This common question speaks to just how much confusion and miscommunication there is in the cannabinoid market.
We've written and studied CBD in-depth with over 1 million+ words.
THC Delta 8 is a new kid on the block but when you look under the hood, there's a clear connection to THC9 (the standard THC people associate with the "high" of cannabis.
We'll look at why this is the case below but more importantly, we'll touch on the main differences between CBD and THC delta 8.
For purposes related to health, CBD is by far the better approach long term due to the very different way it affects key pathways.
Delta 8 is basically is a discount way to get a high similar to THC delta 9 with similar effects on appetite and potentially pain.
The legal question is also one that's ongoing for Delta 8 which we'll touch on.
Here are the main categories we'll cover:
- What is CBD versus Delta 8
- How does CBD and Delta 8 work in the body
- Does CBD or Delta 8 cause a "high" feeling
- What's the legal status of CBD and Delta 8
- Is Delta 8 good for you
- Is CBD or Delta 8 better
- What is the difference between Delta 8 and Delta 9
- Is Delta 8 synthetic?
- Why is Delta 8 popular now
- Will Delta 8 show up in a drug test
Let's get started….based on research!
What is CBD versus Delta 8
CBD and Delta 8 are both cannabinoids, substances naturally found in the cannabis plant.
They have almost opposite effects across many pathways in the body.
There are two main reasons this question has become so popular lately:
- People are curious if Delta 8 has health benefits like CBD
- People are looking for a (semi) legal way to get high
Most of the focus is on the latter.
We've covered what CBD is in a full review, but essentially, it acts like a feedback mechanism in the endocannabinoid system we have in our body.
This system is tasked with balancing other key systems such as:
- Nervous system - neurotransmitters and the like
- Immune system - inflammation and cellular birth/death cycle (key to cancer)
- Endocrine system - hormones, both metabolic and steroidal
This system is really the key pathway by which all endocannabinoids have their effects (both positive and negative).
Delta 8 currently lies within a gray area in terms of legality according to the 2018 hemp bill.
It's a naturally occurring cannabinoid and it's not technically THC delta 9.
Delta 8 has been available across many retailers for now but that may change in the next year or two with more scrutiny.
This makes sense once you understand what Delta 8 is.
Essentially Delta 8 is a discount form of THC Delta 9, its cousin and the one we all know for its effects on cannabis.
Delta 8 has a similar effect, albeit at lower levels, as THC's primary pathway in the body.
Let's turn our attention to how CBD and Delta 8 work in the body.
How do CBD and Delta 8 work in the body?
We mentioned the endocannabinoid system above.
Let's dive into CBD and THC delta 8 specifically
There's a great review of how CBD works in the body here.
Essentially, it acts as a feedback mechanism when systems run low or high.
You can see the powerful results of this across multiple pathways:
- GABA - see CBD and GABA or CBD and anxiety
- Serotonin - see CBD and serotonin or CBD and depression
- Inflammation - see CBD and autoimmune or CBD and neuroinflammation
These are just examples but serotonin is a great example since it literally governs all human behavior.
The issue with serotonin (target for SSRIs - see CBD versus SSRIs) is that it really needs to be in a range.
- Too low and you have depression, low effect, etc.
- Too high and you have irritability, risk-taking, etc.
A studied looks at CBD's effects on serotonin after it's depleted due to injury (it also controls pain sensitivity system-wide).
repeated treatment with low-dose CBD induces analgesia predominantly through TRPV1 activation, reduces anxiety through 5-HT1A receptor activation, and rescues impaired 5-HT neurotransmission under neuropathic pain conditions.
- CBD reduced pain (analgesia - see CBD versus Tylenol or CBD versus Ibuprofen)
- CBD reduced anxiety (see CBD and anxiety)
- CBD "rescued" serotonin (5HT).
The last one is fascinating. There's no sign of too much serotonin (called serotonin syndrome) from too much CBD up to doses of 1500 mg and higher.
Again… a feedback mechanism when the ECS can't keep up.
What about Delta 8?
It functions very much like THC, just at a reduced level.
There are two primary receptors in the endocannabinoid system:
- CB1 - primarily in the brain and nervous system
- CB2 - primarily tied to immune function
Let's introduce your native endo (meaning inside us) cannabinoid….
Anandamide! Named after the Hindu goddess of bliss...Anand.
Anandamide basically plugs into CB1 receptors like a lock and key to drive its activity.
It's primarily a backup when systems get overrun by stress, pain, inflammation….excesses of all sorts.
THC (delta 9) imitates anandamide and turns on CB1 activity as well.
What about THC delta 8?
Same thing...just at a smaller level.
∆8-THC is slightly less potent than Δ9-THC (being about ≈50-66% as potent in-vivo according to most scientific studies on the topic), although its psychological and physiological effects remain qualitatively similar
So...Delta 8 is about half the potency of THC (delta 9).
One note...unlike CBD's feedback mechanism where it can have different effects depending on the state of the system, delta 8 pushes in one direction. Up for CB1 activity just like THC.
Let's look at out from this effect.
Does CBD or Delta 8 cause a "high" feeling
To us, this is really the reason people are interested in delta 8.
Remember the "bliss" molecule...anandamide?
In terms of mood, you can think of its role as just keeping you "just high enough".
You know...feeling alright.
THC hits the CB1 receptor much harder than it's naturally built for and lasts longer than anandamide.
This excess activity can lead to the "high" feeling and consequently, delta 8 does the same thing, just at about ½ the rate.
CBD does not have this high effect since it only supports anandamide when low.
No high but more importantly (for health anyway), no tolerance!
The brain doesn't like when key pathways such as CB1 are pushed too high.
It will start to push back with long-term use by reducing the sensitivity and number of CB1 receptors.
This is classic tolerance that you see with many drugs (both illegal and legal).
It occurs anytime you push pathways in one direction over a longer-term period of time.
This "high" effect brings up a good point...what about legality?
What's the legal status of CBD and Delta 8
The 2018 Hemp Bill really cleared a lot of confusion on all the cannabinoids.
Essentially, it set ground rules for legality around legal hemp with less than .3% THC (delta 9).
Delta 8 was not specified (there are a few "delta's" out there.
That being said, the hemp plant has very little delta 8 occurring naturally even with new hybrid strains.
THC and CBD are the dominant cannabinoids (see CBD versus CBN versus CBG for more).
With such low levels, there wasn't much reason to address it in the 2018 hemp bill since it should naturally fall under the .3% requirement for its much stronger cousin, THC delta 9.
Now we have products showing up everywhere which are all delta 8!
This was never the intent of the 2018 Hemp Bill and you can expect it to be resolved at some point with Delta 8 being banned unless a Federal legalization of cannabis products in general occurs.
Delta 8 has most of the attributes of THC which makes it a target.
We're not wading into the pros or cons of THC (see CBD versus THC) but legally, we wouldn't be surprised if a correction on delta 8.
This brings up the question though...are there benefits?
Is Delta 8 good for you?
This is a mixed response in terms of health.
Yes, by boosting the endocannabinoid system, there can be benefits IF it's running low.
That's the whole basis behind CBD's effects (see CBD list of benefits).
The problem with delta 8 is tolerance and overshooting the mark.
Remember, it only pushes in one direction (CB1 and CB2 activity up!).
This is why you can get the high and other effects that are less sought after.
Side effects may be similar to those of THC, including dry mouth, red eyes, getting the munchies, short-term memory, paranoia, or anxiety.
The fact that we had to go to Leafly for side effect detail just speaks to the total lack of research on delta 8 at NIH, etc.
In general, the side effect profile should track THC.
Really, the bigger issue is we're trying to improve health is tolerance.
Tolerance means that the very positive things that delta 8 might do (CB1 receptor) will actually get worse and worse over time.
Again...we see this everywhere.
For example, many people take benzos for anxiety and sleep issues.
These drugs like valium, Ativan, and Xanax boost GABA, our brain's key "brake pedal".
With continued use (actually pretty fast...about 2 weeks), they quickly build tolerance.
The side effects from withdrawing?
Intense anxiety, insomnia, and worse.
Longer-term use can even lead to seizures if stopped cold-turkey since GABA is so depressed and glutamate (the "gas pedal") actually gets ramped up!
Long-term use of THC and delta 8 would also lead to tolerance (with a slight addiction bent due to dopamine effects) over time.
The short term would not see such effects as DNA is actually getting turned off to make the CB1 receptors and this takes time.
Conversely, it can take about 30 days for those receptors to come back online (DNA turned back on) after stopping the use of THC or delta 8.
Tolerance is really the key to health effects with any medication.
CBD has not been shown to induce tolerance.
One example spells it out:
- Healthy cell with low inflammation - CBD does nothing
- Healthy cell with high inflammation - CBD reduces inflammation
- Cancerous or virally infected cell - CBD INCREASES inflammation
Three different responses coming from three different states.
We see this across every pathway we study including neurotransmitters.
The last instance there makes sense once you realize that the body's immune system uses inflammation (oxidative stress) to kill off wayward cells.
That's why CBD doesn't build tolerance like THC and Delta. It doesn't push in one direction!
Is there any place Delta is better?
Is CBD or Delta 8 better
For most health-related issues, CBD is the better approach for the reasons we discussed above.
CBD naturally affects more pathways than THC and does so in a way that doesn't build tolerance.
The one area where THC and delta 8 is different is with appetite.
Both THC and delta 8 will increase appetite which can be helpful with wasting diseases or with chemo (always work with your doctor).
Delta(8)-THC increased food intake significantly more (P<. 05) than did delta(9)-THC, while performance and activity were similar.
This is an interesting difference between delta 8 and THC.
CBD has not shown any effect on appetite up or down.
There are potential effects of delta 8 and THC for tumor suppression but if we have tolerance, those pathways may actually diminish with time.
Again, we need more studies.
Really, the main difference is the high from delta 8 which is probably why it will eventually end up on the FDA's radar.
What about delta 8 versus THC (delta 9).
What is the difference between Delta 8 and Delta 9?
Seriously...from the limited research we have on delta 8, it's basically a discount version of THC (delta 9).
In fact, they have the same chemical structure with just one bond adjusted.
We need quite a bit more research but so far, we know that they have both similar effects on CB1 and CB2 receptors (agonists or boosts) and similar effects as a result.
Delta 8 just doesn't attach to those receptors as efficiently as THC delta 9.
We look forward to teasing out exactly how the two may differ.
There is one giant difference and that's the natural level of each in the cannabis plant.
This brings us to the next question.
Is Delta 8 synthetic?
Here's the issue.
Yes, delta 8 occurs naturally in the cannabis or hemp plant but at such low levels, it's probably not what you're finding in the very poorly monitored retail market.
It's hard enough to find quality CBD with 3rd party testing (see ours up top).
CBD and THC delta 9 are the two most prominent cannabinoids in hemp by a 1000 fold:
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Δ9-THC)
- Cannabichromene (CBC)
- Cannabigerol (CBG)
- Cannabinol (CBN)
- Cannabidivarin (cbdv)
You don't even see Delta 8 on the list but we can assume it's below "traces".
This means that most of the delta 8 on the market is probably synthetic...manufactured.
It's just not financially viable to extract the very small amounts of delta 8 from hemp and sell it in larger quantities.
This market is wholly unregulated since it's technically a food supplement under the 2018 hemp bill law.
Finding the appropriate safety testing for pesticides, heavy metals, bacteria, mold, solvents, etc is probably closer to the illegal cannabis market where brutal pesticides can (and are) be used.
That's the biggest issue with delta 8 right now aside from the limited research.
There's no telling what's in there and this type of market attracts some really bad actors (lots of bogus product from China).
Buyer beware until that's resolved.
There's a big push to sell and hype delta 8 now because there's lots of money to be made from selling it and by definition...those sellers are not going to care much about safety.
Unfortunately, that's just the way this market is right now.
Which begs the question...
Why is Delta 8 popular now
It's a strange loophole to get a psychoactive product right now.
Basically, the main reason people are getting delta 8 is for the high (albeit limited) that is expected from THC delta 9.
It does have this property since it pushes CB1 receptor activity past their normal bounds.
Along with this, you can have the other effects if it goes too high as well including anxiety, paranoia, and even psychosis.
Again, its effect is lower than THC but they both push in one direction so it's possible to take too much.
Remember...you have the same behavioral effects from THC and delta 8 so DUI is possible.
The fact that you find delta 8 online, at truck stops, and head shops is a clear indication of its questionable status. Similar to the spice fad before.
To that point…
Will Delta 8 show up in a drug test
Both Delta 8 and THC delta 9 metabolize the same way by the liver and the metabolites will show on a drug test.
CBD does not show on a drug test and it does not break down into THC.
In the end, CBD is more tied to health pathways while delta 8 is more of an intoxicant in terms of why people are buying them.
We expect the FDA will clarify the legal status of delta 8 shortly at the time of this writing.
The fact that a great deal of the product is synthetic is a major red flag as well.
The key takeaway...delta 8 is very different from CBD across multiple fronts.
Always work with a doctor or naturopath with any supplement!
The information provided here is not intended to treat an illness or substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.