Most cannabis users alive today can easily remember a time when tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) was just THC. The cannabinoid is well-known for being the primary psychoactive component found in marijuana and, in very small levels, hemp plants, but that was the end of the story.
More recently, an increase in rigorous scientific experimentation has uncovered some interesting news. It turns out, not all THC is created equal. Now, chemists and serious cannabis enthusiasts alike are talking about various delta varieties of THC and how they could provide more targeted therapeutic and recreational benefits.
The three best-known THC variants are delta-8, delta-9, and delta-10. People looking for new cannabinoid products to try often find themselves confused by the differences between these three extracts, but they don’t need to get frustrated or overwhelmed. Instead, read on to find out about the key differences between delta-8, delta-9, and delta-10 THC before purchasing that next extract.
Understanding the Basics
Before discussing the varying strength levels and effects of these three popular forms of THC, let’s take a moment to discuss the name changes. To chemists, it’s all pretty straightforward. THC is the base structure. Additional molecules can be added, removed, or rearranged from it to create what are known as unique isomers, in this case, delta-8, -9, and -10 (1).
Since these THC isomers share the same base structure, they tend to affect people in very similar ways. Each of them follows the same metabolic pathways to arrive at the body’s endocannabinoid receptors, where all the unique isomers still bind to CB1 receptors. There are, however, some differences in how the structure of each THC isomer interacts with the CB1 receptors, so while the effects of all the delta iterations are similar, they’re not identical.
Delta-8 in Detail
Now that cannabis users understand the basics of how the three isomers are formed, it’s time to take a look at how they stack up. Most people view delta-8 as one of the calmer THC isomers. It is usually derived from hemp instead of marijuana, and its effects closely resemble a milder version of those associated with Indica cannabis strains.
Though some people view delta-8 THC as being more like CBD, it does have some of the psychoactive effects of delta-9 THC, the stronger of the isomers more commonly found in high concentrations in recreational marijuana. The psychoactive effects are, however, less pronounced.
Delta-8 THC contributes to the entourage effect without inducing a full-blown psychoactive experience, allowing users to get the benefits of THC while maintaining a clear-headedness not typically associated with more potent THC products (2). Delta-8 is also more stable than delta-9, meaning that it won’t degrade as readily into CBN. It’s also legal in most states, even those that do not have provisions for medical or recreational marijuana.
Delta-9 in Detail
The delta-9 THC isomer is what most people think of as “regular” THC. It creates far more potent psychoactive effects and is more often extracted from marijuana than hemp (3). As a result, delta-9 THC is only legal in states that have legalized marijuana.
The effects of delta-9 THC are more variable than those of the delta-8 isomer. They are strongly impacted by the mix of other cannabinoids and terpenes found in the strain. It can be harder for users to predict their responses to delta-9 THC.
Delta-9 THC is also responsible for most of the reported side effects of marijuana use, including anxiety, paranoia, and the infamous munchies. It also creates stronger cognitive impairments, which can be a problem for those who use cannabis products to support wellness in their daily lives.
Delta-10 in Detail
While cannabis manufacturers and many consumers have been aware of the delta-8 isomer for several years, delta-10 is a newcomer on the scene (4). It occurs only in minute amounts, which means it can’t be extracted as easily as delta-8 or delta-9 variations.
Like delta-8 THC, the delta-10 isomer is extracted from hemp, not marijuana. As a result, it’s legal in most states, though it can lead to failed drug tests since most tests can’t differentiate between the different THC isomers. Effects-wise, though, the two isomers are quite different.
The effects of delta-10 THC are said to be more uplifting and less calming than those of the delta-8 isomer. For those used to the more “traditional” delta-9 variation of THC, some of the effects of delta-10 will feel familiar, if more subtle. It can induce a state of increased creativity, energy, and focus but doesn’t come with the paranoia or spaciness associated with delta-9 THC.
Frequently Asked Questions About the THC Isomers
Since researchers and manufacturers have only recently begun to isolate different isomers of THC, most people aren’t very familiar with what they are or how they work. Cannabis enthusiasts who want to learn a little more about delta-8, -9, and -10 isomers can read on to find answers to some of consumers’ most frequently asked questions.
Are These Newly Discovered Isomers Safe?
Since all three THC isomers are so close in structure, the body responds to them in similar ways. All three forms of THC are generally tolerated well by most people, especially in small doses. While they are generally considered safe, it’s important for consumers to purchase extracts only from reputable vendors willing to release certificates of analysis (COAs) for all of their products.
Will THC Isomers Show Up On Drug Tests?
Though modern drug tests are designed to look for signs of delta-9 THC, they cannot distinguish between the different isomers. Even delta-8 or delta-10 extracts derived from hemp can still cause users to fail drug tests.
Are the THC Isomers Legal?
In states with legal medical or recreational marijuana, all forms of THC are legal to buy, possess, and consume. Delta-8 is also legal in most states where marijuana products remain illegal, with a few exceptions. Currently, delta-10 resides in something of a gray area (5).
There has never been a better time to start using cannabis. The proliferation of different extracts, including THC variations, gives consumers more control than ever over what kinds of experiences they will have when using hemp and marijuana products. Feel free to experiment within the bounds of legality, but make sure to buy extracts only from reputable vendors.