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What Is Delta-8? Clearing the Smoke on the Cannabis Alternative

Delta-8 comes in a variety of ingestible and smokable products. Credit: Sarah White

Delta-8 has become a popular alternative to marijuana. Whether it is for recreational use or physical or mental health benefits, the legal product is becoming more available and accessible than ever before. 

Delta-8 is a cannabinoid, or chemical substance, that comes from the cannabis or hemp plant. Cannabis plants produce more THC than CBD, whereas hemp plants produce more CBD than THC.

THC is the psychoactive chemical in cannabis products associated with the “high,” euphoric sensation people may feel. Delta-8’s THC is sourced from cannabis and hemp plants, similar to marijuana. The difference between the legal delta-8 product and its cousin marijuana is its amount of THC.

“Delta-8 is something very similar to THC delta-9, which is the THC that we normally talk about as the main psychoactive ingredient in the cannabis plant,” says Alan Hart, the franchise owner of Athens’ Franny’s Farmacy. “Delta-8 is legal as long as it is created by starting with CBD.”

If delta-8 has less than 3% of delta-9 THC, it is legal in Georgia per the Farm Bill of 2018. According to Hart, non-psychoactive cannabinoids like CBD can easily be changed into psychoactive cannabinoids with the correct catalyst. “[It] basically means they have the same makeup, they just have a different structure,” Hart says.

Franny’s Farmacy sources their delta-8 and CBD products through a Drug Enforcement Agency-certified lab. The laser chromatography process and lab results ensure that the product is safe for consumption.

“To test all of our products, we have to have lab results on all of the flower after it’s been grown and harvested, as well as having lab results that cover the safety of cannabis, including checking for heavy metals and pesticides,” Hart says. “So those lab results are often really important for not only knowing the cannabinoid levels that you have, like the level of CBD and THC, but just to be certain on the safety of all cannabis.”

Hart says it is especially important to check for excess heavy metals or pesticides that can contaminate hemp products. However, this ability can benefit the environment. Hemp plants are considered bioremediators because they can absorb more heavy metals through the ground compared to other plants. Hemp has been used for two decades in the Chernobyl nuclear plant’s phytoremediation project, which reduces the site’s soil toxicity. “It will actually process more carbon dioxide than a plant its size,” Hart says. “So having fields of hemp plants can actually help us reduce greenhouse gasses.”

Additionally, hemp’s delta-8 compound is also associated with a plethora of physical and mental health benefits. Whether it is used recreationally or to combat symptoms of depression, the chemical compound can alleviate various negative sensations. “Some people use it for relaxation or sleep,” says Erin Jimenez, Franny’s Farmacy’s marketing and community liaison specialist. “Some use it as a way to take their mind off the pain they’re experiencing. Veterans actually have reported experiencing benefits in the form of relief from PTSD they may experience.”

Jimenez has worked at the Athens’ Franny’s Farmacy store since June 2021. She has observed that many customers initially try delta-8 recreationally to enjoy its psychoactive effects, and afterward may begin to notice the compound’s other benefits.

“I would argue that even [recreational use] has benefits and self-care and mental health benefits,” Jimenez says. “I know at the end of a long day, sometimes I want to come home and just kind of have those psychoactive effects, have that high and just take my mind off the day—much like you would if you go home and have a glass of wine or something.”

More delta-8 confusion lies with its dosage amount. Jimenez recommends starting slow with a small dose⁠—especially if the customer has never had an experience with THC products. delta-8 can also be combined with CBD, which is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that can be used for pain management, sleep and relaxation.

“Our edibles start at 10 milligrams apiece,” Jimenez says. “[It’s a] small enough dose that you could take the whole thing. But I would recommend clearing your schedule, maybe making an evening out of it where you can test it out in a safe environment. If you’re really scared, I would actually recommend starting with delta-8 and CBD. Because you still get great effects. You might still get a little bit of psychoactivity, but the CBD tamps it down a little bit.”

According to Hart, Athens residents and law enforcement have had a positive relationship with Franny’s Farmacy so far. The hemp store focuses much of its effort on educating the public about delta-8’s benefits.

“We have a good relationship with law enforcement,” Hart says. “It’s something you probably wouldn’t expect. And I think that’s really important for us and for them, too. Because these changing times are going to need somebody who can help guide law enforcement through understanding the difference between CBD, cannabis, hemp and marijuana.”