What’s the Difference Between Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC? Extraction, Testing, Potency, & More

In this post:

  • Difference between Delta-8 and Delta-9
  • Is Delta-9 ever legal?
  • Is Delta-8 legal everywhere?
  • Delta-8 vs Delta-9 effects
  • Chemical structure differences
  • Delta-8 and Delta-9 extraction
  • Potency differences
  • Available product types
  • Why do laboratories confuse Delta-8 and Delta-9 on potency results?

Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are slight variations of the same chemical compound. Both occur naturally in hemp and cannabis, and both are psychoactive. So why are delta-8 and delta-9 marketed as such different products? Here we’ll review.

What's the Difference Between Delta-8 and Delta-9?

Delta-9 THC is the most abundant psychoactive compound in hemp and cannabis, responsible for the plant’s euphoric effects. Considered an “illicit drug,” Delta-9 also appears on the DEA’s schedule 1 controlled substances list, making it federally illegal to consume.

Delta-8 is also a naturally occurring cannabinoid in hemp and cannabis. However, unlike its chemical cousin, Delta-8 only occurs in trace amounts and doesn’t appear on the DEA’s controlled substances list.

Is Delta-9 Ever Legal?

Delta-9 is legal under certain circumstances. For example, in adult-use states, Delta-9 THC producers can freely extract the psychoactive compound from any strain and incorporate it into their product lines.

In the rest of the country, Delta-9 THC products can also be legal with a bit of ingenuity.

Enter hemp-based Delta-9.

Hemp, which is federally legal, can contain up to 0.3% Delta-9 by law. That means manufacturers can legally produce Delta-9 products from hemp, as long as they contain less than the .3% threshold.

Is Delta-8 Legal Everywhere?

In most states, yes. Unlike Delta-9, Delta-8 is federally legal. However, 17 states, such as Colorado, Washington, New York, and Michigan, have banned the substance.

Check out our guide to state-by-state Delta-8 THC laws to discover where consumers can legally purchase these products.

What are the Differences Between Delta-8 and Delta-9's Effects?

Delta-8 and Delta-9 both elicit psychoactive experiences that some users describe as calming. Additionally, studies have shown that Delta-8 and Delta-9 can reduce feelings of nausea and likely provide many of the known benefits of THC, including:

  • Anti-inflammatory Response
  • Pain Relief
  • Anti-intoxicating properties
  • Antidepressant properties

The difference, according to most consumers, is that Delta-8 is noticeably milder than Delta-9 and aligns closely with what some describe as “indica-like” effects due to its sedative properties.

What are the Chemical Structures for Delta-8 and Delta-9?

The main difference between Delta-8 and Delta-9 happens at a molecular level. Both cannabinoids contain a double-carbon bond, but they’re located on different atom chains. In Delta-8, the double carbon bond falls on the 8th atom chain. In Delta-9, it falls on the 9th–hence the names. While seemingly insignificant, scientists believe this distinction explains the variation in effects and potency.

Credit: Precision Extraction

How are Delta-8 and Delta-9 Extracted?

Since Delta-9 is prevalent in cannabis plants, producers in adult-use states can easily extract the compound for commercial use. Most processors use solvent-based techniques, harnessing ethanol, hydrocarbons, or CO2, while craft manufacturers extract Delta-9 through solvent-less methods using water, heat, and pressure.

In the last couple of years, processors have also been extracting Delta-9 from hemp. As we’ve discussed, this widespread practice is federally legal as long as the plant contains less than 0.3% Delta-9 by dry weight. However, since hemp’s Delta-9 THC concentration is so low, most processors prefer a more efficient approach. First, processors extract CBD due to its high hemp concentration. Then they convert the compound into Delta-9 THC through a process called “isomerization.”

Most manufacturers create Delta-8 THC precisely the same way due to its meager existence in the plant. Like hemp-derived Delta-9, Delta-8 is produced using a blend of chemical solvents (like heptane) and acids (like hydrochloric) to convert CBD into the compound.

How Potent is Delta-9 Compared to Delta-8?

Delta-8 has gentler psychoactive effects than its Delta-9 counterpart. But how much milder is it? According to a 1970s study, Delta-8 is around 2/3rds as potent as Delta-9. However, this study is dated and measured intravenous and oral dosage only. Some people report doubling the dosage of Delta-8 get the same effects they’d expect from Delta-9. But of course, the intensity can vary by the individual.

What Kind of Delta-8 and Delta-9 Products are Available?

Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC occur in various cannabis and hemp-based products consumers can inhale, ingest, apply topically, or eat. Marketplace favorites include:

  • Distillate cartridges
  • Distillate syringes
  • Vape cartridges
  • Tinctures
  • Oils
  • Concentrates
  • Edibles
  • Beverages
  • Flower

Cannabis concentrates, in particular, is the fastest growing category today. Top products include:

  • Live Rosin
  • Sift Rosin
  • Sauce
  • Diamonds
  • Badder
  • Crumble
  • Sugar
  • Shatter
  • Live Resin

Why Do Laboratories Confuse Delta-8 and Delta-9 on Potency Tests?

Since Delta-8 and Delta-9 are nearly identical at the chemical level, some laboratories struggle to differentiate between the two. For example, inexperienced labs may employ testing methods that work too fast, failing to separate the cannabinoids in their results clearly.

Such methods falsely identify Delta-8 as federally illicit Delta-9, creating significant legal risk for producers who intend to sell compliant products nationwide. Unfortunately, inaccurate results like this could erroneously make these products unsellable in states where cannabis is illegal. Conversely, labs can also misinterpret Delta-9 as Delta-8, making a product seem federally compliant when it’s not.

This pervasive testing issue is why Delta-8 manufacturers and brands must choose laboratories with refined protocols proven to distinguish between the compounds accurately. ACS Laboratory recently pioneered a Delta-8 testing methodology that’s slower and more controlled than the industry-standard protocols, clearly identifying Delta-8’s unique traits for precision results.

Will Delta-8 or Delta-9 Show Up on a Drug Test?

Yes. Drug tests don’t look for Delta-9 or Delta-8 specifically. Instead, they look for THC metabolites, which can come from any THC isomer. As a result, both Delta-8 and Delta-9 can trigger a positive result.

The Bottom Line

Delta-8 and Delta-9 are more than molecular neighbors. They fall on vastly different legal spectrums, provide distinct experiences, and offer various consumption methods for consumers to enjoy. Brands that seek to sell these products must work with reliable laboratories that can provide accurate potency results.

Learn more about our delta-8 potency tests, and contact us today to start testing.

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