What to know about Delta-8 THC, the legal-ish weed compound that gets you high

What to know about Delta-8 THC, the legal-ish weed compound that gets you high
A CPlant employee organizes a box of hemp for export at the company's farm on the outskirts of Tala, Uruguay, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020.AP Photo/Matilde Campodonico
  • Delta-8 THC is a newly popular weed compound that's quasi-legal.
  • The cannabinoid is less potent than regular THC, but it can still get you high.
  • More research is needed to determine whether delta-8 could be used for medical benefits.

New York recently legalized marijuana, making it the 16th state where recreational adult use of cannabis is legal. But dispensaries won't open to recreational users until next year, and in other parts of the US, pot shops still seem like a futuristic fantasy.

In the meantime, there's a way to get high in a legal loophole. Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, a close relative of the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, is sold online and in stores with little to no regulation.

That's not to say delta-8 is fully legal - the cannabinoid is not explicitly addressed in the 2018 Farm Bill, which essentially legalized CBD and other compounds derived from hemp.

But if you're seeking a buzz, delta-8 may be a more appealing option than the other hemp products you can find in stores. People who have tried delta-8 say the compound makes them feel relaxed, clear-headed, and creative, without the paranoia that can come with smoking weed.

"It's just like the perfect balance between THC and CBD," Adam Rahman, CEO of Fresh Bros Hemp Company, told Insider.


Delta-8 is less potent than the classic THC, but it can still get you high

Experts estimate that delta-8 has between half and three-quarters of the potency of delta-9 THC, which is the THC many people are familiar with. But the lesser-known cannabinoid can still get you baked, cannabis specialist Peter Grinspoon told Insider.

"It's less potent, but that doesn't mean it gets you less high," said Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Harvard Medical. "It's sort of like you can't argue that beer gets you less drunk than vodka."

Delta-8 is nearly identical to delta-9 THC, with the location of one chemical bond setting them apart. Although both compounds activate your endocannabinoid system, that difference in structure means delta-8 binds to receptors slightly differently, which may explain its milder effects.

Just like drinking enough beer can get you drunk, you can get pretty high on delta-8 if you consume enough. But some people say the high feels more controlled than what you'd experience with THC.

For those who get anxious on weed, delta-8 may be a mellower alternative

If you ask Rahman, the Fresh Bros CEO, puffing on some delta-8 is more like drinking a glass of wine than getting trashed.


"People who have never smoked weed in their life are like, 'Oh wow, I like this. I'm talkative on this. I feel good on this. I feel like I just drank a glass of wine.'" Rahman told Insider.

Delta-8's mild effects make it a popular option for people who want to use cannabis for medical or recreational reasons but feel limited by anxiety, Grinspoon said.

"I can't tell you how many patients I have who say, 'I'd love to use medical cannabis instead of opiates for pain, except it makes me anxious,'" Grinspoon told Insider. "Delta-8 might be a very good option for people like that."

However, Grinspoon cautioned that we don't yet know whether delta-8 has medical benefits. In 1995, scientists found that the cannabinoid prevented vomiting in eight children undergoing cancer treatment. But larger-scale studies need to be done to determine whether delta-8 may have therapeutic effects like those offered by THC and CBD.

More research is needed to determine how delta-8 affects the body and brain

Delta-8 has grown in popularity over the past couple years. The CBD craze lasted through 2019, but nowadays, consumers want to take cannabinoids with noticeable effects, Rahman told Insider. His company sells delta-8 vapes. tinctures, and gummies, along with CBD products and other lesser-known cannabinoids.


"Delta-8 is definitely that new product that everyone seems to want," Rahman said. He still has some regular clients who prefer CBD, but delta-8 is the most requested cannabinoid from new customers these days.

The mounting interest in delta-8 will likely drive more research into its effects, Grinspoon said. Research into THC and CBD came first, since they're the most readily available compounds in cannabis. Extracting delta-8 is a more expensive and complicated process, but it's proven to be profitable.

Until the research catches up, Grinspoon said it's important to remain cautious when considering potential benefits of delta-8.

"What we do know is really exciting, but people need to be patient and wait for some of the science, and not romanticize each of these new cannabinoids as they come out," Grinspoon said.