Delta 8 THC occurs naturally in the cannabis plant. But there’s just one problem — the average delta 8 THC concentration is so low it’s virtually undetectable. Marijuana plants have the most delta 8 THC, but concentrations rarely exceed 1%.
For comparison, the delta 9 THC concentration in the average marijuana plant is closer to 15%. This is because, for every 15 molecules of delta 9, there’s 1 molecule delta 8 THC (or less).
However, when placed under the right conditions, other cannabinoids go through isomerization to become delta 8 THC. Manufacturers facilitate this process to produce large quantities of delta 8 THC.
Here’s how it works.
IS DELTA 8 THC FOUND IN NATURE?
Yes, delta 8 THC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid in both hemp and marijuana.
All three of the major cannabinoids — CBD (cannabidiol), THC (delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol), and CBC (cannabichromene) — are created from a shared precursor molecule called CBG (cannabigerol). Enzymes in the plant convert CBG into one of these three cannabinoids.
Hemp plants have more enzymes that make CBD, and CBC — marijuana has enzymes for making THC instead.
There are no enzymes in the plant that create delta 8 THC directly. Instead, this cannabinoid forms as delta 9 THC breaks down.
Most of the delta 9 THC is converted to CBN (cannabinol) — which maintains about 10% of the original psychoactivity of THC. Whatever isn’t converted to CBN is instead converted to delta 8 THC — which is the more stable form of the compound. As a result, this molecule has a much longer shelf-life before eventually breaking down into smaller components.
The trick to making delta 8 THC is to leverage this natural degradation reaction and facilitate a similar isomerization process.
WHAT IS ISOMERIZATION?
Isomers refer to molecules made with the same elements and have the same number of atoms — but have a different chemical structure. For example, delta 8 THC is an isomer of delta 9 THC.
CBD and THC are also isomers of each other because they have the same chemical formula — C21H30O2. The only difference is in how the elements in this formula are connected.
The process of isomerization involves creating an environment that facilitates the transition of one isomer to another. This can happen naturally under certain conditions. For example, changes in pH, temperature, or exposure to catalysts can all cause CBD to turn into other isomers of itself.
Scientists recently discovered the conditions necessary to facilitate the isomerization of CBD to delta 8 THC. All they had to do was decrease the pH of the extract and give it plenty of time for the reaction to complete. It was this discovery that allowed the delta 8 industry to happen in the first place.
If manufacturers had to rely on extracting delta 8 directly from cannabis plants, the cost of this cannabinoid would be astronomical. This is why delta 8 was virtually nonexistent just a few years ago.
HOW IS CBD ISOMERIZED INTO DELTA 8 THC?
The entire reaction can be summarized into one line:
THC Isomer (CBD) + Low pH + Time = Δ8 THC
The entire process of isolating delta 8 THC, therefore, involves exposing hemp extracts (primarily CBD) to acidic conditions, a little bit of heat to speed it up (sometimes), and plenty of time (approximately 12 hours).
Once the reaction is complete, the sample is tested for purity, the pH is neutralized, and any solvents that were added need to be removed in their entirety.
The whole process is actually much simpler than you might think — from a theoretical perspective, at least.
Actually, applying this process can get a lot more complicated and requires the oversight of a skilled chemist to perform correctly.
Here’s how it works from start to finish:
THEORY: HOW DELTA 8 THC IS MADE, STEP-BY-STEP
The process for making delta 8 THC really only requires a few simple ingredients. Again, the entire process is designed to leverage a chemical reaction that involves the isomerization of one naturally occurring molecule into another naturally occurring molecule. This process happens naturally under the right conditions but can be greatly improved by simulating these conditions in a lab.
Here’s how it works in a nutshell:
- Hemp extract dissolved into a solvent to increase the viscosity
- pH is reduced with the help of acetic acid
- The solution is left for 3–12 hours at room temperature
- The acid is neutralized
- The solvent is removed
- The extract is distilled to isolate and concentrate the delta 8 THC
- The final product is tested to assess the purity — further distillation is applied if needed
WHY THIRD-PARTY TESTING IS IMPORTANT
Despite how simple it is to make delta 8 THC, there’s a lot of room for error if the wrong ingredients are used or the final product isn’t distilled properly.
If impure compounds are used — including the starting hemp extract, acids, solvents, or neutralizing bases — side reactions could occur. In rare cases, these side reactions could be toxic.
Additionally, if the solvents or acids aren’t removed entirely, they could contaminate the final product.
The only way to know the quality of the final extract is through third-party testing. The process involves sending a small sample of the extract to an independent lab for testing. Here, the lab will run the extract through a series of precision analysis techniques like mass spectronomy and ho-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) to determine what’s inside.
These labs will test the delta 8 concentration, delta 9 concentration, and over a dozen other cannabinoids. They’ll also check for common contaminants like solvents, heavy metals, pesticides, or leftover acids.
The minimum threshold the test can detect will vary on the lab equipment, but the best labs should have the ability to detect even trace amounts of each of these compounds.
You should always check third-party lab tests before you order to make sure the company is doing its due diligence when testing. All samples should contain no more than 0.3% delta 9 THC to remain legal, and there should be no traces of any contaminant in the sample whatsoever.
There’s no “safe dose” of hexane, for example — so products that appear to have traces of this or any other solvent should be avoided completely.
WHY YOU SHOULD ALWAYS BUY PREMIUM DELTA 8 THC PRODUCTS
It’s easy to make delta 8 THC. You can even do it yourself at home.
But, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
While it isn’t difficult to make delta 8, it is difficult to make pure delta 8.
When you try and run this reaction at home, you’re never going to get a pure extract. The final product is always going to contain relatively high concentrations of delta 9 THC (which could make them illegal), CBD, CBC, CBN, and an array of potentially harmful side products or leftover solvents. Many delta 8 companies are running their operation from a DIY at-home operation — which is unethical, illegal, and potentially dangerous.
Even extraction companies can make this mistake. There are many brands (we won’t mention any names) that are using low-budget extraction equipment, hire inexperienced lab technicians, or are skipping the important final testing phase. It’s very likely that the products these companies are making are not only impure but may contain illegal or potentially harmful delta 8 THC extracts.
Keeping these products pure involves a lot of costly lab equipment, time, and experience.
Hiring skilled lab techs is expensive, running multiple tests for every batch is expensive, and buying or leasing the precision equipment to do the reaction in the first place is expensive.
These steps all add to the cost of the delta 8 extract but are critical for reaching the upper echelon of the delta 8 world. Products made with this level of integrity are inherently going to be more expensive — but they’re also safer, more potent, and have a much cleaner feel to them overall.
DELTA 8 THC CHEMISTRY: FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Here are some of the most common questions we get asked about how delta 8 THC is made.
1. SHOULD MY DELTA 8 THC EXTRACT BE CLEAR?
No, delta 8 naturally has a pinkish color to it. Some companies use additional methods to clarify the extract, but this isn’t necessary. Having a slightly different color is a byproduct of oxidation during the manufacturing process and doesn’t indicate contamination or lower quality products in any way.
There’s a lot of misinformation going around about the color of delta 8 THC. Some companies clarify their distillates and then point the finger at other companies, claiming their delta 8 is impure because of the color.
While we prefer to clarify our distillates, we acknowledge that this has no impact on the actual quality. The only way to truly assess quality is through HPLC lab testing.
2. DOES PRICE CORRELATE WITH QUALITY?
No. There is a lot of shockingly low-quality delta 8 products being sold under premium branding at premium pricing. As mentioned several times before, the only way to assess quality is from the lab tests. Please don’t take the cost of the product as an indicator of its overall quality.
With that said, all high-quality delta 8 products will be more expensive simply because of the costs involved with maintaining this quality. So if the price of delta 8 seems too good to be true, it probably is.
3. IS DELTA 8 THC “SYNTHETICALLY-DERIVED?”
According to US federal law, any “synthetically-derived” THC is considered illegal. This has many people wondering if delta 8 THC is synthetically derived.
The answer is open for interpretation, but most legal experts agree delta 8 THC does not classify as synthetically derived.
The reason is that isomerization is a natural process. It happens in nature when compounds are exposed to the right conditions. Therefore, manufacturers use lab techniques merely to facilitate this process and make it more efficient.
Additionally, synthetic molecules refer to substances that don’t occur in nature. For example, there are many synthetic versions of THC that have been proven to have toxic or addictive side effects — which is what this law was designed to prohibit.
Delta 8 THC is a naturally occurring molecule, and it’s made through naturally occurring processes. None of this offers any reasonable argument that delta 8 THC is a synthetically derived compound.
WHERE TO BUY DELTA 8 THC
While it’s totally possible to make delta 8 THC yourself, we recommend against it. Unless you’re a skilled chemist with access to high-tech lab equipment and a testing center, we recommend leaving this conversion up to the professionals.
If you’re interested in using delta 8 THC, check out our selection of tinctures, capsules, gummies, or vape cartridges.
We’ve already done all the hard work for you and have all the lab reports to prove the products you’re spending your money on are top-shelf.
We firmly believe in producing nothing but the highest quality products possible. We don’t have any time or patience for anything else.