Jessica McKeil   |   February 01, 2021

Is Delta 8 THC Safe? Despite Claims, There’s Little Research

Do lab-created cannabinoids like Delta-8 pose safety concerns? Like most things in cannabis, we need more research.
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…

Digital retailers love delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC-8, Delta-8-THC) because it skirts around the strict regulations for its cousin, cannabinoid delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta-9-THC). Producers love it because it's possible to synthesize from CBD oils, providing a lucrative return. Not to mention how consumers can't get enough of it because of the intoxicating properties. But is THC-8 safe?

Despite the discovery of Delta-8-THC early in the 20th century, it has only recently earned the attention of consumers, researchers, and regulators. Surprisingly, we know little about its safety profile, especially in applications like vape pens and edibles.

A Review of Delta-8-THC

Delta-8-THC is one of the hundred or more cannabinoids known to exist in cannabis, but it naturally exists in limited quantities. With current extraction methods, it's typically not cost-effective to extract from THC-rich strains of cannabis. Instead, Delta-8-THC producers are working with CBD oil.

Through an innovative isomerization process, established in 2004, extractors can transform hemp-derived CBD oil into two forms of THC: Delta-9-THC and Delta-8-THC. This chemical manipulation rearranges the carbon atoms within the molecules to transform a non-intoxicating compound into an intoxicating one.

What THC-8 Producers Claim

High Times tells us that, "all in all, Delta-8 is a powerful cannabinoid that has a lot to offer." Pot Guide explains it as "Weed Light" and promises a smoother and more pleasant experience than Delta-9-THC. Many brands and consumers claim it's a less powerful high, but with similar effects to its infamous cousin, Delta-9-THC.

Is THC-8 safe? In essence, the consensus among those selling Delta-8-THC vapes, edibles, and concentrates is that it's a much safer (and legal) product, supposedly with fewer side effects than traditional THC-9 options.

This compound is already incredibly popular and profitable for extractors. This means the industry is rife with claims about the benefits of Delta-8-THC. Unfortunately, these claims are unsupported by robust research.

What We Know About the Safety of THC-8

The only established way to confirm a compound's safety profile is through clinical and randomized controlled trials. At the time of writing, ClinicalTrials.gov reported a single THC-8 clinical trial, and there were no RCTs on PubMed. It's worth noting that PubMed reported the clinical trial terminated before completion in 2009.

Is there any information on the tolerance and safety profile of Delta-8-THC in more preliminary work? Since the 1970s, there have been over 200 peer-reviewed papers published on this cannabinoid. Often these early phase studies are seeking medical applications. One of the most cited studies on this compound came out in the 1990s, "An efficient new cannabinoid antiemetic in pediatric oncology."

Authors Aya Abrahamov, Avraham Abrahamov, and R.Mechoulam reported that only two out of the eight children in the study experienced any side effects from this cannabinoid. The side effects noted included slight irritability and one case of euphoria. Otherwise, the doses of Delta-8-THC seemed well tolerated.

Older still was a study from 1973 titled, "Delta‐8‐ and delta‐9‐tetrahydrocannabinol; Comparison in man by oral and intravenous administration." This study explored the different effects of both Delta-8-THC and Delta-9 THC on male subjects through oral and intravenous administration.

Oral administrations of Delta-8-THC produced a wide range of cannabis-like effects, including somatic and perceptual effects. Side effects noted were dry mouth, dizziness, incoordination, visual distortions, and other effects mirroring Delta-9-THC.

The researchers noted that following intravenous administration of Delta-8-THC, "the qualitative symptoms experienced were similar to those reported from delta-9-THC," and that "the overall impression was obtained of slightly weaker effects from this material than with delta-9-THC." They estimated the relative potency to be roughly 2:3.

PubChem's Data Sheet on Delta-8-THC refers only to side effects from animal studies (rat, mouse, monkey). It describes "behavioral: somnolence (general depressed activity); behavioral: analgesia," which are essentially the intoxicating effects that many people seek from the cannabinoid. Notably, the doses used within these animal studies are substantial, equivalent to 58 grams for a 68 kg person.

Is THC-8 Safe?

With few human studies on the adverse effects, safety profile, and tolerability of the molecule, it's impossible to confirm if THC-8 is entirely safe for human consumption. While some evidence suggests it is milder than its notorious cousin cannabinoid, its long-term effects are unknown.

Furthermore, how does THC-8 react when vaped, smoked, or eaten? As with so many exciting new cannabinoids, much more research is required before any scientifically sound conclusions may be drawn.

 

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