Let’s Go Get High On Hemp! 

Photo by “ThisisEngineering RAEng,” Unsplash.com.
Thom Thompson

Thom Thompson


“Hemp processors have reportedly been buying excess flower and distillate currently on the market to make Delta-8 THC.”  Hemp Today, March 29, 2021

Will transforming hemp-based CBD into mildly psychoaffective Delta-8 THC save industrial hemp production? It’s complicated. 

The common wisdom is that a person does not get high smoking industrial hemp leaves, stems or flowers. We have been following news reports, including those from PanXchange’s monthly benchmark reports, about the growing interest in smokable hemp flower. While the hemp flower, particularly from specialty strains, is known to carry heavy concentrations of non-psychotropic CBD, it turns out that a lot of the demand for smokable hemp flower is associated with the practice of coating it with Delta-8 THC. 

Marijuana, industrial hemp’s popular, fun sibling, distinguishes itself from industrial hemp by containing at least 0.3% Delta-9 THC. The presence of sufficient Delta-9 THC makes marijuana a controlled substance. For the most part, laws don’t mention Delta-8 THC. As you might expect, Delta-8 and -9 THC are chemically similar.

As we have mentioned in our columns before, cannabis contains a large number of compounds — maybe 500 or so, about 115 of which are cannabinoids. Cannabinoids react with receptors throughout the body. They are referred to simply as cannabinoid receptors, “CBs.” Delta-8 THC reacts with CB2 receptors and Delta-9 THC reacts with CB1 receptors in humans. CB2 receptors are found mostly in bodily organs and extremities while CB1 receptors are situated throughout the human nervous system. 

Apparently, Delta-8 provides users with some of the relaxing and calming effects associated with Delta-9 THC use, as well as a lighter dose of a psychotropic high.  So where has this Delta-8 THC been hanging out? It was hiding in very small amounts in plain sight as a naturally occurring cannabinoid, right next to Delta-9 THC and CBD. 

Delta-8 can be synthesized from Delta-9 THC or CBD.  A major provider in the legal Florida medical marijuana market, Trulieve, offers Delta-8 THC products which, it claims, provide similar appetite-boosting and antiemetic benefits to cancer sufferers but with fewer anxiety-inducing side effects. 

As a licensed medical cannabis provider, Trulieve derives all of its Delta-8 THC from Delta-9 THC contained in marijuana-grade cannabis plants.   

CBD is another popular source for Delta-8 THC through a chemical process called “isomerization.” According to the cannabis industry publication Extraction Magazine, the following patented process turns CBD into Delta-8 THC:

  • Mix a Lewis acid in an organic solvent
  • Add CBD
  • Reflux the mixture
  • Dilute with an organic solvent
  • Pour into cold water
  • Mix 
  • Let the mixture separate into aqueous and organic phase
  • Remove organic phase (the phase with Delta-8 THC)
  • Elute Delta-8 THC

(Lewis acid, reflux, organic phase, elute?)

PanXchange reports that extracting Delta-8 THC from CBD employs potentially hazardous chemicals. Absent any regulations, the safety and purity of the product cannot be guaranteed. 

But is any of this even legal? There are 11 various states where Delta-8 THC is banned. At the federal level, where Delta-9 THC is outlawed, lawyers are parsing the use of the term “synthetic” in the Farm Act of 2018, which permitted all industrial hemp and forbade all Delta-9 THC (at 0.3% or higher). Since Delta-8 THC is present — albeit often in minute quantities — in just about all cannabis, it is not a synthetic compound, some experts argue. “Even if the actual Delta-8 THC was synthesized from CBD?” others question.

To this question, consumer goods producer Hempvada last year opined, “The legality of Delta-9 is one of those VERY grey areas if you ask the pros here at Hempvada. If you ask us, the only reason it is not illegal as a type of THC is because it’s a newly discovered cannabinoid and, to be honest, the government didn’t know we could just convert the stuff.” 

The CBD industry’s hope is that an awful lot of the CBD hanging over the market gets converted into Delta-8 THC before the federal government or more states outlaw it. Despite the discovery of a new source of demand for CBD, PanXchange reports that March prices for CBD biomass and most refined products remain stuck in the basement. 

Photo by “ThisisEngineering RAEng” on Unsplash.com.


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