Updated May, 2023
Of the hundreds of cannabis compounds, none are as famous or as intensely studied as Delta-9 THC. Delta-9 is “the” THC cannabinoid; illicit, federally illegal, and responsible for the plant’s famously intoxicating effects.
But lately, Delta-9 has been sharing the spotlight with a few other THC variations–primarily Delta-9, Delta-10, and TCHO-A, so we think it’s time to talk about how they’re related (and different). Here we review everything you need to know about Delta-9 THC and how it compares to the new THC varieties on the market.
What are the Reported Benefits of Delta-9 THC?
Delta-9 THC is the most intensely studied cannabinoid due to the intoxicating effects it delivers. Studies proving the anti-nausea effects and pain-relieving properties of THC date back to the 1970s, while the neuroprotective qualities and effects on depression are still under investigation.
Generations of cannabis users have reached for the plant to benefit from the mood-boosting properties of Delta-9 THC. Cannabis intoxication is different from other substances, absorbing the mind and body in feelings of joy, relaxation, and delight. It turns out these euphoric feelings have a lasting effect on our system; a 2016 study on aggression related to cannabis and alcohol consumption showed cannabis diminished aggressive feelings while alcohol exacerbates them.
Delta-9 THC possesses well-documented antiemetic (anti-nausea) properties. This was one of the first identified medical benefits of cannabis, established in the 1970s and 1980s.
High-thc cannabis strains have been prescribed to cancer patients since 1984 when it was used to combat radiotherapy-induced nausea, and patients today continue to benefit from THC. In fact, the only FDA-approved THC medications on the market are those that combat nausea in people with cancer.
One of the classic side effects of cannabis consumption is “the munchies,” or a feeling of increased hunger post-consumption, which can benefit people suffering from a low appetite. A 2018 study showed THC modulates appetite hormones including ghrelin and leptin by increasing plasma levels without influencing insulin levels. This has positive implications for treating eating disorders and obesity.
Swapping out a bottle of beer for a pre-roll may sound counterproductive, but THC has the potential to help reduce alcoholism as well as other drug addictions. Not only does legalized THC reduce alcohol sales, but THC consumption increases an individual’s chance of success during treatment for opioid abuse.
A 2017 study on animals found that cannabis administration diminished the consumption of heroin.
Like other cannabinoids, Delta-9 THC works with your endocannabinoid system to create homeostasis in the body. This particular cannabinoid works in neuronal cultures in the brain, acting as an antioxidant and encouraging neurogenesis (creating new neurons).
As a result, Delta-9 THC can suppress muscle spasms in patients with multiple sclerosis and slow nervous system degradation in patients with Parkinson’s disease. This has significant implications for people suffering from various kinds of neurodegenerative diseases.
A 2020 study found that nearly all patients of the 1,819 studied experienced short-term relief from their depressive symptoms after consuming cannabis. However, the authors note other studies have found that the link between cannabis consumption and depressive symptoms is highly situational and can vary person by person. In short, if it works for you, utilize mother nature’s natural resources. 👌
How Does Delta-9 THC Occur?
Like all cannabinoids, THC stems from cannabigerolic acid (CBGa), the “mother” of all cannabinoids. From CBGa, the compound undergoes an enzymatic reaction called cannabidiolic acid synthase (CBDAS) to become THCa or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. THCa breaks down when exposed to heat to become Delta-9 THC during a process known as decarboxylation.
Can Delta-9 Get You High?
Yes, Delta-9 is the prominent cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive and intoxicating effects of cannabis and will cause you to feel “high.” When delta-9 THC enters the body, it binds to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and other parts of the nervous system, which can produce a range of physical and psychological effects.
What is Hemp-Derived Delta-9?
Delta-9 THC is Delta-9 THC regardless of the plant it comes from. In fact, hemp and what people colloquially call “marijuana” are both cannabis sativa plants. Still, the federal government defines “marijuana,” aka cannabis, as illicit plants that contain psychoactive THC levels, typically between 5 and 30%. At the same time, hemp is a federally legal cannabis sativa plant with no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight.
Hemp-derived THC, then, is Delta-9 extracted from federally legal plants containing low THC concentrations.
Hemp-derived Delta-9 THC could also be synthesized from a chemical conversion process that starts with hemp-derived CBD.
Can Hemp-Derived Delta-9 Get You High Too?
Yes, hemp-derived delta-9 THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) can get you high, even though the amount of delta-9 THC in hemp is far lower than in cannabis. There are a couple of reasons for that:
- The 0.3% dry weight limit is vague and applies to harvested hemp flower only. The rule does not provide instructions for calculating total Delta-9 THC in finished products like gummies and beverages. Manufacturers then conduct creative math to produce compliant formulas that contain psychoactive THC levels.
- Hemp-derived Delta-9 THC products often contain a blend of other hemp-derived cannabinoids. These semi-synthetic compounds, like Delta-8 THC, Delta-10, and HHC, are Farm Bill compliant and psychoactive. Some states have banned these alternative cannabinoids. However, most states still allow sales at uncapped concentration limits.
How Does Delta-9 Work in the Body?
Delta-9 THC is absorbed through your lungs or gastrointestinal tract to enter the bloodstream, depending on the consumption method, where it interacts with your endocannabinoid system to produce intoxicating “high” feelings.
The Endocannabinoid System
The endocannabinoid system has receptors throughout the body and is responsible for maintaining homeostasis through improving biological functions. In short, the ECS helps us stay healthy.
The ECS has two primary receptors, CB1 and CB2. CB1 receptors are mainly concentrated in the brain and nervous system, as well as in your liver and spinal cord. CB1 binds with the cannabinoids your body naturally produces, as well as Delta-9 THC.
Delta-9 THC & The ECS
Delta-9 THC mimics anandamide (known as the “bliss molecule”) and binds primarily with CB1 receptors to produce a psychoactive effect. The CB1 receptor is a major player in the euphoric effects on THC, and subtle genetic differences in the expression of this receptor from one person to the next can explain the differences in reactions to THC.
In the brain, CB1 regulates the release of neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, and glutamate. CB1’s control over these neurotransmitters is why THC can increase serotonin levels.
Delta-9 THC vs. Delta-8 THC
You’ve probably heard about Delta-8-THC, the new, mostly legal, hemp-derived THC analog. Delta-9 THC and Delta-8 THC look, smell, and even sound similar – but they have a few key differences. The chemical difference is only discernible under a microscope; Delta-9 THC has a double electron bond on the ninth atom in its carbon chain, while Delta-8 has a double bond on the eighth atom.
This slight change is responsible for the big difference in their effects; Unlike Delta-9’s intense euphoria, Delta-8 produces more mild effects related to appetite stimulation and relaxation. Additionally, Delta-8 is a minor cannabinoid and appears in far smaller quantities than Delta-9 THC.
Still, the most significant, practical difference between the two is that you can buy Delta-8 THC legally online and in most states in the country, unlike Delta-9. Why? Delta-8 products are generally derived from hemp extracts, which are federally legal.
Delta-8-THC flower, is actually low THC hemp sprayed with Delta-8 extract. There are also many derivative products like oils, edibles, and vapes, as well as novelty items like Delta-8 lollipops, poprocks, and even potato chips!
Learn more about Delta-8 THC.
Delta-9 THC vs. Delta-10 THC
Like its Delta siblings, Delta-10 THC has a double electron bond, this time on the tenth carbon atom. Delta-10 is also a minor cannabinoid that appears in minuscule quantities in the plant and is frequently mislabeled as CBC during testing. There’s currently little research around Delta-10, but anecdotal evidence points to its uplifting, euphoric effect with increased focus and energy.
Similar to Delta-8, you can also find hemp-derived Delta-10 products on the market in the form of consumables and extracts like oils and vapes. Learn more about Delta-10 THC.
Delta-9 THC vs. THCO-A
Unlike Delta-9, THCO-A or THC-O Acetate does not naturally occur in hemp or cannabis plants. Moreover, it is not a THC isomer like Delta-8 or Delta-10. THCO-A is a derivative of hemp products created in laboratories by acetylating (processing) hemp-derived extracts like Delta-8 or Delta-9 THC. Acetylated compounds like THCO-A are prevalent in the pharmaceutical world–one example is Aspirin, which is created by acetylating Salicylic Acid.
THCO-A is currently legal as long as it’s derived from hemp-derived extracts. To date, this compound is not well-studied, and more research is needed to confirm its effects. Still, you can find THCO-A products popping up all over the market, delivering mild psychoactive effects.
Learn more about THCO-A.
What Type of Delta-9 Products are Available?
Delta-9 is found in nearly all cannabis and hemp products with THC, even in strains dominated by CBD or other cannabinoids. When you see THC on a package, the product contains Delta-9 THC, unless otherwise specified. Delta-9 products can include flower, edibles, oils, tinctures, and cartridges for residents in states with legal adult use.
As the legal market continues to expand, you can also find Delta-9 THC in topical solutions, lotions, skincare, and even beverages. In states with medical legalization, products vary under state laws. Some states allow medical patients to consume THC flower, while others limit it to oils and edibles.
For residents in dry states where full prohibition is in effect, Delta-9 THC is only available from the hemp plant in quantities of less than 0.3% or less.
Popular Strains With High Delta-9 Levels
Since Delta-9 THC is the most abundant cannabinoid in modern cannabis strains, you can find it in nearly all cannabis products. However, each strain has a unique mix of cannabinoids and terpenes, and some strains have higher Delta-9 levels than others.
High Delta-9 THC strains include:
- Pineapple Express, 27%
- AK-47, 20%
- Wedding Cake, 22%
- GSC (Girl Scout Cookies), 19%
- Purple Punch, 19%
- Runtz, 19%
- Gorilla Glue, 18%
- OG Kush, 18%
- Sour Diesel, 18%
Can You Smoke, Vape, and Ingest Delta-9?
Yes, you can. The traditional way of consuming THC is by smoking the flower in a pipe or rolling it in a joint. You can also find Delta-9 THC distillate, lollipops, tinctures, edibles, concentrates, and most frequently in vape cartridges.
The Delta-9 Market
Is Delta-9 Legal?
The answer is not straightforward; Delta-9 THC can come from the hemp or the cannabis plant. THC legality varies from state to state, as some states have passed medical or adult use consumption laws, making some or all forms of THC legal. No form of THC derived from the cannabis plant is permitted at the federal level, but THC under 0.3% derived from the hemp plant is federally legal. (It’s a brain twister)
Delta-9 THC Potency & Testing
How is Delta-9 potency measured?
Delta-9 THC potency is measured the same way as other cannabinoids, with a potency test.
For edibles and extracts, ACS Laboratory uses Ultra-High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) machinery to precisely measure and detect Delta-9 levels, which is the preferred instrument for these products due to its ability to test samples at room temperature without requiring heat, which changes the results.
We understand the importance of accurate THC potency tests for brands like yours to market products successfully.
At ACS Laboratory, we test hemp and cannabis products for Delta-9 THC as part of our 21 Analyte Potency Test. We also test for Delta-8 THC, Delta-10 THC and have recently developed a method to test THCO-A. With its ability to possibly relieve nausea, stimulate the appetite, and combat addictions, Delta-9 is more than just the cannabinoid that “gets you high” – it’s the foundation of the cannabis economy and plant medicine.
Want to test with us? We deliver precise results fast. Contact us today to learn more or schedule a potency test.