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Delta-8 Versus Delta-9: According to Consumers

It would be an understatement to say delta-8 THC is a hot topic right now. Fervent conversations cover everything from its legality (currently under dispute) to its questionable safety profile (likewise) but what do consumers have to say? Well, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. 

An online survey found participants compared delta-8 favorably with both delta-9-THC and pharmaceutical drugs, and reported substantial levels of substitution for both (1). Patterns of usage had both similarities with and differences from delta-9 cannabis and products. Administration methods were primarily edibles (64 percent) and vaping concentrates (48 percent). About half of the participants (51 percent) used delta-8 to treat a range of health and medical conditions, primarily anxiety or panic attacks (69 percent), stress (52 percent), depression or bipolar disorder (46 percent), and chronic pain (41 percent). 

Worryingly, most participants did not inform their primary care provider of their delta-8 use (78 percent) and were not confident of their primary care provider's ability to integrate medical cannabis into their treatment (70 percent). Consumers instead reported relying on information from the Internet or their own experiences, with little knowledge of effective dosages. A tale as old as time – but one with significant public health implications. Despite delta-8 coming under increasing scrutiny, access to the drug is still widespread enough to call for empirical evidence into its effects and caution as to its use. According to study author Daniel J. Kruger, a professor at the Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan, USA, and the Department of Community Health and Health Behavior, University at Buffalo, New York, USA, the key to harm reduction lies in research, regulation, and education – for industry and consumers. We spoke with Kruger to find out more.

What were the key differences between respondents’ experiences with delta-8- and delta-9-THC?

Participants who had used delta-9-THC cannabis products reported that their experiences with delta-8-THC were equivalent in relaxation, nearly equivalent in pain relief, slightly lower in euphoria, but lower in difficulties with short term memory, difficulty concentrating, altered sense of time, anxiety, and paranoia compared with their experiences with delta-9-THC. So, delta-8-THC appears to have similar therapeutic benefits to delta-9-THC, fewer cognitive distortions, and far fewer of the distressing experiences. We need more research to confirm this pattern, such as a fully blinded randomized trial with both delta-8-THC and delta-9-THC, but the results suggest that switching to delta-8-THC could be an effective harm reduction practice, especially for those who are using cannabis medicinally.

Considering the varying quality of delta-8 products on the market today, do the findings worry you from a public health standpoint?

We share some concerns that have been cited by areas prohibiting delta-8-THC. Some delta-8-THC products have been found to have contaminants and substantial (and illegal) levels of delta-9-THC. There needs to be systematic regulation, including independent testing of products and informative labeling. Some companies include a QR code, so consumers can look up the test results for a specific batch. Many officials also cited the lack of research on delta-8-THC, which we are helping to address.

Were you surprised that the majority of users had little confidence in their healthcare provider’s ability to integrate medical cannabis into their treatment and as such, were unlikely to tell them about their use?

No, because we also found this in our previous studies with medical cannabis consumers. However, it is very concerning. There are serious issues that medical providers may not be aware of, such as substitution of cannabis for pharmaceutical drugs. Most healthcare providers were trained in the cannabis prohibition era, when the perspective of mainstream medicine was that cannabis was a harmful and dangerous drug without any benefits. So, health professionals need to be properly educated on cannabis.

Are you hopeful that this will change with increased awareness/education about cannabis use?

Yes. To some extent, the change may be generational. We noted the dominance of prohibition era perspectives (abstinence programs, “gateway drug” studies) in Public Health conferences even decades after cannabis was legalized (at a state level) for medicinal use. And that’s why we launched our own research program. Now, there are thousands of papers published on cannabis and its medicinal use every year, it is a huge change from when we began our work. But we still need to see more formal integration into educational programs.

How do you think we can reduce harms associated with cannabis use more generally?

Research, regulation, and education. All policies and practices should be informed by empirical evidence.

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  1. D Kruger and J Kruger, “Consumer Experiences with Delta-8-THC: Medical Use, Pharmaceutical Substitution, and Comparisons with Delta-9-THC”, Cannabis Cannabinoid Res, Online ahead of print (2021). PMID: 34797727
About the Author
Phoebe Harkin
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