Demystifying Delta 8 THC, Delta 9 THC & THCA
By: Margo Amala
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) holds its place in history as the most infamous of all cannabinoids. Notorious for its intoxication effects, THC inspired well known scientist Raphael Mechoulam and his associates to begin what would become an entire field of scientific study: cannabinoid science. Curious to discover how THC created intoxication in humans, Mechoulam and his associates stumbled upon the Endogenous Cannabinoid System (ECS). Prior to understanding what THC was – scientists knew nothing of this entire body system that is intimately involved in homeostasis (or keeping your body in balance). It is truly amazing that THC itself led to the discovery of an entire body system. For the purposes of understanding the differences between the varying forms of THC, it is important to know the ECS is comprised of three components: receptors, endogenous cannabinoids (yes our bodies naturally make cannabinoids), and ligands (substances that break down cannabinoids). ECS receptors exist in every organ of our body! The two most common ECS receptors are CB1 and CB2 receptors. It is worth noting there are other receptors in addition to these, they are lesser studied at this point. These receptors can be stimulated by our own naturally occurring cannabinoids, or by cannabinoids from outside our bodies such as cannabis derived cannabinoids. The varying different forms of THC have differences in their chemical structures that changes the way they interact with our endogenous cannabinoid systems, which therefore changes our experience. Let’s dip our toes into some chemistry.
THC is a dynamic cannabinoid in its many forms, we currently understand there exists: Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA), Delta 9 THC, and Delta 8 THC. Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most well known cannabinoid from the cannabis plant. Delta 9 THC fits like a key into a lock with our CB1 receptors. The CB1 receptors exist primarily in our brain and nervous system. This is the form of THC that is infamous for intoxication because of its chemical structure and affinity for the CB1 receptors. Delta 9 THC does not exist in a living cannabis plant. THCA is the precursor to THC, which is found in the trichomes of the living cannabis plant. THCA does not create the intoxication associated with THC. THCA contains an additional carboxyl group which makes for a different chemical structure compared to THC. THCA is literally the precursor to THC. THCA becomes THC as it is exposed to heat and oxygen over time: this process is known as decarboxylation. After a cannabis plant is harvested and begins the drying process, THCA begins to convert to THC. Once dry, while there are trace amounts of THC in the plant, if you want the intoxicating effects you will still need to apply heat over time to convert enough of the THCA into THC. This is why if you eat dried cannabis buds, you will not experience intoxication. You must vaporize, combust or decarboxylate dried cannabis buds to experience intoxication.
At this time, we are aware of at least 113 other phytocannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Delta 8 THC is one of these cannabinoids. Delta 8 THC naturally exists in trace amounts in the cannabis plant. Since we have discovered uses for human consumption of Delta 8 THC, extractors have developed ways to mechanically convert Delta 9 THC into Delta 8 THC. The difference between these two compounds is very small – but makes for a significantly different experience. While Delta 9 THC is known to be intoxicating, Delta 8 THC would be a its lesser intoxicating sister compound. The difference between these two chemical structures is small – but powerful. The term Delta is a chemistry term which means there is a double bond in the chemical structure. So, the reason Delta 8 THC has different effects in the body is because it has a double bond on the number 8 carbon, while it’s more well known sister Delta 9 THC has a double bond on the number 9 carbon atom. Hence the names Delta 8 and Delta 9 THC.
The next logical question is: what does Delta 8 THC do inside the human body? Delta 8 does not have the same powerful intoxicating effects of Delta 9 THC. As far as we know, it still activates the CB1 & CB2 receptor sites just like Delta 9 THC. So if you are looking for some of the other effects related to THC like relaxation, appetite stimulation, and activation of your endogenous cannabinoid system but without the intoxication, Delta 8 THC might be a good option. I personally felt like I just had to give it a try to see how it would interact with my own personal endocannabinoid system. Keep in mind that the effects of Delta 8 THC might be more intoxicating if you are vaporizing it. When combusting cannabinoids they can convert into CBN making the experience more sedative and intoxicating. I decided to try ingesting the Herban Tribe: Delta 8 Elixir. My experience was indeed very relaxing and non-intoxicating.
Cannabis science is a rapidly growing field. People from all walks of life are curious about the cannabis plant and how it can influence the human body. We will continue to see new products and ways to consume cannabinoids made available by the emerging cannabis industry. Our Portland dispensary Urban Farmacy is dedicated to empowering you with the information necessary to create the life experiences you desire. Happy cannabis hunting!
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