According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), there are at least 144 known cannabinoids within the cannabis plant. The most popular is Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound known to supply all the stereotypical effects of getting high. Yet a lesser-known cannabinoid, Delta-8, is making headlines as it offers many of the same benefits, purportedly without any of the negative side effects, such as paranoia, dizziness and headaches. It’s also LEGAL in most states where CBD is sold.
So, what exactly is Delta-8? Scientifically speaking, Delta-8 THC is an analogue of Delta-9 THC—a chemical with a similar structure—but it has differences as well. Like Delta-9, this cannabinoid binds easily to the CB1 and CB 2 receptors in the central nervous system. It provides an array of medicinal effects, like relief from nausea, pain and anxiety, possibly even neuroprotection for the aging brain.
While there’s a buzz around Delta-8, it’s nothing new. Researchers identified the cannabinoid in the early seventies, but since it makes up just 0.01 percent of the plant, it didn’t warrant much news. With current emphasis on health and wellness, Delta-8 is finding its place. Research suggests that Delta-8 has about two-thirds of the potency of Delta-9, and users often report that it provides a milder, more clear-minded high that is less sedative than Delta-9.
“I look at Delta-8 as the little brother to Delta-9,” says Dan Jensen, owner of Elements Distribution, whose in-house Green Union line of Delta-8 products includes disposables, gummies and infused flower. “Delta-8 a great introduction for the person destined to be a to be a Delta 9 user. It’s the same with CBD being an introduction to Delta 8. It’s nice that Delta-8 is offered in smoke shops and places like that, so people who would not even go to a dispensary have the opportunity to explore the possibilities of this product.”
The next question is how is Delta-8 legal when it’s so closely related to Delta-9? We have the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 to thank for that. The Farm Bill (as it’s commonly known) legalized all hemp production and everything in the composition of hemp other than Delta-9, of which hemp must contain below 0.3%. This is the standard on the federal level, so CBD, CBC, and every other cannabinoid other than Delta-9, including Delta-8, are legal. Under state jurisdiction, the legality varies. As of January 2021, Delta-8 cannot ship to the following states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island, and Utah.
Who is buying Delta-8? While, technically, there are currently no federal regulations setting the minimum age required to purchase Delta-8 products, as a smoke shop owner, you already know the drill and can act accordingly. Those seeking out Delta-8 for legitimate health reasons tend to stick with delivery methods with which they are most familiar. According to Lee VanTine, CEO at CannaAid, edibles and pre-filled vape cartridges are the most popular. They also tend to be the most potent.
“In cartridges, the product is 99 percent terpenes and distillate without any additives. When you smoke Delta-8 using a vape or infused flower, it’s less potent than Delta-9. When you eat an edible, be it Delta-8 or Delta-9, it gets metabolized into the same THC cannabinoid with very strong effects,” VanTine says. He adds that CannaAid has developed a new product with CBG (cannabigerol) that eliminates unwanted side effects.
As with any in-demand product, there are going to companies that jump on the bandwagon. As a retailer, it’s your responsibility to provide your customers with quality products supported by third-party testing and up-to-date certificates of authenticity. Delta-9 is no exception — maybe more so, as misconceptions surround it from consumers (and retailers alike). Most notably, Delta-8 is nothing like K2 or spice — it’s NOT synthetically created in a lab, but rather a naturally occurring compound found organically in cannabis and hemp plants.
In April 2020, Delta-8 became the subject of its own subreddit, r/Delta8, which now has more than 25,000 members. Google Trends lists Delta 8 THC as a “Breakout,” meaning searches for the term have risen by than 5,000%.
“D8 is so hot right now that it helped us build up repeat clientele very quickly,” says Karen DeSane, of Mr. Nice Guys Smoke Emporium, in Melbourne Florida. “Some of our customers were skeptical at first, but once they try it 90% come back for more.”
In South Carolina, where legalization is still on the ballot, Andrew Bagley, owner of Illuminati Smoke Shop, says interest in Delta-8 has meant a “tremendous” jump in sales.
“It’s great to have something that I can offer to both people looking for medicinal benefits as well as for recreational that is psychoactive but also safe,” Bagley says.