The Science behind Delta 8 and Delta 9: Understanding Cannabinoids and Their Effects

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Welcome to our deep dive into the science behind cannabinoids, specifically Delta 8 and Delta 9. If you've been wondering about these compounds, you've come to the right place. In this article we will go over what these molecules are, their similarities, and how differ. We will also explore their potential health benefits.

And don’t worry, even though the science behind all of this is complex, our time here will not dwell on the technical details. The goal is to simplify these concepts to make them easy to understand and apply when making your healthcare decisions.

What are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids, as complex as they sound, are just naturally occurring compounds found in hemp and cannabis plants. There are over 100 different types of these little guys and the most well-known of these are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol).

You have probably heard the term cannabis used interchangeably with marijuana and may be wondering if that is what we are talking about here. Although there is some overlap, cannabis and marijuana are not the same thing.

The term cannabis references all of the over 500 different chemical molecules found in the plant by the same name: Cannabis sativa.The term marijuana refers to products made from the cannabis plant that have a high concentration of TCH which is the molecule most associated with the altered mental state for which marijuana is known. Plants in the cannabis family which have low concentrations are known as hemp.

Today the spotlight is on two of the lesser known but up and coming cannabinoids: Delta 8 and Delta 9. They're like the VIPs in the vast world of cannabinoids. They interact with our bodies in unique ways, offering potential health benefits that have scientists and medical professionals buzzing with interest. But, before we get carried away, let's remember that, while they come from the same family, Delta 8 and Delta 9 each bring their own flair to the party. In the next sections, we'll dig into their unique attributes and how they might affect us differently."

Understanding Delta 8

Delta 8, or Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol, is a minor cannabinoid that exists in cannabis plants including those classified as hemp in small concentrations meaning that it can be extracted directly from both types of plants. Even so, most Delta-8 is made by altering the more plentiful CBD from hemp plants. While it is not as famous as its relatives THC (Delta 9) and CBD, it is gaining attention due to its distinctive properties. What sets Delta 8 apart from Delta 9, the primary form of THC known for its potent psychoactive effects (the ‘high’ associated with marijuana), is its molecular structure. Delta 8 has a different placement of a critical chemical bond, which changes the way it affects the body’s endocannabinoid system (we will explain this more later). This subtle difference makes Delta 8 less potent and produces less of the ‘high’ experienced with Delta 9. The good news is that research has shown that it still has the same potential therapeutic benefits. These studies suggest that Delta 8 may offer relief from pain and inflammation, reduce anxiety and nausea, and even exhibit neuroprotective properties. It's important to note that research is ongoing and the understanding of Delta 8’s full benefits and effects is still evolving.

Understanding Delta 9

Delta 9, officially known as Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol, is a more familiar cannabinoid even if many people do not recognize the name. You might know it as the component in marijuana that gives you a 'high.' However, it's much more than just that. It's one of the most common cannabinoids and interacts directly with our body’s endocannabinoid system. This interaction is what leads to its psychoactive effects – the ‘high’ if you will. Delta-9 is not found in any meaningful concentrations in hemp plants, and this is one of the main factors that differentiates hemp from what is commonly called cannabis.

Federal law makes cannabis and any Delta-9 derived from it illegal. However, in the past 20 years most states have passed laws allowing at least limited use. In 2018, congress passed the Farm Bill which legalized hemp and hemp-derived products – including Delta-9 as long as it makes up less than 0.3% of the product’s dry weight. Once this became the law of the land, manufacturers began modifying CBD to make Delta-9 using a similar process to how they had been making Delta-8. Even though the molecular structures of Delta-9 derived from cannabis and from hemp CBD are identical, based on federal law, only the Delta-9 from hemp is legal.

But Delta 9 isn't just about recreational use. Studies show promise in using Delta-9 to help with treating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, seizure disorders, spasticity from multiple sclerosis, chronic pain relief, appetite stimulation, anti-inflammatory effects and can potentially help people suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. It even appears to have neuro protective properties and can help with treatment of addictions.

To date, the FDA has approved two synthetic THC formulations – dronabinol and nabilone which are used to alleviate chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Nabilone has also been used to increase appetite in patients with AIDS.

Still, it's important to remember that everyone can react differently to Delta 9 due to factors like tolerance level and dosage. Plus, research on these potential benefits is still ongoing. So, while we know quite a bit about Delta 9, there's still more to learn!

Comparison Between Delta 8 and Delta 9

While Delta 8 and Delta 9 are both derivatives of the cannabis plant, their differences lie in their chemical structures, effects on the body, and legal status. Delta 9 is a compound known for its potent psychoactive effects, while, due to its slightly different molecular structure, Delta 8 binds differently to our body’s endocannabinoid system which is why our body responds to Delta 8 and Delta 9 differently. The biggest difference being that Delta 8 does not produce the pronounced “high” sensation associated with Delta 9. This is particularly significant for those who are seeking the therapeutic benefits of THC without the intense high.

For the chemists among us, here is the difference between the two: Delta 8 has a double bond on the 8th carbon chain, while Delta 9 has it on the 9th.

Legally, there's a significant contrast. While federal law deems cannabis and any products containing more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC as illegal, the 2018 Farm Bill permits the sale of hemp and hemp-derived products, including Delta 8. This distinction is crucial because although Delta-9 has traditionally been derived from the cannabis/marijuana plant, most Delta-8 is derived from CBD in hemp plants. However, as was mentioned in the previous section, we are also starting to see Delta-9 products which were also made from hemp CBD making them legal under this bill.

Although both Delta 8 & 9 have been legal at the federal level since 2018, several states have enacted laws restricting access to one or both. These laws remain in flux as society is still trying to figure out where cannabis and the cannabinoids fit so you will need to do some research to determine their legal status in your state. You can also check out our state-by-state breakdown here at Hemp Doc, MD. We will do our best to keep it current.

When considering potential therapeutic benefits, both cannabinoids have promising attributes. Both have shown potential for pain relief, reducing inflammation and anxiety, and stimulating appetite. Interestingly, Delta 8 might have additional neuroprotective properties, further differentiating it from Delta 9. Research on these cannabinoids is still ongoing to further elucidate their health and treatment potential.

Lastly, it's essential to acknowledge the safety profiles of both cannabinoids. Although they are generally considered safe, potential side effects can occur, especially when taken in large doses. These can include dizziness, anxiety, changes in appetite or mood, and more. Further research is needed on both Delta 8 and Delta 9 to fully understand their side effects and who is more likely to experience them.

In conclusion, although they are closely related and share many similarities, Delta 8 and Delta 9 have distinct characteristics that make each unique. Ongoing research will undoubtedly reveal more about these intriguing compounds in the future.

Roles in the Endocannabinoid System

The Endocannabinoid System (ECS) is a complex cell-signaling system within the human body, playing a critical role in maintaining physiological homeostasis. It's composed of endocannabinoids (naturally produced cannabinoids in the body), receptors that interact with both endocannabinoids and phytocannabinoids (cannabinoids from plants), and enzymes that break these compounds down.

The endocannabinoid system influences and, in some cases, even controls many critical physiologic functions including pain, immune function, metabolism, reproduction, cardiovascular activity and gastrointestinal functions. It is also involved in how we process emotions, our learning and memory, and even in our growth and development.

Both Delta 8 and Delta 9 interact with this system but not in the same way due to the differences in their chemical structures. Delta 9 binds directly to CB1 receptors, predominantly found in the brain and nervous system, which leads to its strong psychoactive effects. On the other hand, Delta 8 is only able to create a weak bond with these receptors. This difference is the primary reason why Delta 8 tends to produce a less intense 'high' compared to Delta 9.

The interaction of both these cannabinoids with the ECS can also lead to potential therapeutic benefits. By binding to CB1 receptors, they may help regulate functions like pain sensation, mood, appetite, and sleep, among others. It's important to note that while research has revealed promising aspects of how Delta 8 and Delta 9 interact with the ECS, more studies are needed to fully understand their mechanisms and potential health benefits.

Current Research and Studies

The following are a glimpse into the current research being done on cannabinoids. There is far more going on that can be included in this article, but this should give you an idea of what is going on as we continue to uncover the therapeutic potential of these molecules.

A preclinical study conducted in Israel investigated Delta-8-THC as a way to help control nausea and vomiting in children who were undergoing chemotherapy for various types of cancer. The results were promising as none of the treated patients had issues with vomiting and they experienced negligible side effects.

Other research has suggested that Delta-8-THC also has neuroprotective benefits. A study on mice showed that low doses improved cognitive function, which suggests it may be beneficial for conditions like Alzheimer's . And a 2009 study is one of several that show that activating the endocannabinoid system can help reduce the age-related neurologic damage seen in mice.

On the other hand, multiple studies on Delta-9-THC suggest it has potential therapeutic benefits including relief from chronic pain and inflammation, reduction of spasticity symptoms in multiple sclerosis, and potential neuroprotective effects in Parkinson's disease.

It is crucial to note that while these findings are promising, they represent early-stage research primarily conducted on animals or small human cohorts. More comprehensive clinical trials are needed to fully understand the therapeutic potentials and safety profiles of both Delta 8 and Delta 9.


In conclusion, both Delta 8 and Delta 9 are remarkable compounds that have shown significant potential in various therapeutic applications. While they are similar in many respects, their differences - notably their distinct chemical structures, how they interact with the Endocannabinoid System, and their varying legal statuses - make each unique.

Current research on these cannabinoids is inspiring and hints at a promising future where they could potentially be utilized in managing pain, inflammation, nausea among other health conditions. However, it's important to remember that much of our understanding of these compounds is still emerging. More comprehensive studies and clinical trials are needed to fully grasp their therapeutic potentials and safety profiles.

As we navigate this dynamic landscape of cannabinoids research, it’s crucial to stay informed about the latest findings while maintaining an open but critical mind towards new information. The intrigue surrounding Delta 8 and Delta 9 extends beyond their molecular differences or legal standing – it lies in the hope they represent for future therapeutic interventions.

Remember always to consult with a healthcare provider when considering incorporating any new substances into your routine. There is no 'one size fits all' approach when it comes to wellness; what works for one may not necessarily work for another.

In essence, the journey of understanding cannabinoids like Delta 8 and Delta 9 is akin to piecing together an intricate puzzle - each study, each discovery adds another piece to the bigger picture. As this picture becomes clearer with time, one can only imagine what incredible revelations lie ahead for us in this exciting field.


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Hemp Doc MD is a board-certified physician with a passion for holistic health and a background in treating chronic pain. Recognizing the potential of cannabinoids in promoting optimum health, Hemp Doc MD—is an online resource offering comprehensive, medically backed insights into the potential benefits of CBD, hemp and its Delta 8 & 9 isolates. With a keen interest in natural alternatives, Hemp Doc MD focuses on how these natural compounds can support health and well-being.