Comprehensive Guide to Delta-8 THC Synthesis: Processing, Safety & Purity

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ACS Blog - Delta8 Conversion Pictures

Russell Lombard didn’t plan on producing Delta-8-THC. Nevertheless, he went where the market demanded. Russell started as an industry consultant and later developed a hemp refinement company to remediate extractions and create white label formulas.

In late 2019, Russell’s company added Delta-8-THC to its repertoire.“One of my customers asked if I could make Delta-8. I said yes, but why? He told me he thought there was a market for it. He couldn’t have been more right,” said Russell, CEO of Canna Redux and Forge Hemp Company, a retail brand.

It took Russell’s team three months and more than thirty R&D rounds, but eventually, they dialed in on an optimized method for synthesizing Delta-8-THC from hemp-derived CBD. By June last year, multiple brands were knocking at their door. Today, Canna Redux produces 100 kilos of potent, clean solution every week. But Delta-8-THC is still an unpredictable compound, and not every manufacturer knows how to make it safely.  

Here Russell discusses the intricacies and risks of producing Delta-8-THC and how to know if a product is clean, high-quality, and pure.

Why did it take three months for your team to figure out how to convert CBD to Delta-8-THC?

Trial and error. We started out by experimenting with the “OG” method for converting CBD to Delta-8 using activated carbon and activated bleaching clay. We eventually discovered the process didn’t produce the cleanest or most beautiful product.

But it took us a while to realize that because only a few certified laboratories tested for Delta-8. And their methods were all over the place. We received wildly inconsistent test results.

One potency test would say the distillate contained 0% Delta-9, and another would say 15%. We also found the OG method to be slow, ineffective, and potentially risky on top of the uncertainty. Fortunately, we started R&D much earlier than most manufacturers, so we had time to continue testing conversion methods before the market started booming.

What was so risky about the carbon and clay conversion method?

One of the risks in converting Delta-8 THC from CBD is that you may inadvertently create unwanted byproducts. For instance, when you get 50-60% Delta-8, you might also get 10% Delta-9, 10% Delta-10, 5% CBN, and a slew of unknowns. From a regulatory standpoint, Delta-9 is the most concerning because it’s banned at levels higher than 0.3%.

The last thing we want to do is accidentally dose customers with substances they don’t expect or accidentally make them sick. We needed to be sure our distillates were free from Delta-9, but the potency tests were inconclusive.

There were simply too many “unknown” cannabinoids and byproducts that the laboratories couldn’t identify. We needed a better way.

What Delta-THC conversion method do you use now?

The clay method led us to try multiple solvent reflux methods and eventually the proprietary solvent-based process we’re using today. You see, nearly all solvents can work. We’ve constantly tested over 80% potency using many solvent variations.

The challenge is knowing how much Delta-8 you are producing vs. other cannabinoids and compounds. You have to strike a safe balance.

Why is accurate lab testing such a challenge?

Unfortunately, many laboratories use outdated methods that will give enticing yet entirely false results. For example, if I want a sample to test at 97% Delta-8 concentration, I know which labs to send it to. The labs aren’t doing anything nefarious, but their methods are defunct.

I also know which labs to send samples to if I want my products to test at 80% Delta-8 while guaranteeing 0% Delta-9. If I want to get test results with 15% Delta-9, I also know where to go. I’ve even seen Certificates of Analyses that show my distillates contain as much as 99% Delta-8 THC, but I don't believe them.

At this point, I test enough samples every week that I’m confident our product contains between 95% and 89% Delta-8, and 0% Delta-9. The challenge with inconsistent test results is here to stay until there’s an industry-standard method for separating Delta-8 from Delta-9. The methodology must also account for lesser-known THC analogs.

For now, some facilities use mass spectrometry, while some others use HPLC or gas spectrometry. And each facility has different Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs). I hope the cannabis testing industry is working on creating a standard. Until then, labs will always argue over what testing method is the most accurate and whether or not these formulas necessarily contain Delta-9.

Some chemists are convinced that Delta-8 cannot be produced without the Delta-9, but there is no consensus. I’m certainly not an analytical chemist, but I understand the process very well after years in the industry. At the end of the day, I depend on certified testing facilities like ACS that I trust to give the most accurate results possible.

How can Delta-8 companies find the most accurate laboratories for potency testing?

I get calls weekly about where to have products tested. I always say to just be consistent. I use ACS Laboratory, and a big part of that is their DEA certification.

Some people will say DEA designations don't mean anything. I say it shows a lot of due diligence by the lab to be certified and recognized, giving me the confidence to work with them.

My advice to newbies is to do their due diligence and work with a DEA-certified partner. Don’t go to a mom-and-pop lab that just got into the industry. Use reputable labs with years of experience testing hemp and cannabis and seek more than one partner to verify the results.

We consistently send raw materials to three testing labs. When three verified partners publish similar potency results, I feel comfortable using the results to determine an accurate concentration level. When we manufacture retail products under Forge Hemp Company, we re-test the finished product with one of the trusted labs before labeling and selling.

Why are residual solvents such an issue for some Delta-8 products?

Anytime there's a mad rush to make a product, some people will act ethically, and others won’t. Unfortunately, some companies cut corners. Harmful solvents and acids like Heptane, Hexane, Cyclohexane, Toluene, Sulfuric acid, Hydrochloric acid, and p-Toluene sulfonic acid can be used in the production of Delta-8.

These methods can be hazardous to the people performing the reaction, as well as the end-user if not handled properly. The conversion is easy to do but also easy to screw up. The most significant danger with solvents and acids is that people don’t wash the solutions and clean them enough to make sure they’re safe.

To make matters worse, regulators don’t require companies to test for all solvents, and companies are not legally required to disclose what they use in the conversion process.

Companies want to keep their formulation methods secret from competitors who eagerly race to the bottom on price. This can put consumers at risk of buying a Delta-8 product made by a shady manufacturer.

How can consumers find a trusted Delta-8 brand?

I’d like to say go with a big established brand, similar to the advice I gave for finding the suitable laboratory. But I think this is a different story. Instead, I’d say look for a brand that focuses on creating high-quality products as one of its core values. Often you’ll find smaller companies focus more on quality than bigger ones.

I’ve found that some of the larger companies are so price-driven that they look for cheaper materials to lower the costs. Lower-cost products are enticing, but you may not want to focus on the best deal when you’re looking for a safe Delta-8 product.

What else can a consumer do to determine if their Delta-8 product is clean?

Pro-tip #1 – A clear or translucent product serves as a great visual cue to indicate the quality of the product. However, standard colors for Delta-8 vary greatly.

I have seen translucent amber, light yellow, light pink, and clear that are all perfectly clean. If you see a dark color, like blood red, look elsewhere because the formula may contain harmful or unwanted byproducts.

Pro-tip #2 – If you’re buying a Delta-8 vape, tip it over and see if the solution moves. It shouldn’t.

Delta-8 at room temperature does not flow. It sits like a rock until you warm it up with a heating device.

If your Delta-8 vape solution slides around, it may contain harmful cutting agents.

How can Delta-8 companies reduce the risk of residual solvents in their formulas?

Most people convert Delta-8 in a reactor, which turns it into the red color I mentioned. This is normal, but they must do a PH wash on it afterward to neutralize the acids and stop the reactions from taking place to prevent byproduct buildup. Then they should put the solution in a rotary evaporator to remove most of the solvents.

Delta-8 manufacturers must also carefully conduct post-processing steps to eliminate as much of the remaining solvents as possible. Wiped film and short path distillation are the most common methods. Companies need to be aware that their raw materials may still contain residual solvents in the end, which is why consistent testing is so important.

What Delta-8 products do you produce?

  • Vape cartridges
  • Dabbables
  • Chewable Tablets (think Smarties)
  • Tinctures
  • Gummies

We produce all the products you see above. Right now, I’m most excited about our new 10mg Delta-8-THC tablets, which are like sweet tart candies. We are the only company doing this type of product, and I love it because it’s so much easier to control the dose.

Consumers can split a tablet to micro-dose, which can be tricky with a gummy, or take more than one to increase to the desired number of milligrams.

What’s the future of Delta-8-THC in an uncertain regulatory environment?

I believe Delta-8 needs to be regulated considering that it’s a psychotropic, but I’m worried some states will take it too far. For instance, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission recently released a notice saying they’re starting efforts to limit Delta-8-THC sales. They said Delta-8 candies are available to young kids, but I believe no responsible hemp company will sell this product to young people.

Our facilities only sell to people 18 years or older. Unfortunately, regulators tend to overreact, but I don’t believe Delta-8 is going away. Merchant credit card processors tend to follow suit and look suspiciously on hemp-derived Delta-8-THC brands.

Our retail brand, Forge Hemp Company, has been searching for a new processor for the last two months, and we haven't found one yet willing to take the “risk” of Delta-8. This type of environment forces folks to partner with processors that have exorbitant fees from 12 to 15%.

My hope for the future is that regulators step in and manage Delta-8 responsibly, considering it is not just a product for people to get high. Delta-8 is a therapeutic cannabinoid that helps people with anxiety, depression, and pain management. Like any cannabinoid, it does a lot of good. Can it be abused and recreational? Yes! But it benefits a lot of people, and I hope lawmakers take that into account.

Need accurate, reliable Delta-8 potency tests? ACS created a new standard that employs the most advanced methodology to delineate between Delta-8, Delta-9, and Delta-10. No other laboratory is doing this.

Thanks to our slower, more methodical process geared toward identifying each unique cannabinoid, Delta-8 companies can feel confident in the results.

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