Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may be the most well-known cannabinoid in cannabis, but according to the National Hemp Association, scientists believe that there may be more than 100 different cannabinoids in cannabis.
One cannabinoid that has recently emerged in the market is delta-8-THC.
As previously reported by Hemp Grower, the National Cancer Institute defined delta-8-THC in a statement as an analogue of THC that contains neuroprotective properties that can increase appetite and reduce nausea, anxiety and pain. It produces some psychotropic effects that are believed to be less potent than delta-9, the primary form of THC found in cannabis.
The legal status of delta-8 remains unclear, as some say it's federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, while others consider it a loophole.
"In terms of the legality, I think everyone is confused," says Scott Churchill, the director of scientific operations at MCR Labs, an independent cannabis testing laboratory based in Massachusetts. "There are people that say it's illegal because it's a derivative of cannabis, which I believe is how the original prohibition was written, stating that anything that is a derivative of cannabis is illegal. But then the hemp farm bill came out and depending on that language [in the farm bill] is whether or not it created a loophole for non-delta-9."
Delta-8 is reported to have similar psychoactive effects as delta-9, but the effects are much more subdued, says Roger Brown, the president and founder of ACS Laboratory, a cannabis, hemp and CBD testing laboratory in Florida.
Delta-8 vs. Delta-9: Chemical Differences:
The chemical structure between delta-8 and delta-9 is similar, as delta-8 is just an isomer of delta-9, Brown says.
"The only difference between delta-8 and delta-9-THC is where that double bond is located on the chain of carbon atoms," according to ACS Laboratory. "Delta-8 has a double bond on the 8th carbon chain, and delta-9 has a double bond on the 9th carbon chain. This seems like a small distinction, but it's significant enough to produce slightly different cognitive and physical effects."
And Jeremy Sackett, the founder and owner of Cascadia Labs, a cannabis-centric testing laboratory in California, agrees, saying there is a minimal difference between the two isomers because essentially the only difference is the double bond location.
How is Delta-8 Made?
As previously reported by Hemp Grower, delta-8 is a cannabinoid found naturally in cannabis but typically only in small amounts. It is most commonly converted in a laboratory from delta-9-THC or CBD (cannabidiol).
There are several standard operating procedures (SOPs) that can be used to extract delta-8, says Allison Justice Ph.D., CEO of The Hemp Mine, a vertically integrated hemp CBD business in South Carolina.
Although The Hemp Mine does not make delta-8, Justice has gained an extensive knowledge of the extraction process from others in the industry and from being in the industry for more than ten years. She broke down the delta-8 extraction process:
To begin, hemp flower is extracted for CBD isolate, or pure CBD (98%+). Then, that isolate goes through an extensive process to get turned into a distillate, Justice says.
“Once it is isolate, a solvent is added to melt it down, and then an acid reagent is added to cause the reaction," Justice says. "After the reaction takes place, the new substance is then neutralized with an alkaline material, washed and then distilled to clean it up.”
The final distillate ends up being 60% to 70% delta-8 and roughly 2% to 6% delta-9, but if a company is trying to make a compliant hemp product, it has to be under the 0.3% delta-9 THC limit, Justice says.
"Certain companies that are manufacturing properly will run it through extensive chromatography to remove the delta-9 or dilute it down to be compliant [with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) final rule on hemp]," Justice says.
From there, the distillate is sent to the lab for testing.
As delta-8 is a relatively new cannabinoid on the market, the testing process is not always perfect, as many labs do not have the proper SOP’s or equipment in place to properly separate delta-8 from delta-9, Justice says.
Delta-8 Testing and Measurement
"There are multiple different ways that a testing laboratory could analyze for delta-8, but the most common would be liquid chromatography methods," says Sackett of Cascadia Labs.
The testing process begins when a delta-8 sample is brought into the laboratory and that sample is extracted. When the sample is extracted, it means the lab is trying to pull out what it is looking for via delta-8, delta-9, pesticides, solvents, etc., he says.
"Then, we extract the sample and try to leave behind any interferences, such as the plant material, fats and other stuff from the concentrate, so we can extract exactly what we are looking for," Sackett says. "That extraction goes onto an instrument, and we run it through the instrument."
After the sample gets run, it gets measured against a known reference material, and then the lab can record the percentage of delta-8 or delta-9 in the sample, he says.
Brown echoes this sentiment, noting this is part of the ACS process as well.
"When there is a known standard, you measure the sample that you receive against the known standard, and then you can produce results based on the potency level or percentage of the known standard," Brown says.
In general, Sackett says he has not experienced any significant challenges to test for delta-8 in cannabis flower or cannabis products; however, he says the challenges related to delta-8 are the same challenges associated with any other minor cannabinoid, which is the availability of reference materials and non-standardized methods.
"Up until fairly recently, maybe within the last five years or so, reference materials were not available for delta-8," Sackett says. "The availability of reference materials has been a limiting factor for the ability to test for these alternative cannabinoids, but now it is available."
Read more Hemp Grower delta-8 coverage here.