forms of THC: specifically Δ⁸-THC & Δ⁹-THC. Both forms have gained a large amount of attention in the past few years in the form of popularity as well as scrutiny. Just like many other cannabinoids, they are highly related to each other: they both have the same atoms in nearly the exact same layout and orientation. The only difference is the placement of the double bond (Fig.1) in the third (or first, depending on how you look at it) ring structure. Check it out below!

(Fig.1 - Comparison of the molecular structure of Δ⁹-THC & Δ⁸-THC)

Now, before we dive in, I must preface by stating this is going to get real scientific at times. Science is the base of everything here at Blackhouse Botanicals, as it should be for anyone working with Cannabis, and without it this subject is subject to hearsay. We’re also going to discuss some arguments regarding safety, the as-of-late scrutiny, and actual research that has been done regarding Δ⁸-THC - there’s more out there than many people may realize.

First off, we’ve discussed the basic pathway of how cannabinoids are made in previous blog posts, but as a refresher:

  • Hexanoyl-CoA is broken down through hydrolysis, then enzymatically changed within the trichomes of Cannabis sativa to Olivetolic Acid.

  • Combining Geranyl Diphosphate with Olivetolic Acid and the use of Aromatic Prenyltransferase (an enzyme) creates Cannabigerolic acid, the “mother of all cannabinoids”.

  • From there, different enzymes specific to the creation of CBDa, THCa, and CBCa create those three cannabinoids specifically. Other enzymes are thought to exist as well that may relate to other minor cannabinoids, but this outline of production for cannabinoids that Cannabis very efficiently enacts within the trichomes will be our baseline of discussion.

Now, THCa and CBDa are very closely related as well; they have the same molecular weight, meaning they contain the same number and types of atoms, just arranged differently. Keep that in mind, because Δ⁸-THC & Δ⁹-THC are even more closely related, as stated and seen above (Fig.1). Before we get down to the nitty-gritty, let’s compare the two.

Anyone that has tried the major forms of THC (Δ⁸-THC & Δ⁹-THC) will more than likely know about the similarities and important minor differences. Both are psychoactive, both have been shown to be appetite stimulants, both are effective for pain and inflammation, and both act as powerful anti-nausea medications. Many assume these comparisons don’t go beyond generalities of colloquial experience, but much of these effects have been clinically studied and (of course) have a strong basis in science when you look at the structure of both, their relation to the CB1 receptor, and also their breakdown products in other areas of the body such as the liver. A public commentary here in Utah on the safety of Δ⁸-THC recently discussed a study on pediatric cancer patients and the possible anti-nausea effect it could have, touting it as ‘not enough’ regarding research due to the fact only 8 children were involved in the study. Clarification was never given for the study as it followed those children over (sadly) years of chemotherapy treatments and totaled over 480 data points with Δ⁸-THC being the only one with a 100% success rate at preventing vomiting following chemotherapy. The study compared Δ⁸-THC, Δ⁹-THC, and metoclopramide (an anti-nausea pharmaceutical) and while Δ⁹-THC was a close second in efficacy, the higher potency of Δ⁹-THC led to many more complications past preventing nausea and vomiting.

There have also been clinical studies done comparing Δ⁸-THC & Δ⁹-THC by both oral and intravenous administration and the effects seen afterward, a study on their effect and comparison on human cells in culture, and another regarding the metabolism of both, just to name a few. Granted, we fully admit we would love to see just as many published and peer-reviewed studies done on Δ⁸-THC for as many numerous specific topics as there have been for Δ⁹-THC in the last 10-15 years, but the general knowledge that is backed by science gives us enough information to make some direct inferences on the safety and efficacy of both, as well as supported facts on Δ⁸-THC alone. Regarding metabolism, for example, the end products that are produced (11-hydroxy-THC and later 11-nor-Δ-hydroxy-THC / THC-Acetate) are the same.

Regarding Δ⁸-THC on the market, there absolutely needs to be a concern for the safety of the composition of consumer products… but that safety of products for our customers or any others regarding Δ⁸-THC is no different than any other Cannabis s. product containing cannabinoids. This safety all relates back to transparency regarding certificates of analysis (you can find these on our website) for finished and raw products, as well as the care taken in all steps of the process; extraction, purification, isolation, and so on. Adherence to local state and federal guidelines (which of course we strictly follow here at Blackhouse Botanicals) is also a clearly important factor.

The basis of approach to Δ⁸-THC is the same as CBN: the “degradation” pathway. After THCa is produced in the plant, it is subject to all sorts of stresses. Heat, oxidative elements, and light are all-natural (yet harmful) stresses the plant comes into contact with that, in turn, can change Δ⁹-THCa into both Δ⁸-THC(a) and CBN(a) (Cannabinol) purposefully as the plant protects itself. This is the basis of how Δ⁸-THC is created and found in Cannabis, as well as CBN (fig.2). There is no enzymatic pathway to create it as there is with CBG(a)/CBD(a)/THC(a)/CBC(a). So how does this relate to the safety of properly treated Δ⁸-THC? Simply put, Δ⁸-THC is more stable than Δ⁹-THC, so when Δ⁹-THC is subjected to any of those harmful stresses mentioned above, the energy from those is diverted into ‘moving’ the double bond from the ninth-to-tenth carbon position to the eight-to-ninth carbon position. The stability stems from moving available hydrogen atoms from an accessible place on the ‘side’ of THC to a placement more internal. If the stress is extremely harsh or harmful enough, when Δ⁹-THC is subjected to it, the exposed hydrogen atoms on the outermost side of the third cyclical structure will leave, which transforms it into CBN. These changes in cannabinoids are all pathways the plant has available to redirect harmful stresses & energy away from its genetic makeup. This is similar to the way melanin in our skin aptly absorbs UV radiation from the sun, protecting genetic information in our cells from mutations such as those that lead to skin cancer.