The CBD Spark That Drove the Legal THC Revolution
- CBD: the soft introduction to cannabis
- What are Isomers, Acetylations, and Derivatives?
- Are D8, D10, THCOa & HHC all made from hemp-derived CBD?
- Why testing is so important
Dr. Sanjay Gupta introduced CBD to Americans in 2013 when he hosted the CNN special, "Weed." The program documented Charlotte Figi, a little girl who suffered severe epilepsy. After failing to find relief from conventional treatments, Charlotte's mother, Paige, began giving her CBD. Almost instantly, her seizures drastically subsided.
Charlotte's remarkable story paved the way for the CBD's widespread acceptance. Yet decades before "Weed" aired, scientists were studying cannabinoids worldwide.
In the 1980s, a double-blind study treated eight epileptic patients with CBD and eight patients with a sugar pill placebo. The group that received CBD nearly stopped having seizures altogether. Comparatively, only one placebo group patient's condition improved.
In the late 1990s, the National Institutes of Health discovered that THC produced similarly remarkable effects. Laboratory studies showed that Delta-9 THC shielded neurons from oxidative stress, which meant it could also support epilepsy treatments. Despite the promising results, THC remained an illicit compound, while CBD gained (mostly) legal status with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill.
Today, hemp-derived CBD is everywhere in various products, including gummies, chocolates, carbonated beverages, lotions, oils, and suppositories. Even chains like CVS and Walgreens announced plans to sell CBD products in certain states. In 2019 alone, CBD grossed approximately $845 million in the US.
CBD: The Soft Introduction
Its therapeutic and non-psychoactive properties made CBD the perfect "soft-introduction" to cannabis' broad array of natural compounds. With little to no adverse side effects, CBD was never associated with the "high" of THC, making it more approachable for the masses. But as its popularity spread throughout the country, the market quickly became over-saturated.
Businesses that initially cashed in began strategizing for the future. Soon enough, chemists across the country began experimenting with chemically converting hemp-derived CBD into psychoactive compounds. Soon after, legal THC isomers and acetylates were born.
What are THC Isomers, Acetylations, and Derivatives?
Derivatives refer to compounds that occur naturally in hemp and cannabis plants. For example, Delta-8 THC, Delta-10 THC, and HHC are all hemp derivatives, yet they appear in such low quantities that it's nearly impossible to extract them at scale for product manufacturing.
Isomers are two or more compounds with the same formula but different arrangements of atoms that contribute to slightly varying properties. For example, THC has various isomers, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (D9), delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (D8), and delta-10, all with a different arrangement of atoms, slightly different effects, and varying quantities in hemp and cannabis plants.
Delta-9 THC appears in much higher quantities and has much stronger psychoactive properties. Comparatively, Delta-8 and Delta-10 produce milder effects. Delta-8 is known for light appetite stimulation and relaxation, while Delta-10 anecdotally supports energy and focus.
Despite their anatomical similarities, Delta-9, Delta-8, and Delta-10 couldn't be any more different in the ways that matter most. While Delta-9 THC is a schedule 1 illicit compound, Delta-8 and Delta-10 are unregulated, meaning they're technically legal when derived from hemp.
The only problem is hemp contains such trace amounts of these isomers that it's nearly impossible to extract them naturally. As a result, savvy innovators figured out how to create them through chemically converting CBD.
Acetylation is a reaction that introduces an acetyl functional molecule group into an organic chemical compound to replace the acetyl group for a hydrogen atom. This highly complex process can remodel substances like Salicylic Acid, for example, into pharmaceuticals like Aspirin. And today, chemists are experimenting with acetylating hemp-derived substances into legal psychoactive compounds.
THCOa is created in laboratories by acetylating hemp-derived extracts like Delta-8 or Delta-9 THC. Chemists create THCOa in the lab by first converting CBD into a legal THC isomer and then converting it into the final product. Unlike Delta-9, THCOa does not naturally occur in any quantities in hemp or cannabis plants.
Are All of These Compounds Legal?
The 2018 Farm Bill legally defined hemp as all parts of cannabis plants that contain less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC. This definition includes isomers and derivatives, a loophole that catapulted Delta-8 into the market last year, followed by Delta-10, HHC, and THCOa, among others.
But not every state is thrilled.
While places like Florida protect Delta-8's legal status, other states have added language into laws banning Delta-8, as well as THCOa from adult-use sales. However, instead of halting production, these bans have only inspired hemp brands to continually develop new, unregulated compounds.
Are D8, D10, THCOa & HHC All Made From Hemp-Derived CBD?
Experts can create Delta 8, Delta 9, and Delta 10 THC from crude CBD or CBD Isolate or extract it in minuscule quantities via usual extraction methods utilizing butane, ethanol, Co2, or water.Delta-8 and Delta-10 exist in many cannabis cultivars but only in insufficient quantities.
- To extract and purify these isomers from raw plant material is unprofitable, so producers have begun converting more prevalent cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) into Delta-8 and Delta-10 using a combination of acids and solvents. And thanks to the booming CBD industry, processors have access to plenty of supply.
THC-O Acetate does not naturally occur in hemp or cannabis plants.
- A lab first creates Delta-8 by refluxing hemp-derived CBD in an organic solvent, such as toluene or heptane, with p-toluene sulfonic acid or another acid that serves as a catalyst. Once Delta-8 is created, it's converted into THCOa using reactants like Acetic Anhydride.
HHC is a hemp derivative that occurs naturally in small quantities in the cannabis plant, particularly pollen.
- Laboratories develop HHC through the hydrogenation Delta-8 (created from CBD). This typically requires metal as a catalyst to break apart Delta-8’s double bonds and insert two hydrogen atoms to make HHC stable and ready for use.
What are the Future Legal Implications?
The steep rise of psychoactive hemp derivatives and acetylates has presented enormous opportunities for businesses willing to circumvent convoluted state and federal laws. At the same, agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, are still considering bans, and there's no telling whether or not these substances will remain legal for the long haul. 15 states have already banned Delta-8 sales.
Why Testing is Important
Although consumers are excited to experiment with these brand-new "CBD-inspired" psychoactive hemp compounds, not every manufacturer operates responsibly. As a result, many products that claim to be Delta-8, for example, contain illegal Delta-9. Additionally, some may contain harmful residual chemicals that processors did not adequately clean during production.
As a result, responsible manufacturers are thoroughly testing with verified third-party laboratories with the proper standards to accurately assess safety and quality.
ACS Laboratory understands the importance of accurate testing, especially regarding the latest innovations. Therefore, we test hemp and cannabis products for Delta-9 THC as part of our 11 Analyte Potency Test. We also test hemp for Delta-8 THC and Delta-10 THC as part of our 12 Analyte Potency Test. We have recently developed methods to test THCOa and HHC. We test for a total of 23 Cannabinoids, as well as Safety Panels that include precise ways to quantify potency and ensure products are free from dangerous solvents, reactants, and metals.