For thousands of years, people have used the cannabis sativa plant to treat various ailments—including pain. Now that modern science has progressed to better understand how cannabis actually affects the human body, we’ve been able to isolate the compounds found in the plant with the most therapeutic potential.
Since the 2018 Farm Bill federally legalized hemp, we’ve seen an explosion of these curative cannabinoids, especially CBD, show up in everything from beauty products to dog treats. However, CBD isn’t the only hemp-derived compound garnering excitement for its potential medicinal effects. A form of THC known as Delta 8 THC may just be the next big thing in medical cannabis.
What Is Delta 8 THC?
If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely already familiar with THC—the intoxicating cannabinoid responsible for inducing the “high” associated with marijuana use. When most people say THC, they’re referring specifically to delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol. However, this isn’t the only form of THC.
The cannabis plant also produces a compound called delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol, albeit in very small amounts. On a chemical level, delta 8 THC is almost identical to delta 9. The only difference has to do with the placement of a double bond on the carbon chain. With delta 9, the bond is located on the ninth carbon while on the eighth in delta 8.
Difference Between Delta 8 THC and CBD
Many patients who decide to turn to cannabis for pain management elect to use CBD since it doesn’t produce any of the intoxicating effects that come with traditional marijuana use. This likely has to do with the way CBD interacts with the endocannabinoid system. CBD influences the way CB1 and CB2 endocannabinoid receptors receive signals from other neurotransmitters without full binding to them. In contrast, both delta 8 and delta 9 THC molecules bind directly to CB1 and CB2 receptors.
Since delta 8 THC behaves more like delta 9 THC, it will give users a feeling of intoxication or a “high.”
Difference Between Delta 8 THC and Delta 9 CBD
Both delta 8 and delta 9 produce intoxicating effects; however, each buzz is a little different.
Delta 9 THC is known for having drastic effects on the mental state of its users. Oftentimes delta 9 can cause feelings of paranoia, increased anxiety, and noticeable shifts in perception. For some recreational users, these more cerebral effects are a positive part of the marijuana experience. For medical patients, though, these side effects can impair users’ ability to live their day-to-day lives.
Delta 8 THC is anecdotally described as a less potent, more mellow form of THC. Users of delta 8 often report that the compound produces a much more clear-headed buzz than traditional delta 9 THC. Some describe mild euphoric feelings, increased levels of focus, and a sense of body relaxation as the main effects of delta 8.
Can Delta 8 THC Help With Pain?
For many patients suffering from chronic pain, relief can seem impossible. Conventional pharmaceuticals like opiates often come with side effects worse than the pain itself while only providing minimal comfort. The lack of options has many chronic pain patients looking for alternative therapies, including cannabinoids.
While there haven’t been enough clinical trials for the FDA to approve any cannabinoid for medicinal use, preliminary research looks incredibly promising, and thousands of patients are already using them.
One 2018 study used an animal model to test delta 8 THC’s anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. They found that delta 8 both reduced inflammation and pain in rats with eye injuries. From the study, “Cannabinoids could be a novel clinical therapy for corneal pain and inflammation resulting from ocular surface injury.”
Another earlier study from 2004 suggests that any activation of the CB1 receptors (as happens with both delta 9 and delta 8 THC) can be useful in treating gut pain.
Perhaps what makes delta 8 so exciting is the mellowness of the high. For pain patients already medicating with delta 9 THC, they often have to choose between pain relief and clarity. Delta 8’s diminished mental side effects make the compound preferable; especially for daytime use.