Delta-8 THC vs Delta-9 THC

As a cannabis consumer you’ve probably experienced that “high,” a feeling of euphoria or intoxication, thanks in no small part to a cannabinoid called Delta-9 THC. However, there is a new cannabinoid gaining market share and steam with consumers, and that is Delta-8 THC. Learn about key differences between these cannabis compounds
Written by 
Erin Hiatt, Cannabis Writer and journalist.
|Last Updated:
Delta8 vs. Delta9

Because this cannabinoid is so new to today’s consumer, we are in the early learning stages still about its potential therapeutic benefits and side effects. But so far, consumers are reporting that Delta-8 feels like a gentler version of Delta-9 by providing a less intense high and fewer of Delta-9’s negative side effects like paranoia and anxiety.

There are some differences between the two cannabinoids, however, so let’s have a look.


Delta-9 THC is used for both recreation and medicine. This cannabinoid has been used by humans for thousands of years for medicinal purposes, but modern day research has found that there are medicinal benefits for a myriad of conditions, including anxiety, glaucoma, inflammation, multiple sclerosis, appetite, pain, and many others.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved two synthetic THC medication, nabilone and dronabinol (brand names Cesamet and Marinol) for the treatment of nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy and to stimulate weight loss and low appetite in HIV/AIDS patients.

Delta-9 works its psychotropic effects by stimulating the release of dopamine (aka the “feel good” hormone) which causes the sense of euphoria. Other feelings from Delta-9 may include relaxation, increased appetite, heightened sensory perception, and an altered sense of time.

The negative side-effects are likely as well known as the positive, and may include anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, dry mouth, bloodshot eyes, short-term memory loss, and an increase in appetite.


Many consumers are drawn to Delta-8 because of its novelty, while others are consuming Delta-8 for many of the same reasons they partake of Delta-9 – for therapeutic benefits and recreation – albeit a reportedly more mild version thereof.

In a statement, the National Cancer Institute defined Delta-8 as an analogue of Delta-9 that has neuroprotective properties and can increase appetite and reduce nausea, anxiety and pain.

While the Delta-8 fad may be new, researchers have been looking sporadically into this compound since the early 1970’s. For instance, researchers found that Delta-8 was able to kill cancer cells and reduce tumor size in mice. Other mouse studies found that low dose Delta-8 increased appetite and reduced inflammation and corneal injury.

The pros of using Delta-8 as opposed to Delta-9 seem to lie primarily on its ability to act quite a bit like Delta-9 but with a softer effect, producing fewer psychotropic effects to create a less racy, more focused high.

While the research on its specific negative effects are in the early stages, it is thought that the negative effects of Delta-8 are similar to Delta-9 and may include dry mouth, red eyes, increased appetite, paranoia, anxiety, and short-term memory loss.

Differences between the two

While the positive and negative effects of the two are similar, their differences lie in their molecular composition, legality, and how they’re made. From a molecular standpoint, the difference is small but significant. Both forms of THC have double bonds on the molecular chain, but Delta-8’s bond is found on the eighth carbon chain, while Delta-9 is found on the ninth.

Delta-9 is a naturally occurring cannabis compound, but left untended and to age or to oxidize, it can become Delta-8. To make enough Delta-8 to meet market demand, CBD can be converted to Delta-8 in a lab, a move that many believe is a legal workaround.

Speaking of legal, Delta-9 THC – despite cannabis legalization in many states within the United States – is still considered to be an illegal Schedule I substance, defined as a drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.

Delta-8, however, seems to be occupying a middle ground; not quite legal, not quite illegal. This is due to interpretations of the 2018 Farm Bill, which allowed for the legalization of hemp and its molecular constituents, including the non intoxicating CBD.

The DEA is in the process of finalizing its interim final hemp rules. Their current stance is that “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain controlled substances,” which would certainly make Delta-8 illegal, though the meaning of “synthetically derived” remains ambiguous.

How do they interact with the endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for creating a state of harmony in the body called homeostasis, which basically means your body is in the “just right” zone. The ECS works to keep your internal environment stable by responding to changes in temperature, hormone levels, hunger, sleep, mood flucuations, and much more.

To respond to these internal and external stimuli, the ECS sends an endogenous (meaning internal) cannabinoid called anandamide to cannabinoid receptors found throughout the body: the CB1 receptor is in the central nervous system, while the CB2 receptor is in the peripheral nervous system, the digestive system, and specialized cells in the immune system.

When the consumption of cannabis is introduced, cannabinoids like Delta-8 and Delta-9 attach to CB1 receptors to create the high and other effects. Though the research is emerging, current thought holds that Delta-8 binds to CB1 receptors in a slightly different way than Delta-9 because of its location on the molecular chain. This may be a reason why Delta-8 creates a less intense high.

To wrap up, what we know so far is Delta-8 is an up-and-coming cannabinoid that may have some of the known therapeutic benefits of Delta-9 while providing a less anxious and racy high. It is however, making quite an impression on consumers despite its quasi-legality and small body of research supporting anecdotal reports. Delta-8 is a newcomer and there is still much to be learned, but if you’re curious and would like to give the compound a try keep these tips in mind: Be sure that you only buy Delta-8 from a licensed, legal dispensary, you know where the cannabis is sourced (or the question can be easily answered), and you can view a QR code or batch number that allows you to look up product test results.

Erin Hiatt
Erin Hiatt
Cannabis Writer and journalist
Erin Hiatt is a New York City-based writer who has been covering the cannabis industry for more than seven years. Her work - which has appeared in Hemp Connoisseur Magazine, PotGuide, Civilized, Broadly, Freedom Leaf, MERRY JANE, Alternet, Weedmaps and many others - covers a broad range of topics, including cannabis policy and law, CBD, hemp law and applications, science and technology, beauty, and psychedelics.

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