With the cost of CBD continuing to decrease for the past few years, CBD producers are looking elsewhere to profit. That’s where delta-8 and delta-10 THC products have risen to the spotlight. But what are they? Turns out delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC are isomers, or structurally similar compounds, of delta-9 THC (the one we’re all actually familiar with!) and they can be synthesized using CBD as a starting material. Herein lies a word of caution from the synthetic chemistry community regarding the synthesis and consumption of delta-8-THC and delta-10-THC products.
Cannabis generally costs less these days despite inflation running high – the wholesale 12-month inflation rate is +9.7%, matching record highs since 2010. Raised prices at the factory and business level are inevitably getting passed on to the consumer. The cannabis market is home to a wide variety of prices, mostly attributed to state-level supply and demand according to Andrew Livingston, director of economics and research at Vicente Sederberg LLP (a Denver based cannabis law firm). The cannabis market is also not immune to inflation and has seen its fair share of COVID initiated labor market challenges and supply chain disruptions.
It is understandable with the drop in price of CBD that CBD producers are looking for other ways to turn a profit. The problem arises when products are placed on the market that haven’t been thoroughly purified, researched or evaluated. This is where the concerned chemist wants to point out the problems with the “Delta-8-THC craze“. It seems that delta 8 and delta 10 products are flooding the market, but as a chemist *and former chemistry laboratory safety advisor of ten years* I would advise you to approach these with caution. Let’s talk about why….
The synthesis of delta-8 THC and delta-10 THC from CBD is a very “nasty” process from a chemistry perspective. CBD is refluxed (boiled) in an organic solvent such as toluene or heptane (both of which are toxic for humans if ingested or inhaled). The reaction is catalyzed (sped up to a reasonable time frame) with acid, usually p-toluenesulfonic acid but other acids can be used. This synthesis is characterized as aggressive and also results in many other products besides THC isomers. Let’s also note that the reaction is exothermic (i.e. it gives off heat, and a simple ice bath apparently does not compensate) and the solvents are flammable, so this is definitely not a synthesis to attempt without the proper ventilation and protection provided by a fume hood.
This would actually not be a problem if neutralization and distillation/isolation were to follow. Fractional distillation or chromatography are methods of isolating a single compound (i.e. delta-8 THC or delta-10 THC) while removing any other impurities present. Without this purification step, there can be over 30 by-products in this reaction, and these by-products haven’t even been identified, let alone studied for consumption.
This synthetic soup so-to-speak is commonly (or hopefully not-so commonly?) sprayed onto paper for pre-rolls, then marketed as “delta-8 flower”. It can also be sprayed directly onto buds to be sold as delta-8 flower. I’m sure there are other creative ways to market delta-8 and delta-10 that I’ve not mentioned here. However, let’s be clear. There is not currently a cannabis plant that grows delta-8-THC or delta-10-THC in high enough quantities for it to be isolated as a natural product!! It just doesn’t exist yet, but I’m sure plant geneticists and breeders will have something to say about that soon enough.
Since there is no guide from the federal government about the handling of delta-8 and delta-10, the FDA has not approved the sale or consumption of these products. The FDA actually doesn’t approve of CBD edible production AT ALL – the topic for another day. The conclusion here is to watch out for any products marketing delta-8 THC or delta-10 THC isomers as natural products. Perhaps the isolates could be interesting to experiment with, but they have not been well studied. They have been shown to interact with the endocannabinoid system slightly differently and potentially more mildly than the parent delta-9-THC. I would not advise experimenting, but if you must, I would only consider the product if it comes from a laboratory that follows standard Good Manufacturing Processes (certified GMP) and is willing to share their analytical data.