Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as delta-8 or ∆8-THC, is a psychoactive cannabinoid that has gained popularity in recent years. It is similar to the commonly known Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), but with a few key differences. One of the main reasons for its surge in popularity is a legal loophole in federal regulations. While THC is limited to 0.3% in hemp products, there is no limit for delta-8.
The first partial synthesis of delta-8 was reported by Roger Adams and his team at the University of Illinois in 1941. However, it wasn’t until 1966 that Dr. Raphael Mechoulam and Dr. Yechiel Gaoni achieved a total synthesis of delta-8 as part of their groundbreaking work at Hebrew University. In 2002, Dr. Mechoulam applied for a patent on the conversion of CBD into delta-8 and THC through various methods. He received the patent in 2008, but it is set to expire in 2022.
Delta-8 and THC have a similar chemical structure, with the only difference being the location of a double bond between two carbons. Both are psychoactive and have intoxicating and euphoric properties. In 2020, the American Association of Poison Control Centers introduced a product code specific to delta-8 THC into its National Poison Data System, marking the official start of the delta-8 craze in America.
The question of whether delta-8 is a synthetic cannabinoid is a bit complicated and depends on how you define “synthetic.” According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, synthetic cannabinoids are human-made chemicals that have mind-altering effects and are similar to those found in the marijuana plant. While delta-8 is naturally found in small amounts in the plant, the majority of it on the market is produced in a lab. However, the cannabinoids used in the conversion process were originally made by the plant, so it could be argued that delta-8 is not entirely synthetic.
The FDA’s stance on delta-8 is also somewhat ambiguous. While they acknowledge that it is naturally produced by the cannabis plant, they also state that concentrated amounts are typically manufactured from hemp-derived CBD. This leaves room for interpretation, and it may depend on the source of the delta-8 (plant or lab) as to whether the FDA considers it synthetic.
Since there are only trace amounts of delta-8 in hemp and cannabis plants, the vast majority of it on the market is produced in a lab using the chemical conversion discovered by Dr. Mechoulam. The process, as described by Chemical and Engineering News, involves refluxing CBD in an organic solvent with a cationic catalyst.