The Problem With Delta-8 THC
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CBD has been a buzzword for some time now in health and wellness circles. After hearing the successes of their CBD-producing colleagues, many companies made massive investments into upscaling their CBD production. But this global push to cash in on the green rush has caused an over-supply of hemp biomass. This issue has meant that producers have had to explore alternative means of monetizing their products.
The delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8 THC) trend has emerged as a solution to this problem. An interesting chemical property of CBD meant that chemists can convert the unwanted CBD into the isomer of THC.
What is an isomer, I hear you say? Isomers are two or more compounds with the same formula but a different arrangement of atoms in the molecule and different properties. THC is a compound that most in our industry will be familiar with. The molecular formula of THC is C₂₁H₃₀O₂. For the non-chemistry speakers, this means the THC molecule consists of 21 carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms, and two atoms of oxygen. The subtle difference between the two forms of THC boils down to the positioning of a double bond.
Figure 1. The chemical structures of ∆8-THC (on the left) and ∆9-THC (on the right). Full credit to RobinLeclercq via Wikipedia. ∆8-THC has a double bond between the carbon atoms labeled 8 and 9. ∆9-THC has a double bond between the carbon atoms labeled 9 and 10.
The delta-8 THC that we are discussing today is an isomer of THC. This base chemistry means that delta-8 can be synthesized from CBD, which also shares this same C₂₁H₃₀O₂ structure.
Figure 2. The chemical structure of cannabidiol (CBD)
With tons of waste CBD biomass flooding the market, creative chemists have been left with a high volume of CBD to play with. The emergence of the delta-8-THC trend has been triggered by some clever chemistry that advocates argue is a legal method of exploiting a loophole in the 2018 United States’ Farm Bill. Both forms of THC share a very similar pharmacological profile but the delta-8 form has been marketed as less potent than delta-9 THC. This is true; delta-8 THC exhibits a lower psychotropic potency than its delta-9 cousin, at a ratio of roughly 2:3.
In the interests of brevity, this article will not delve deeply into the effects of delta-8-THC, but in short, the physiological effects are very similar to that of delta-9 THC. Of note is that research into most of these minor cannabinoids is yet to fully gain pace, so we really know very little about these molecules and the true extend of their effects in the body. In the real world, most of these products that are claimed to contain delta-8 THC remain extremely difficult to verify.
A key drawback to this trend is that there is likely more inside these products than just delta-8. Depending on the process used, any number of additional chemicals may be formed and left residually in the product. In combination with lagging regulatory oversight in this market, it is very difficult to verify the legitimacy of these products. Although there is a legitimate chemical basis for these conversions and the utilization of waste CBD, we are falling foul of several of the same issues we have previously seen in consumer CBD products. This new trend is almost a scaling up of many of the issues we witnessed when CBD first emerged into the legal space. Verifying these products is extremely difficult not just for consumers but also for analysts.
Like many processes in the field of cannabinoid chemistry, there are a host of other factors and products to consider. Something that we have discussed before at my cannabinoid firm GCS is the presence of residual solvents in cannabis products. The same concerns ring true for the formation of delta-8 THC from CBD. Strong acids and solvents are required that, if not appropriately neutralized, can find themselves being consumed by unsuspecting members of the public. Be under no illusion, delta-8 THC is a molecule of great therapeutic potential, but this quality is by no means transferrable to the products that are being sold over the counter to consumers.
It is fair to say that products that are being manufactured on mass using loopholes to maintain profitability are not the most reliable of sources. The driver here is profit. And with all the best intentions in the world, analyzing and regulating this gray area of the market is invariably difficult. It has been a fantastic way to reutilize what would potentially be a waste product. However, chemistry of this kind needs to be professionally supervised.
The process for converting CBD into delta-8 THC can become extremely murky and there are numerous methods of balancing and refining the process. Everything from the purity of CBD through to the ratio of acid used in the conversion process. As with many chemical processes, if not appropriately controlled, there are potentially explosive outcomes from uninformed production. In the eyes of many, delta-8 THC is a synthetic product made using CBD isolated from hemp. But tits legality is in contention.
This issue highlights once again the disconnect between the academic perspective and the perspective of industry actors. The competitiveness of cannabis means that more and more companies are looking for loopholes to exploit. What is clear though is that our industry is running out of ideas. Companies repeatedly look towards the plant for new trends and opportunities. People hold the greatest potential in the cannabis industry. To promote innovation and differentiation we have created a range of educational tools that empower companies to make informed and independent business decisions.