Jessica McKeil   |   March 29, 2021

How Delta-8 THC is Made in the Lab

Commercial Delta-8 THC products aren't plant extracted, they are lab made. Here's a summary of how Delta-8 THC is made in the lab from hemp-extracted CBD.
Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer based in British Columbia, Canada. She has a passion for cannabis tech and scientific breakthroughs, which has led her to work with some of the industry's biggest brands. She is the owner and lead-writer…

Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-8) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid, but one now more commonly produced in a laboratory. This newfound 'legal' high is the latest cannabinoid to get the cannabidiol (CBD) treatment. That means unstoppable consumer demand, which has thus far evaded federal regulation.

But where is this novel cannabinoid coming from? It's thanks to a surplus of other, more prevalent cannabinoids. Hemp-derived Delta-8 is jumping through legal loopholes and semantics, and it's also relatively cheap to produce in a lab. It's a matter of tinkering with the molecular structure of more benign and plentiful cannabinoids to convert them into Delta-8.

Getting Delta-8 Through a Cannabinoid Conversion

All cannabinoids begin their life as cannabigerolic acid (CBGA). Called the mother of all cannabinoids, this compound evolves throughout the course of the plant's growth cycle into every natural cannabinoid known today, from THC to CBD and beyond. Genetics, environmental exposures, and stress can all influence these biological conversions.

Because cannabinoids are remarkably similar in molecular structure, bringing this natural tendency to convert from one to another into the laboratory is relatively straightforward. Long before Delta-8 rose in prominence, lab technicians have been using similar conversion techniques to transform common cannabinoids into rare, exotic ones. Now they are applying this same technology to Delta-8.

Delta-8 exists in many cannabis cultivars but typically in extremely low quantities. To extract and purify Delta-8 from raw plant material with less than one percent of the targeted cannabinoid is unprofitable. This is why producers have begun converting other, more prevalent cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9 or, more commonly, THC) Delta-8. But this isn't the only reason for the rise in production of Delta-8.

Another reason is thanks to the booming CBD industry. With a surplus of CBD now flooding the markets, producers have found themselves not only with excess CBD but excess Delta-9 as well, thanks to the THC remediation processes. Both CBD and Delta-9 are prime candidates for conversion into Delta-8. Delta-8 is more profitable than CBD these days. Plus, it falls into a legal loophole and avoids the same persecution that its sister, Delta-9, receives.

Step-by-step: Converting CBD into Delta-8

The process of converting CBD into Delta-8 is nothing new. This isomerization process has been around for decades and patented (in one variation) by G. R. Webster, Leonard Sarna, and Raphael Mechoulam. The following step-by-step rundown is based on the patent notes as well as a rundown by ExtraktLab.

A video by ExtrakLab explained that it's possible to convert both THC and CBD into Delta-8 through a chemical reaction. However, CBD is a more straightforward process with less solution cleanup and byproducts at the end. Therefore, the following play-by-play focus on CBD.

1. Dissolve CBD into Solvent of Choice

Unlike other cannabinoid extractions, notably ethanol-based methods, conversion for Delta-8 requires a non-polar organic solvent. Common solvents include alkanes like heptane.

2. Add Acid of Choice into Solvent Mixture & Stir

Add acid into the solvent solution. Maintain the mixture at a temperature of 100 degrees Celsius while continually stirring for upwards of 18 hours (stirrer hot-plate required). Popular solvents include alumina acid-washed, p-toluenesulfonic acid, and hydrochloric acid (all known as Lewis acids).

3. Different Solvent-Acid Combination, Different Results

There are dozens of different combinations possible, which can all convert CBD into Delta-8. Each formula delivers different results. Depending on the blend, the chemical reaction may take anywhere from one to 18 hours.

It could also produce different byproducts and leave a variety of residues requiring cleanup. Webster, Serna, and Raphael's patent highlights hydrochloric acid in ethanol or sulfuric acid in cyclohexane as two options. Other options include p-toluenesulfonic acid and toluene.

4. Washed and Dried

Once the chemical reaction is complete, and the upper phase is separated, it's time to wash and neutralize the solution. The patent suggests washing with an aqueous 5% NaHCO3 (sodium bicarbonate).

5. Testing is Critical

Using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), the washed, converted mixture is separated into its many cannabinoid parts. Testing is critical throughout the process to confirm purity. Conversion is never 100 percent. There will always be a variety of byproducts. Extrakt Labs suggests being upfront with the testing laboratory on the process and formula used to ensure they use the most appropriate tests for residuals.

Covert Delta-8 From CBD With Minimal Equipment

What Extrakt Labs and other home-chemists have repeatedly demonstrated is how simple the CBD to Delta-8 conversion is. With what is essentially a home-chemistry kit and easy-to-source solvents and acids, CBD isolate transforms into a high-inducing compound. Unfortunately, this is also the downside to Delta-8 THC - too many garage chemists and amateurs are creating synthetic cannabinoids, and many of their products may have residual chemicals. For example, acetic acid is a common chemical used to create Delta-8 THC. The epidemiology fact sheets note that inhaling acetic acid can be very dangerous. If the Delta-8 manufacturer doesn't perform the process properly, consumers may be inhaling more than they know.

 

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