So Long, CBD—Delta-8 Is the Latest THC Substitute That'll Help You Zen Out
Experts explain everything you need to know about this hemp derivative.
Keeping up with the surge of “cure-all” wellness fads is a job in and of itself. In our column Wellness Inspector, we do the work for you, closely examining these trends to see if they’re worth your hard-earned pennies—or whether they’re just hype.
Recent political debates have made many, many issues pop into the public eye. One such issue is the legalization of marijuana. While our pal Mary Jane still isn’t legal in the majority of states, we have good news: Delta-8 is.
Never heard of it? You’re not alone. To bring you up to speed on the THC substitute, ahead you’ll discover everything there is to know about the hemp derivative that’s about to make your entire year.
What is Delta-8?
According to the National Cancer Institute, Delta-8 (short for delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol) is a relative of THC and exhibits similar antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties. While it features many of the same benefits of THC (known as Delta-9), Delta-8 (also known as D8) has a lower psychoactive potency. In other words, it works well to soothe and prevent anxiety, pain, and vomiting without creating an identical high. (But, let it be known: You will absolutely feel heady when using this product—more on that later.)
Delta-8 is able to manifest these benefits thanks to its ability to bind to the same cannabinoid receptors in the brain that THC does. Despite being metabolized the same way, according to Ian Bush—the cofounder and marketing director of Hii Stick, a new-to-market Delta-8 offering that’s sold across the country and plants a tree for every product made—the effects are significantly dialed back. “Users report a clearer, calmer, and more composed high compared to what they get when consuming typical marijuana,” he explains. “Think of it as the diet or lite version of THC.”
While you may be feeling rather intrigued at this point, know that there’s a very real chance that you’ve already tried Delta-8. “If you’ve ever consumed marijuana, broad-spectrum hemp, or even some CBD products, you’ve most likely already consumed Delta-8,” Bush says, noting that D8 is extracted from hemp (more specifically, cannabis sativa L). Of course, many folks aren’t aware of this due to ever-changing hemp regulation and the fact that Delta-8 extraction has only recently begun to be more heavily researched. As such, many brands—THC, hemp, or CBD—haven’t directly called out Delta-8 in their product copy.
Fortunately, ever since the 2018 Hemp Farm Bill was passed—which was nothing short of a watershed moment for the hemp industry because it removed hemp and its derivatives (so long as they have less than 0.3% THC) from the definition of illegal marijuana—other legal distillates, like Delta-8, have begun to earn their moment in the spotlight, making their way from the unknown to the general market. Bush says that, as a result, there’s no doubt about it: Delta-8—which is available in many of the same forms as THC, including carts, dabs, gummies, and tinctures—is the next big hemp-derived distillate that’s about to become a household name.
Is Delta-8 legal?
Before getting into how D8 differs from THC and CBD, let’s get straight to the point with what you’re undoubtedly wondering: Is Delta-8 legal? You betcha.
“Delta-8 is legal everywhere CBD is,” Bush says. “The 2018 Hemp Farm Bill allows for the manufacturing and sale of any product derived from hemp containing less than 0.3% Delta-9-THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. The Controlled Substance Act specifically makes amendments that protect the manufacturing of any tetrahydrocannabinol (again, as long as it has legally compliant levels of D9) derived from hemp by removing them from the list of Schedule I narcotics, which is why D8 is legal.”
But there’s a caveat. Some states have different local regulatory laws that ban any and all hemp products (including CBD and, subsequently, D8). These include Alaska, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, and Utah. So, unfortunately, if you live in these states, D8 is a no-go.
Additionally, even though D8 is legal, thanks to being super similar to THC, it can sometimes lead to false positive drug tests. “This is because drug tests typically test for metabolites left behind by consumption and not the chemical itself, and since D8 bonds to the same receptors and gets metabolized the same way...well, you get it,” Bush explains.
How does Delta-8 compare to THC?
“Both Delta-8-THC and Delta-9-THC—the cannabinoid commonly referred to as ‘THC’—that are known for getting you ‘high' contain double bonds,” explains Nick Warrender, the CEO of Lifted Made, a national brand that specializes in Delta-8 and CBD products. “The ‘delta’ in the names refers to where these double bonds are positioned.” While the double bond is located on the eighth carbon in the carbon chain for Delta-8, Warrender points out that it’s on the ninth for Delta-9. Furthermore, he says that D8 connects to both CB1 And CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system, whereas D9 binds only to the CB1 receptor.
“CBD also binds to both CB1 and CB2 receptors,” he adds. “One way to think about Delta-8-THC is that it is a cross between CBD and Delta-9-THC. Many consumers do not enjoy consuming Delta-9-THC because of the negative feelings typically associated with taking it: anxiety, paranoia, cloudy thinking, and dry mouth and eyes. In contrast, these same consumers enjoy using Delta-8-THC because it does not cause these undesirable effects.” In fact, he says that “many consumers believe that Delta-8-THC produces a mild and clear psychoactive/cerebral buzz coupled with an uplifting effect on the body.”
Bush agrees with Warrender’s stance, noting that the effects of D8 typically take longer to set in, but once they do, they last half as long as THC. And, unlike THC, it doesn’t leave you feeling drained or exhausted after. “It’s a smooth come up, a nice buzzing ride, and smooth come down,” he says.
To illustrate its fully manageable effects, Bush went so far as to offer a personal anecdote. “The first time I had D8, I was taking my daughter to the zoo,” he shared. “I hadn’t consumed any THC products in a while because I just couldn’t handle how intense they were, and I would always get anxious and paranoid. As soon as I tried Delta-8, I got the giggles, and I haven’t had the giggles from any cannabis products in about 10 years. I felt like I could make the most out of our family day at the zoo and was still clear-headed and able to be a present and coherent father. You really just have to try it to fully understand it.”
What's the difference between Delta-8 and CBD?
Given that D8 and CBD connect to the same receptors in the brain, Bush says they have many of the same effects. “Sometimes people say CBD doesn’t do anything for them. That’s because it’s not psychoactive,” he says. “CBD has a lot of behind-the-scenes benefits that people aren’t aware of because you can’t always feel them. You don’t immediately feel smarter or healthier when you take omega-3, for example, but that doesn’t mean it’s not working wonders for your body. Delta-8 is like that but gives your brain more immediate feedback. It offers all those same benefits that CBD does—it has been shown to potentially offer neuroprotective benefits; relief from pain, nausea, inflammation; and can potentially help with appetite and stress relief—with more of a psychoactive effect, but, again, far less psychoactive than THC.”
Because of this, D8 is the perfect option for folks who crave something more than CBD but not as intense as THC.
“It’s naturally occurring in hemp and marijuana and can actually be found in broad or full-spectrum CBD as well,” Bush says. “But it is found in such small trace amounts that to distill it legally, you basically need to start with hemp, extract the CBD isolate, then through the isomerization of CBD, you get your Delta-8 distillate (at least, all the credible manufacturers do it this way).” While it’s a time-consuming and expensive process, it’s one that ensures the D8 you’re consuming is the highest quality possible.
Is there a demand for Delta-8?
Given Delta-8’s calm high and superior therapeutic effects, the hemp derivative is on the rise.
“Our research suggests that the current Delta-8 market offers a $6 billion untapped market opportunity,” Bush says. “Our sales have been stronger than we anticipated in our first two months of business, but our manufacturing lead is a wizard and has been able to keep pace with demand while vetting new opportunities to better the product every day."
In regards to where D8 is most in demand, Bush says that less-populated regions are soaring, while big cities have yet to take to the trend. “We seem to be performing best in rural regions and suburbs where shoppers really know their local store owners and trust their recommendations, which have made retail partners and their relationships with their customers invaluable to us,” he shares. “Big cities have been a tougher nut to crack because a lot of shop owners are content with their current product offerings and get 50 calls a day from vendors, so they require a lot more convincing to carry something different. But sales on our site show high demand in those markets, and we know our current customers in those areas want the option to buy from a local brick and mortar store. Pretty soon I think you’ll see Delta-8 available in your local CBD or vape shop if it’s not there already.”
Which Delta-8 products are trustworthy?
As with anything you consume, it’s important to know what to look for. Since these products aren’t individually approved by the FDA, knowing the types of D8 products that are trustworthy will help you have the best experience with fewer (if any) side effects.
“Watch out for brands that take advantage of its current lack of regulation and cut corners to cut prices,” Bush warns. “The extraction and distillation process is very expensive and time-consuming when done right, so if you’re seeing cheaper products, expect the bulk of those savings to come from less than ideal manufacturing processes.”
What’s more, he says to only shop from brands that are fully transparent about their products. “Transparency is key in demonstrating safety risks and showing that we aren't cutting corners or taking nefarious actions to make money,” he explains. “At Hii Stick, we source our Delta-8 from labs that carry ISO, cGMP, and, most importantly, API (active pharmaceutical ingredient) certifications. As of right now, we are the only brand with an API-certified lab creating Delta-8 because we have our eyes on upcoming regulation changes to hemp, and that extra level of security is something that consumers can take comfort in because it means your D8 products are held to much higher manufacturing standards.”
In addition to paying attention to lab certifications, Warrender says to only shop from brands that make their lab testing results (commonly referred to as Certificates of Analysis, or COAs) easily accessible on their websites and/or via product QR codes. “On the product pages at www.LiftedMade.com, consumers can read the COAs of each product on their respective pages,” he shares. “We also put a QR code on each of our product labels. COAs are important so that you know what you are consuming.”
While you want to keep an eye out for certifications, higher prices to account for the pricey manufacturing process, and COAs, Bush says that it’s also important to be aware that some brands permeate the market with misinformation. “It’s the wild wild West right now when it comes to Delta-8,” he says. “There are some companies who are partaking in the misinformation campaign to hold on to market share, some are making really great products, and some are just blindly trying to navigate this new frontier with little to no knowledge about the importance of their manufacturing process for Delta-8 specifically because they’re used to producing THC or CBD products and just added D8 to their existing operation.” With that in mind, Bush says that a good company to buy from is "one that isn’t afraid of criticism, is willing to answer every question you have, that prices their products to account for the expensive and time-consuming extraction process, that doesn’t shy away from showing you all their COA results and tests for things like heavy metals.”
A final word
As someone who has personally tried Hii Stick (I dig the straightforward Hii Stick, $29.99, which has a refreshing minty flavor) and Lifted Made (Urb: Delta-8 Gummies, $14.99+, are delish), I can attest to the clearer, calmer high that Delta-8 offers. And, thanks to their legality, it takes away the anxiety of looking for weed in a society that still hasn’t made it widely legal. All this is to say: When it comes to D8, it’s a resounding yes from me, dawg.