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Of the 100+ cannabinoids found in hemp and cannabis, Delta-9 THC remains the most popular–and controversial. Cannabis-derived delta-9 THC is psychoactive, federally illegal, and banned in several states.
Yet, despite its illicit status, legal Delta-9 products are cropping up across the country. How is this possible?
Here we'll review hemp-derived Delta-9 THC, why it's legal, how it's made, and how it differs from cannabis-based THC.
Delta-9 THC is the most abundant psychoactive compound in cannabis and hemp. It typically goes by the nickname "THC" or "Delta-9." In addition to psychoactive properties, Delta-9 THC studies show the compound delivers
Delta-9 is the same chemical compound whether it comes from hemp or cannabis, but federal law makes a critical distinction between the plants. The Controlled Substances Act only bans high-THC cannabis and the Delta-9 it contains. The 2018 Farm Bill, on the other hand, effectively legalizes Delta-9 as long as it comes from hemp.
The only stipulation is that hemp products must contain no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC by dry weight. As a result, innovative brands began creating legal hemp-derived edibles infused with no more than 0.3% Delta-9 THC per gummy. A 12 oz beverage could contain approximately 1,100 mg of Delta-9 THC and remain under 0.3% of total weight. Ah, the power of ingenuity.
The difference between hemp-derived delta-9 and cannabis-derived Delta-9 isn't scientific. It's arbitrary based on legislative distinctions.
Hemp and cannabis are both different kinds of Cannabis sativa plants. They also contain many of the same compounds, like CBD, and Delta-9. Delta-8 and Delta-10. The only difference is how much Delta-9 THC the plant can contain. In other words, Delta-9 has the same molecular structure regardless of the form it takes.
There are two main ways manufacturers produce hemp-derived Delta-9 THC.
One way is "isomerization," where manufacturers convert hemp-derived CBD into Delta-9 with a little chemical magic. Isomerization is the same method that most manufacturers use to produce Delta 8, Delta-10, and other popular THC isomers. Delta-9 THC produced in this way is referred to as hemp-derived, not hemp-extracted.
Some people believe that the isomerization method could pose a legal risk since it involves modifying the cannabinoids from their original state. Fully synthetic cannabinoids are illegal under the DEA, but it's unclear if that law applies to hemp-derived isomers.
Another common method involves taking natural Delta-9 extract from hemp. This can happen while distilling other cannabinoids, like CBD. Plant extraction is attractive because it doesn't require the manipulation of other cannabinoids to produce.
So, using this method, Delta-9 stays in its original state, leaving no room for legal confusion. As this method literally extracts Delta-9 from hemp, it’s referred to as hemp-extracted THC Delta-9.Until the DEA clarifies, both methods remain legal ways to produce hemp Delta-9. Both methods are also safe as long as the brand tests its products for potency and residual solvents.
To be considered legal, hemp-derived Delta-9 products must adhere to the 0.3% dry weight standards.
"Dry weight" is the measurement of an object's mass when completely dried. In other words, when laboratories remove all the "water" from a hemp plant, they calculate the Delta-9 percentage based on the remaining dry weight. If the number remains below .3%, the plant is compliant.
When testing biomass, the 0.3% rule is straightforward. However, neither the USDA nor the DEA offers guidance on determining the dry weight content of THC for oils, beverages, or edibles. In place of federal advice, many hemp extractors calculate the Delta-9 percentage in liquids by mass, and in edibles, per gummy.
Time for the all-important question. With only .3% THC allowed, can hemp Delta-9 gummies or edibles induce psychoactive effects?
The answer is yes. However, hemp Delta-9 products may be milder than their cannabis counterparts due to smaller dosages.
This can result in a gentler, more "buzzy." Some people enjoy this gentler Delta-9 effect and compare it to the experience of Delta 8.
Still, legal Delta-9 products can also produce strong psychoactive effects, similar to classic cannabis strains, depending on the number of milligrams it contains. Additionally, a person's height, weight, environment, and overall tolerance level for Delta-9 can play a role in the cognitive and physical experience.
How much Delta-9 should I take?
5mg of Delta-9 can be a good start for beginners. More experienced cannabis users might need a more potent dosage to feel similar results. Consumers should pay special attention to the milligrams per serving in Delta-9 products and take care not to exceed 30mg.
Hemp delta-9 products aren't regulated the same way that adult-use cannabis is. As a result, brands don't have to test finished hemp Delta-9 products for full panel safety tests. That can pose a health risk, as residual solvents, metals, and other dangerous compounds could be left behind after manufacturing.
Additionally, Delta-9 is chemically similar to Delta-8, which presents challenges for accurate testing. Some laboratories confuse the two cannabinoids in their results, leading to accidental mislabeling.
That's why consumers should always look for legal Delta-9 products with a Certificate of Analysis (COA). A COA helps consumers verify the precise Delta-9 potency and double-check that the product is clean and safe to ingest.
Unfortunately, yes. A drug test can't distinguish between hemp-derived Delta-9 and the illegal variety. Delta-9 can result in a positive test–even trace amounts found in full-spectrum CBD. A recent study found that Delta-9 THC can remain detectable from three days after a one-time dose to 30 days for those who take the compound consistently.
Thanks to legal gray areas, modern science, and innovative manufacturing, hemp-derived Delta-9 is an exciting frontier in the industry. One day, Delta-9 may be permitted regardless of the plant it comes from. However, until then, hemp-derived Delta-9 could provide a safe and legal way to enjoy THC nationwide.
To verify the safety of hemp-derived Delta-9, ACS Laboratory offers testing and user-friendly COAs in English and Spanish. ACS tests for 11 major solvents, as well as heavy metals and certain acids that could create consumer health risks. Learn more here.