This popular cannabis product claims to be milder than regular marijuana. But is it legal? And is it safe? Delta-8 is all the rage these days because it can sneak around federal law. But does delta-8 even get you high? We put it to the test. Delta-8 is the latest craze in the cannabinoid world. It’s made from hemp and is claimed to give you a milder high than THC. It’s easily available and considered legal. But is safe? WebMD finds out.
How Delta-8 THC Works, and Why Experts Are Worried About It
This popular cannabis product claims to be milder than regular marijuana. But is it legal? And is it safe?
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By Dana G. Smith
Over the past few years, you may have seen headlines about a drug called delta-8. Google searches for the term grew by more than 850 percent in the United States between 2020 and 2021, particularly in states where recreational marijuana is illegal. According to one recent study, 16 percent of regular marijuana users also use delta-8.
Some claim it’s the next big thing in cannabis: a gentler and, perhaps more crucially, legal high that offers relaxation and pain relief without the anxiety or fuzzy-headedness of regular weed.
But recent warnings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration say delta-8 is a potentially dangerous drug that’s resulted in thousands of accidental poisonings.
Is this a case of regulators being too cautious or of cannabis advocates getting too hyped? The answer depends on what’s actually in a product labeled delta-8.
Some early research supports the claim that delta-8 could cause a milder high than traditional marijuana. But because the drug is unregulated, the vast majority of delta-8 products on the market don’t resemble what’s tested in a lab and can be contaminated with other cannabinoids and heavy metals. As a result, many experts advise against its use.
What is delta-8?
Technically, delta-8 means delta-8-THC, as in the THC that’s the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
The most common form of THC in cannabis plants is delta-9-THC, which is almost identical to delta-8-THC in its chemical structure. The molecules’ similarity means that delta-8 and delta-9 act very similarly in the body. Most crucially, they both bind to the same receptors in the brain, particularly one called the cannabinoid type 1 (or CB1) receptor, which produces the high you experience when you smoke a joint or eat a weed gummy.
However, research suggests delta-8 has a slightly weaker attachment to the CB1 receptor than delta-9, which tempers its effect.
“Delta-8-THC is less potent than delta-9-THC,” said Linda Klumpers, co-founder of Verdient Science, a pharmacology consulting company that specializes in cannabis-based medicines. “If you want to achieve the same effect as delta-9-THC, you need to give a higher dose of delta-8.”
Why are people using it?
A survey of delta-8 users backs this up, with respondents reporting feeling less paranoid, less anxious and having a “nicer” high compared with delta-9-THC. The most common experiences when using delta-8 were relaxation, euphoria and pain relief. People did report having some difficulty concentrating, problems with short-term memory and an altered sense of time, although not to the same extent as with regular marijuana.
“When we asked participants to compare delta-8 to delta-9, they felt that it was less intense,” said Jessica Kruger, a clinical assistant professor of health behavior at the University at Buffalo, who led the survey. “They remarked how they could use delta-8 and still be productive, whereas when they use delta-9 they would say that they had things like ‘couch lock’ or didn’t feel like getting up and doing anything.”
Dr. Kruger and Dr. Klumpers said it’s unlikely that delta-8 has different effects than delta-9. Instead, experts said, the explanation is probably that there’s less of the drug in the CB1 receptors, so people are less likely to experience the more distressing symptoms that can occur when they get too high.
Is it legal?
The purportedly milder high is one of delta-8’s main attractions for users. The other is its legal status.
Delta-8’s rise started with the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, which made hemp legal. Hemp and marijuana are both types of cannabis plants, but marijuana produces delta-9-THC and hemp doesn’t. Think of hemp and marijuana like two varieties of tomato plants, if one type of tomato could get you high.
The Farm Bill stated that hemp could be grown legally as long as it contained less than 0.3 percent THC. But, said Kent Vrana, a professor of pharmacology at Penn State, the authors of the bill made an oversight: They defined THC specifically as delta-9-THC, which is still illegal federally. With that definition, a market for delta-8 was born.
Delta-8-THC is detectable only in trace amounts in both hemp and marijuana plants, but manufacturers have figured out a way to produce it from a third notable chemical in cannabis plants, CBD. CBD is present in large quantities in hemp plants, and because CBD is legal, they assert, so is delta-8.
“What these manufacturers are arguing is that since you can extract CBD from hemp, and CBD is not THC, that it’s still considered hemp,” said Eric Leas, an assistant professor of public health at the University of California, San Diego. In other words, delta-8 is chemically THC, but legally hemp.
The manufactured delta-8-THC is typically added to gummies and vape cartridges and sold legally over the internet and in stores. But because the products are unregulated, what’s on the label can differ from what’s inside the package, both in terms of the potency of delta-8 and other unanticipated ingredients, like delta-9.
Is it dangerous?
The lack of regulation in the United States around delta-8 is the biggest concern for many public health experts. Several studies, including one by the US Cannabis Council, have found contaminants in delta-8 products. In another paper published in December by scientists at the University of Rochester, none of the 27 delta-8 products tested contained the amount of delta-8 they claimed. What’s more, all 27 had potentially harmful byproducts, presumably from the manufacturing process, including other cannabinoids, like delta-9-THC, and heavy metals, including lead and mercury.
“I don’t think delta-8 by itself is more dangerous than delta-9, but the way it’s made and who is selling it just scares the heck out of me,” Dr. Vrana said. “It’s unregulated, and because it’s synthetic there are plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong.”
Because of these concerns, the C.D.C. issued a health advisory about delta-8 in September. The F.D.A. put out a similar warning in May after receiving 104 reports of adverse events from delta-8 use, including hallucinations, vomiting, tremor, anxiety, dizziness, confusion and loss of consciousness.
Similarly, national poison control centers handled over 2,000 calls about delta-8 between January 2021 and February 2022, 41 percent of which involved children accidentally ingesting products with delta-8 in them. One of those cases resulted in death.
These poisonings could be caused by contaminants, or consuming large quantities of delta-8 or unlabeled delta-9. THC can cause chronic vomiting, psychosis and addiction when used at high concentrations.
Facing a lack of federal regulation, 14 states have banned either delta-8 or all unregulated forms of THC (there’s a delta-10, too). Surprisingly, this includes several states where recreational marijuana is legal, including Colorado and New York. According to Dr. Leas, the regulatory system for recreational marijuana makes it a safer product than delta-8. He points to manufacturing quality checks as important public health standards. In theory, the licensing of distributors, existing age limits and labeling rules about potency and recommended dose of a product — plus confirmation requirements for those labels — should protect consumers. None of those protections exist for delta-8-THC.
All the experts interviewed for this article, including those supportive of legalizing marijuana, recommended against using delta-8, because there is no way to ensure its safety. However, they also said the best solution is not to ban delta-8 but to regulate it.
“Regulation, for me as a pharmacologist and toxicologist, is: ‘What’s in it?’” said Dr. Vrana. “You have every right to know precisely what you’re taking.”
Dana Smith is an award-winning health and science writer based in Durham, N.C.
I tried delta-8 THC: Here’s what it feels like
Delta-8 THC is one of the hottest topics in cannabis right now. It’s a minor cannabinoid that can get you high like traditional THC, but much less so. Delta-8 found in small amounts in the cannabis plant and is often converted from other compounds like CBD. If you haven’t heard of it yet, you surely will soon enough.
Reason #1 that interest in delta-8 products is surging is its existence in a legal grey area: Delta-8 can be made from hemp. Thanks to the 2018 farm bill, cannabis with less than 0.3% THC is considered hemp, and anything that naturally derives from hemp is federally legal.
That means if you convert hemp CBD into delta-8, you end up with a federally legal cannabis product that gets people high, although less high than traditional THC. Some states have begun to regulate delta-8, some not. (Read more on what delta-8 is and its legality.)
Reason #2 people are so curious about delta-8 is because it’s supposed to be a much less intense, much more approachable experience than the high you feel from consuming traditional cannabis with THC.
So does it get you high? We put delta-8 to the test.
Is delta-8 less intense than THC?
To test out delta-8 THC, I slid to a dispensary in Portland, Oregon to grab up the 250mg pack (ten 25mg servings) of Smokiez Sour Blue Raspberry Gummiez. I chose Smokiez because their traditional gummies are some of my favorites, giving me a great comparative reference. Plus, when trying new products, it’s important to find reputable brands that you can trust to put out the good on a consistent basis.
With delta-8 expected to have less intense effects than traditional THC, I decided to try them in separate doses of 50mg and 100mg, or two and four gummies, respectively. Activation time on the package said 45 minutes.
I took each dose on an empty stomach for the fastest onset time possible, and then allowed a period of four hours to pass, since edibles are expected to peak within 3-4 hours. I did not consume any other cannabis that day, so I started from a completely sober state.
Here’s my experience.
NOTE: The following experience is a single human trial, not a true scientific experiment. Experience with cannabis, frequency of use, and your body chemistry all come into play when deciding how high one will get. Consumption results may vary.
50mg dose experience
I ate the first dose at 10:30am, and after about 30 minutes, I started to feel the familiar head and body buzz that let me know there’s some weed in my system. Or excuse me, hemp.
The first thing to know before discussing the delta-8 experience is my tolerance. I chain-smoke joints all day, every day, with dabs tossed in the mix here and there. It would take a lot of weed to floor me at this rate.
However, with traditional edibles, it tends to be the opposite. They always creep up on me because I forgot I ate them and then BAM—it’s Couchlock City, USA. That’s why I usually stay away from them.
That said, normally a 50mg dose of edibles would absolutely rock me to sleep within a couple of hours, but the delta-8 gummies produced a stimulating, sort of energetic experience that comes from a good morning wake ‘n’ bake mixed with a nice cup of coffee.
It was almost like smoking a joint of CBD-dominant flower, where you feel alert, clear-headed, and ready for any obstacles the day may throw your way. Within less than an hour of eating those gummies, I was locked into Google Docs knocking out days’ worth of writing work.
Truthfully, I expected to feel absolutely nothing when I ate those two gummies. I was ready to hate. But the Smokiez delta-8 gummies experience had me blasting music, dancing around my Airbnb, and punching out sentences that writer’s block had been stifling for over a month.
Sometimes, my head can get pretty foggy from the weight of the world’s news and personal anxieties around them. It leads me to a state where it’s hard to even approach daily life, let alone daily work. Cannabis is one of my remedies for this, and delta-8 proved to have the same benefits that I get by smoking a joint and telling myself that everything is going to be all right. All without the sleepy comedown.
It was a really pleasant surprise, honestly. Something tells me delta-8 might actually be as advertised. It might really be the weaker version of THC that makes cannabis more approachable for people with lower tolerances.
By 12pm, the delta-8 high had started to subside, and at 2pm the only lingering effects of the high were dry mouth and dehydration.
All in all, if I were to describe the 50mg high in one word, I’d say “energizing.”
Never once did I feel a groggy comedown. Never once did I feel my body succumb to the THC. Instead, I felt productive, motivated, and happy. It was the same type of high I get from consuming strains like Apple Fritter, Super Silver Haze, and Chocolope.
This is opposed to traditional edibles, where it’s only a matter of time before I’m horizontal on the couch with the Roku remote in-hand ready to waste hours of life watching Joe Budden Podcast episodes on YouTube. With delta-8, I popped a few of those bad boys and locked into Google Docs for four straight hours. Ernest Hemingway could never.
So yes, based on personal experience alone, I’d say that delta-8 gummies do get you high, and that the high is less intense than smoking joints of traditional flower or eating traditional edibles.
100mg dose experience
I ate the 100mg dose of delta-8 gummies at 4pm. If I’m keeping it real, the experience felt exactly the same as the 50mg dose. I wasn’t higher or anything, it was just right back to a quick head and body buzz that never once tailed off into a sleepy comedown, even as I moved well into the evening.
I was low-key disappointed with that—I thought boys were about to take off for the moon. In the end, it showed me that I could probably pop delta-8 gummies all day long without feeling like I need a 48-hour nap to clear out the oh-my-god-I’m-so-high cobwebs I sometimes get from traditional THC.
Does delta-8 THC get you high?
Yes, delta-8 definitely gets you high, but it was a lighter high than I’m accustomed to from smoking joints, taking dabs, and eating regular edibles.
These gummies were definitely less intense than the normal Smokiez fruit chews, and in the end, this home-cooked experiment left me feeling like delta-8 could be great for people who want an energizing experience from cannabis but don’t want to smoke joints or take dabs for it.
Or, if you simply get way too high from joints and dabs and you’ve been running from cannabis and its many benefits, delta-8 could be the training wheels you’ve needed all along.
Most of the time, people expect edibles to hit hard and have you stuck to the couch in slump mode. Perhaps delta-8 is the solution to avoid that.
What Is Delta 8?
Delta-8 THC (or Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol) is a naturally occurring chemical compound called a cannabinoid that’s found in small traces in hemp and cannabis (marijuana) plants. Its popularity is on the rise, and you can find it everywhere from boutique weed dispensaries to convenience store shelves.
How Does It Compare to Regular Marijuana (Delta-9-THC)?
Why is there such a growing demand for Delta-8? For starters, its chemical structure is similar to that of its well-known cousin, Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9-THC), the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana. That’s what gets you “high.”
Both Delta-8 and Delta-9 are forms of THC. But when people refer to THC, they usually mean the Delta-9 that’s found in high concentrations in marijuana. Both produce a euphoric, fuzzy feeling, but Delta-8 causes a milder high.
In fact, Delta-8 is often referred to as “marijuana-lite” or “diet weed.” Other common THC side effects like paranoia, anxiety, and drowsiness are also less potent.
Is Delta-8 Legal?
Another reason for Delta-8’s growing popularity is that, unlike heavily regulated THC, Delta-8 is legal to use in most states. That’s because it’s extracted mostly from hemp-derived CBD, which is legal to farm across the U.S.
But Delta-8 sits in a legal gray area. Hemp’s legality stems from the so-called federal farm bill (the Agriculture and Nutrition Improvement Act of 2018), which removed hemp and its byproducts from the list of controlled substances. The reason: Hemp’s low THC levels (less than 0.3%). The bill doesn’t mention Delta-8 anywhere. Hemp advocates and others who sell it have used this loophole to legally market Delta-8 products, usually with no age restrictions. As a result, it’s now the fastest growing product from the hemp industry.
Because there’s little oversight or lab testing on what goes into Delta-8 products, chemists and other scientists have safety concerns. Products labeled as Delta-8 may contain impurities, including high levels of THC. As a result, around a dozen states, including New York and Colorado, are beginning to restrict or ban the use of Delta-8.
Where Can You Get It?
You can buy Delta-8 products over the counter at gas stations, convenience stores, weed and vape shops, and online. They’re sold as gummies, candies, vaping pens, oils, tinctures, edibles, joints, or beverages.
It’s important to note that there’s no quality control for these products and its ingredient list. It’s also easy to confuse Delta-8 products for CBD, which doesn’t cause a high.
Is It Safe?
There’s also a lack of research and evidence when it comes to Delta-8’s impact on your overall health. Many people have reported — mostly via social media posts — that they use Delta-8 along with their prescription medications to help with depression and substance use. Users say Delta-8 can also:
- Calm nausea
- Boost appetite
- Ease pain relief
- Boost mental health
- Prevent vomiting during cancer treatments
However, experts say these benefits are mostly word of mouth and there’s a lack of research on how it affects your health. Just because you can buy it off the shelves doesn’t mean it’s completely risk-free.
Some people have reported side effects like:
- Drowsiness (bradycardia)
- Fast heart rate (tachycardia) (hypotension)
If you try Delta-8 products and notice any of these reactions, tell your doctor immediately. If it’s an emergency, call 911 or head to a hospital near you. If a child eats or is exposed to Delta-8 products, like gummies or candies, get immediate medical care.
Will You Test Positive for THC?
It depends. Delta-8 is a form of THC. Drug tests often look for traces of Delta-9, but Delta-8 could show up as a positive for THC. Whether it’s Delta-8 or Delta-9, people also react differently to cannabinoids depending on type of products they use and how long they use them for.
Currently, commercial urine drug tests don’t differentiate between different cannabinoids. So if you have a drug test coming up, it’s best to avoid Delta-8 products.
C&EN: “Delta-8-THC craze concerns chemists.”
University of Virginia Health: “Delta-8-THC: The Latest Cannabinoid.”
Project CBD: “The Delta-8 THC Controversy.”
Harvard Medical School: “Beyond CBD: Here come the other cannabinoids, but where’s the evidence?”
Wayne State University: “Michigan Poison Center issues warning about Delta-8 THC products.”