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.

The Cannabinoids Guide

This complete cannabinoid guide covers major and minor cannabinoids, how they work in the body, and highlights the top compounds brands and operators must test for today.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

The Cannabinoid Guide

The definitive resource on leading major and minor cannabinoids, how they work in the body, and what to test for.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Related Blogs

February 2, 2023

A Guide to Delta-8 vs. THCOa: Extraction, Products, Safety, Legality, Testing & More

Comparing Delta-8 THC and THCOa’s chemistry, effects, potency, and extraction methods.

Elena Schmidt

January 30, 2023

ACS Laboratory Receives 82 Emerald Badges for Exemplary Hemp and Cannabis Test Results, More Than Any Laboratory in the USA

Recently Awarded 21 Emerald Test Proficiency Badges for 2022, ACS has Reaffirmed its Position as the Most Trusted Third-party Hemp and Cannabis Testing Provider

ACS Laboratory

January 25, 2023

Comparing Exotic Cannabinoids: Delta-9 THC vs. Delta-8, Delta-10, HHC, HHCP, THC-O (THCOa), & THCP

The main difference between exotic cannabinoids and Delta-9 THC is their molecular structures, psychoactive intensity, and legality.

Elena Schmidt

December 29, 2022

A Guide to Delta-8 vs. HHC: Extraction, Products, Safety, Legality, Testing & More

Delta-8 THC is a mildly euphoric psychoactive isomer of Delta-9 THC. HHC belongs to a completely different chemical class known as hexahydrocannabinol. Learn more.

Elena Schmidt

January 19, 2023

Amanita Muscaria Part II: Active Ingredients, Effects, Nutrition & Legality

Exploring amanita muscaria’s psychoactive effects, toxic potential, edible preparation, and legality in the US and Canada.

Masha Ty

January 13, 2023

Cannabis Concentrates 101: A Guide to Terms, Usage, Potency, and Testing

Explaining the differences between cannabis concentrate types–from potency to usage to equipment and safety.

Elena Schmidt

January 5, 2023

Functional Mushrooms: Exploring Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Reishi Benefits & Uses

Reviewing functional mushroom benefits, research, and top products, with a focus on reishi, lion’s mane, and cordyceps.

Masha Ty

January 3, 2023

Terpene Tuesdays: Everything You Need to Know About Farnesene Flavor, Fragrance, and Benefits

Farnesene is a cannabis terpene known as sesquiterpenes and is thought to have sedative and regulating effects on the human body and mood.

Elena Schmidt

December 9, 2022

INTERVIEW: Live Rosin Delta-8: How It's Made, Effects, Safety & Quality

Live rosin delta 8 is a cannabis concentrate made from frozen plant material and manufactured delta-8 extract. Learn more.

December 20, 2022

Terpene Tuesdays: Everything You Need to Know About Camphene Flavor, Fragrance, and Benefits

Research suggests that camphene possesses anti-microbial and antiviral properties, provides coughing relief, and may even be able to prevent heart disease.

Elena Schmidt

December 16, 2022

Amanita Muscaria (Fly Agaric): History & Toxicology of the Most Misunderstood Mushroom

Amanita mushrooms are fully legal in the United States and have a long history of use. Discovery Amanita mythology and toxicology in this ACS blog.

Masha Ty

December 14, 2022

Visit the New and Improved ACS Laboratory Website

Enhanced education, intuitive navigation, mushroom program launch, compliance updates, and more!

Elena Schmidt

December 8, 2022

Companies Producing Edibles Containing CBD and Delta-8 THC Receive New Warning Letters from the FDA

FDA recently issued new warning letters to companies that produce CBD and Delta-8 THC edibles.

December 1, 2022

THCP: Guide to THCP Effects, Products, Legality, Testing, and More

THCP has a 30X stronger binding affinity to ECS receptors than Delta-9 THC, marijuana's most abundant and powerful psychoactive agent.