Here’s What We Know About Delta-9 THC and Delta-8 THC

Cannabis is full of promising therapeutic potential for a host of conditions ranging from chronic pain to anxiety disorders. Active ingredients in marijuana can affect how a patient or recreational consumer experiences certain sensations and how they act. Some of these chemical compounds are more present in the cannabis plant and have stronger effects than others.

The compounds delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC are cannabinoids that are found exclusively in the cannabis plant. Sometimes, these cannabinoids can have conflicting effects with each other; this creates a homeostatic environment in the body. While commonly-found cannabinoids can provide unique medicinal benefits and effects, rare cannabinoids that only make up a small percentage of the plant are proving to be equally or more beneficial than major cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids And The Endocannabinoid System

infographic showing where the cb1 and cb2 receptors of the endocannabinoid system work in the body

When cannabis is consumed by smoking, vaporizing, or eating edibles, active ingredients travel through the bloodstream and affect systems across the entire body. Therapeutic cannabinoids act on cell receptors found all throughout our body including our brain, immune cells, connective tissues, glands, and organs. These cannabinoid receptors form a cohesive and dependent network of cell receptors known as the endocannabinoid system. When major cannabinoids like delta-9 THC, for example, act on cannabinoid receptors of on an existing injury, the cannabinoids improve communication between cells to prevent unrestrained inflammatory responses and permanent damage.

Since not everyone consumes cannabis, the body produces naturally occurring endocannabinoids that act on the endocannabinoid system receptors to produce a variety of biological responses. The end goal is to create a healthy biological balance. CB1 is a major cannabinoid receptor primarily located in the nervous system, connective tissues, and glands. CB2 is the other major cannabinoid receptor that is located in the immune system. A lack of naturally occurring anandamide and 2-AG endocannabinoids can result in dysfunction of the central, nervous, and gastrointestinal system. Luckily, phytocannabinoids, otherwise known as cannabinoids like delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC, can help restore normal biological processes by making up for the endocannabinoid deficiency.

What Are Delta-9 THC and Delta-8 THC?

hand holding marijuana leaf in front of blue sky and green grass

Delta-9 THC, or simply THC, is the most common and psychoactive cannabinoid of the 113 known cannabinoids. While other cannabinoids may be more sedating, delta-9 provides an overall intense and potent experience. Delta-9 THC's strong cerebral and hallucinogenic effects, as well as it's potent pain-relieving properties make it a highly sought-after medical alternative to prescribed medication for anxiety, pain, inflammation, and other conditions. Delta-9 THC acts on CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and central nervous system to enhance sensory perception, improve appetite, lessen pain, and more. Delta-9 THC, essentially, gives these cell receptors instructions on how to affect sensory perception, memory, and cognition. Research into the effects of delta-9 THC has shown the medicinal improvements delta-9 THC can have on inflammation, cancer, mood and sleep disorders, pain, and digestive issues.

Not as plentifully present as THC and CBD, delta-8 THC is an isomer of delta-9 THC. That means that both delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC have the same amount of atoms in their molecular structure, but they're arranged differently. In delta-8 THC, the double bond in the molecule is on a different carbon atom than in delta-9 THC. This minor difference in molecular arrangement causes different effects on cannabinoid receptors. Like delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC also activates CB1 and CB2 receptors. Since delta-8 THC is only available in less than one percent of the plant, not much is known about it compared with regular THC.

What Are The Effects Of Delta-9 THC And Delta-8 THC?

woman holding a joint

High-THC strains and products are dominating the cannabis industry for good reason. Delta-9 THC can curb all types of pain and improves brain health in moderate doses. Consuming too much cannabis can trigger feelings of anxiety and paranoia for people who are prone to worrying excessively. Taking CBD during these bad experiences can reduce THC levels, but only time can reduce the effects completely. For people experiencing intractable pain, however, extremely potent delta-9 THC strains are the best complementary treatment option for them.

For newer smokers or people looking for a more clear-headed psychoactive experience, delta-8 THC is a worthwhile alternative to regular THC and even CBD. Delta-8 THC offers cannabis consumers a more mellow and less intense high compared to the effects of delta-9 THC. Similar to CBD, delta-8 THC reduces the strength of the THC for a moderate high. Studies on delta-8 THC show it has enormous potential to relieve nausea, chronic pain, anxiety, and problems with appetite.


side shot of brain MRI scan, demonstrating that delta-8 THC can have neuroprotective qualitites

In 1987, one study found that delta-8 THC increased acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that controls attention, learning, memory, and arousal. Current research shows that low levels of acetylcholine are closely related with Alzheimer's disease. Delta-8 THC could be a potential therapeutic target for neurodegenerative diseases. Acetylcholine can even help you sleep better and improve digestive issues, although not enough research into delta-8 THC's effects have been done for sleep and gastrointestinal issues.


woman sitting on a couch with hot tea and feeling sick

In 1995, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam conducted a study on the effects of delta-8 THC on children with hematologic cancers. Previous studies had found that delta-8 THC was about two times less potent than delta-9 THC. For eight months, Dr. Mechoulam treated these blood-related conditions with delta-8 THC two hours before each chemotherapy session and every six hours for 24 hours. Patients reported no vomiting and a lack of chemotherapy side effects.


hands on a wooden table rolling a joint with lots of marijuana on the table

In the 1970s, a two-year study on mice was conducted to test the effects of cannabis on the immune system. The study results suggest that cannabinoids inhibit tumor growth. Specifically, rats treated with delta-8 THC and CBN saw a reduction in tumor size and increased mean survival time. Delta-8 THC also seemed to mitigate the growth of Lewis lung adenocarcinoma cells, dependent on dose.

Appetite Stimulation

woman holding a slice of pizza she's about to bite, showing that delta-8 THC can help appetite stimulation

A 2004 study conducted on mice showed that microdosing delta-8 THC increased food consumption considerably more than delta-9 THC, without the negative side effects. Delta-8 THC may be a worthwhile therapeutic cannabinoid to look into for patients with weight disorders or people with low energy intake due to illness or intense treatments like chemotherapy.

Where To Buy Delta-9 THC And Delta-8 THC

outside view of front of marijuana dispensary where you can get delta-9 THC
Editorial credit: Jonathan Weiss /
There is little in-depth research into the effectiveness of rare cannabinoids like delta-8 THC for medicinal use. As selective breeding and isolation techniques improve methods of extracting minor cannabinoids, however, you'll be seeing more variety of cannabinoid isolates for medicinal and recreational use. Delta-9 THC is more readily available in nearly any type of product including flower, distillates, edibles, topicals, and tinctures. States like California, Colorado, and Washington are leading the way in delta-8 THC products with pre-filled cartridges and sublingual tinctures. Since delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC convert into delta-11 THC when consumed via edibles, there isn't a delta-8 THC edible market.

Delta-9 THC and Delta-8 THC may offer similar experiences for medicinal and recreational cannabis consumers, but delta-8 THC gives consumers a more reasonable and toned-down experience. Delta-9 THC has the punch that seasoned smokers crave, but delta-8 THC can provide energetic, creative, and productive effects at only two-thirds the potency of delta-9 THC. Until the Schedule I classification of cannabis is rescinded, further medical benefits of delta-8 THC will have to wait.

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