How Is Delta-8 THC Made?

Recently, both the CDC and the FDA published warnings about delta-8 THC. The advisories include the usual information about keeping cannabis products out of the reach of children and pets. The two publications also mention that delta-8 is still unregulated by the FDA. Herein lies the biggest problem with the compound.

Most scientists agree that pure delta-8 is safe for human consumption. However, the lack of federal regulation has resulted in a proliferation of potentially dangerous black market delta-8 products. These bootleg versions may contain chemical impurities that provoke serious adverse effects.

All of these concerns have placed delta-8 in a legal gray area, prompting consumers to wonder, “How is delta-8 made, and is it safe?”

Let’s take a closer look at the facts so that you can make an informed opinion about this remarkable compound.

What is Delta-8?

Like cannabidiol (CBD), delta-8 is classified as a cannabinoid, a naturally occurring compound in hemp and traditional cannabis plants. These compounds create their effects by interacting with a network of receptors in our bodies, called the endocannabinoid system (ECS). Two different types of receptors make up the ECS. CB1 receptors populate our brain and spinal cord, while CB2 receptors mainly exist in the immune system.

The psychoactive sensations people feel when they consume “marijuana” are caused by a molecule called delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC creates its effects by binding to CB1 receptors in the central nervous system. CBD doesn’t produce the same type of effects because the compound acts indirectly to modify the functioning of the receptors instead of binding directly.

However, delta-8 does bond with CB1 receptors, albeit more weakly than regular THC. The result is a lighter version of a traditional cannabis high while retaining many of the same therapeutic benefits of its stronger sister.

The National Cancer Institute defines delta-8 THC as “an analogue of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties.” In other words, the institute recognizes that delta-8 may help reduce nausea and vomiting, ease anxiety, stimulate appetite, soothe pain, and protect brain cells.

Does Delta 8 Have THC In It?

Delta-8 has almost the same chemical structure as traditional delta-9 THC. The only difference lies in the placement of one double-bond on the molecule’s carbon chain. Scientists identify the different types of THC according to the placement of this bond.

Traditional delta-9 THC has the bond on the ninth carbon, which gives the molecule a shape that readily links to CB1 receptors in the brain. This ability is the reason why typical marijuana plants can sometimes create intense psychoactive effects.

Delta-8 features the double-bond on the eighth carbon atom. This shifted position changes the molecule’s shape, making it so that delta-8 can no longer create such a strong bond with endocannabinoid receptors. This change in the way the cannabinoid relates to CB1 receptors results in a distinctly mellower sense of euphoria. Consumers often refer to delta-8’s effects as “clear-headed” or a “businessperson’s high.”

The Origin of Cannabinoids

Before we can discuss how manufacturers make delta-8, we need to take a closer look at where cannabinoids come from.

Cannabinoids start in the trichomes of cannabis flowers, where they take the form of cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Cannabigerol (CBG) is considered the “Mother Cannabinoid.” As the flowers develop, CBGA converts into all of the other cannabinoids, including THC and CBD. Genetics, environmental factors, and exposure to stress all affect the way CBG converts into other compounds. Growers who breed high-CBG hemp flower generally harvest earlier for more cannabigerol content.

Because every cannabinoid comes from the same origin, they all have similar molecular structures. Natural forces like the development of the plant and oxidation change one cannabinoid into another. Scientists can reproduce these effects in the lab, modifying the molecular structure through a process called “isomerization.” For decades, chemists have successfully produced many cannabinoids with the isomerization process, including delta-8.

How Is Delta-8 THC Made?

Manufacturers get delta-8 either from extracting it directly from hemp plants or creating the molecule from other cannabinoids. Most companies get the compound through the isomerization process. Direct extractions of delta-8 are prohibitively expensive for most consumers. The reason for this is that delta-8 only makes up less than 1% of hemp plants.

After Roger Adams discovered delta-8 in 1941, researchers struggled with obtaining enough of the compound for their studies. It wasn’t until nearly three decades later that Dr. Raphael Mechoulam perfected the process of delta-8 synthesis through isomerization. In 2000, Dr. Mechoulam patented his procedure for converting CBD into delta-8.

In the process of isomerization, scientists take advantage of the natural tendency of cannabinoids to change forms. All the elements are the same. The components are simply rearranged to create a different cannabinoid.

Delta-8 can be made from either traditional THC or CBD. Since CBD is the most abundant cannabinoid in hemp plants, most manufacturers use CBD to create delta-8. Hemp-derived delta-8 conforms with the regulations outlined by the 2018 federal Farm Bill. THC-derived delta-8 remains illegal on the federal level.

Process for Making Delta-8 from CBD

There are a few different ways that manufacturers convert CBD to delta-8, but the basic procedure typically involves these steps:

  1. Decarb the hemp flowers: Before the CBD can be extracted from the hemp flowers, they must undergo a process called decarboxylation, or “decarbing.” Decarbing is a simple process of heating the flowers, turning the acidic form of cannabidiol (CBDA) into CBD.
  2. Extract the CBD: Manufacturers use either a solvent or carbon dioxide to extract CBD from hemp flowers. This initial full-spectrum extract includes all of the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids found in the plant’s trichome glands.
  3. Turn the extract into CBD isolate: Before chemists can begin the conversion process, they must remove the other cannabinoids and terpenes in the extract through an extensive filtration process. The goal is to obtain an isolate that is at least 98% CBD.
  4. Add a solvent: Manufacturers use a non-polar organic solvent like heptane to melt the CBD isolate.
  5. Catalyze the CBD with an acid: The addition of acid creates the isomerization reaction. Lewis acids like hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid are the most common chemicals used to catalyze the reaction. At this point, the mixture is stirred for several hours at 100°C. The process can take anywhere from one to 18 hours, depending on the chemicals used.
  6. Remove both the acid and solvent: Chemists refer to this step as “neutralizing” the solution. Manufacturers typically wash the delta-8 solution with distilled water and sodium bicarbonate (or another alkaline material). They may also use a rotary evaporator to help with the purification process and dry the neutralized delta-8.
  7. Test the delta-8 in-house: Chemists use a process called High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to check the final product for purity. This technique isolates all of the compounds in the product. The delta-8 is sent back for further purification if needed.
  8. Confirm the product’s purity: After in-house chemists achieve a satisfying result, the manufacturers send the delta-8 to an independent laboratory for further testing. Third-party lab testing gives both the manufacturer and consumers another level of safety assurance.

Please don’t try to make delta-8 at home. The process of isomerization requires the expertise of trained chemists and specialized equipment. The chemicals used in the isomerization process are caustic and can produce toxic by-products. Black market delta-8 products are dangerous and at the root of the CDC and FDA’s concerns.

Importance of Lab-Testing Delta-8 Products

Just like with CBD, delta-8 products need to undergo rigorous lab testing to ensure that they are sufficiently potent and 100% free of any harmful contaminants like mold, pesticides, heavy metals, and residual solvents.

It’s also crucial to test delta-8 products to ensure that they contain less than .3% delta-9 THC, the federal legal limit. Delta-8 can also be derived from marijuana, making those products federally illegal. Several states have outlawed delta-8 for this very reason.

Lab-testing is even more crucial when it comes to delta-8 due to the unfortunate abundance of pirated products. Unscrupulous individuals buy conversion kits online to transform cheap CBD isolate to delta-8 for a hefty profit. The resulting products may not only include illegal amounts of delta-9 but often create dangerous by-products. These harmful substances can take the form of synthetic cannabinoids or chemicals produced by using impure solvents and acids.

According to cannabis scientist Michael Coffin, “I’m less concerned with traditional THC isomers than I am of ubiquitous unknowns. Delta-8, delta-9, and even delta-10 don’t seem to have any ill effects on people that we know at this point. But a lot of people are doing a poor job of cleaning up their reactions, which results in quite a soup of by-products and other unwanted compounds.”

Buying Safe Delta-8 Products

If you’re buying delta-8 in a local shop, look for a QR code or batch number on the package. You can use this information to examine test results on the manufacturer’s website. Don’t buy any delta-8 product that doesn’t provide this information.

An even better way to ensure you’re getting legal and safe delta-8 products is to purchase delta-8 online directly from the manufacturer. Buying online allows you to comparison shop, research the companies, read product reviews from customers, and check out official Certificates of Analysis before you make your purchase.

Safe delta-8 products you can buy from legal hemp companies include:

  • Delta-8 Flower: Delta-8 flower is basically high-CBD hemp flower that has been enhanced with delta-8 extract. The best delta-8 flower comes from brands that adhere to sustainable, organic farming methods.
  • Delta-8 Concentrates: These highly concentrated products are best for more experienced consumers who are familiar with the effects of cannabis. They come in the form of distillates and dabs like wax and shatter.
  • Delta-8 Edibles: Delta-8 edibles come in the same forms that you’ll find with CBD, including delta-8 gummies.
  • Delta-8 Tinctures and Capsules: These types of products are similar to CBD oil tinctures and capsules.
  • Delta-8 Vape Cartridges: Vaping is the quickest way to feel delta-8’s effects. The best delta-8 vapes come in a range of flavors featuring natural hemp-derived terpenes. Brands like Organic CBD Nugs offer Delta-8 vape sampler packs so that you can try out more than one strain.

Conclusion: Is Delta 8 THC Safe?

Most experts agree that properly made delta-8 is completely safe. As with other cannabinoids, it’s impossible to die from an overdose of delta-8. The problem lies with amateur chemists producing impure delta-8 products. Black market players looking to make a quit buck and a lack of regulatory oversight by the FDA shouldn’t keep consumers from accessing safe, legal hemp-derived delta-8, and the same factors shouldn’t prohibit legitimate manufacturers from providing it to them.

Common Questions

Is Delta-8 Synthetic?

No, it isn’t. Unlike K2 and Spice, Delta 8 THC is a compound found in marijuana and hemp plants. However, it occurs naturally only in small trace amounts, and human intervention is required to isolate and extract high quantities of Delta 8 THC. This chemical process means Delta 8 is considered synthetically derived even if it is a natural compound. 

What Chemicals Are Used in Delta 8?

The chemicals used to convert the CBD extract to Delta 8 THC involve using an organic solvent with an acid as a catalyst. This is typically heptane or toluene with p-toluenesulfonic acid. The chemicals used in this process can produce potentially harmful by-products. 

Is all Delta 8 Distillate?

All Delta 8 THC start as a distillate. It is a thick liquid that’s also the most concentrated form of Delta 8 THC and part of the conversion process from CBD to Delta 8 THC. However, not all Delta 8 THC products available are in the concentrated distillate form. For example, Delta 8 THC oil or tincture is made by diluting a distillate with an oil, such as coconut or hemp seed oil.  

Is Delta 8 Chemically Modified?

Yes, Delta 8 THC is considered a chemically modified product since a chemical process is required to extract large amounts of the natural compound. It would take too much marijuana or hemp plants to derive enough of this compound naturally. 

Does Delta 8 Contain Nicotine?

No, Delta 8 does not contain nicotine. It is a psychoactive cannabinoid you can find in the cannabis plant. In contrast, nicotine is derived from the tobacco plant. 

Does Delta 8 Expire?

Yes, Delta 8 can expire. It doesn’t mean it is spoiled and will make you sick, but it is considered expired when the product loses potency, tastes different, and isn’t as effective. Properly storing your Delta 8 product can preserve its shelf life for up to 2 years. Make sure it is in an airtight container in a cool, dark area without excess humidity or moisture