What's The Difference Between CBD, Hemp, Delta-8, and Delta-9?
Read Time: 6 minutes
New to the world of hemp? Here’s a quick vocabulary primer to help determine which products you’re buying and what purpose they may serve.
What is hemp?
A fibrous subspecies of the cannabis plant, hemp is commonly celebrated for its CBD-dominant flowers containing minimal amounts of intoxicating THC cannabinoids (AKA—it won’t make you feel stoned). Hemp offers a seemingly endless list of industrial and personal uses—everything from clothing, paper, rope, and textiles to supplements and even beauty products.
On the other hand, marijuana plants are grown for their THC-rich flowers—best known for their intoxicating effects. Primarily grown for their flowers, they’re not typically leveraged for industrial purposes. However, some medical marijuana patients smoke the plant’s flowers since the high could help them better deal with the effects of various medical conditions.
With that in mind, hemp plants are different from marijuana plants. While they do appear similar and produce similar flowers, hemp has minimal THC—whereas marijuana plants produce lots of it. Because of this distinction, hemp plants and marijuana plants are used quite differently.
For example, the high from the THC found in marijuana flowers could potentially benefit cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy— helping them get their appetite back and feel less physical and mental pain. Given that CBD is non-intoxicating, it plays a role in different areas of the physical body and nervous system—which may aid the body in functioning more optimally and encourage overall physical and mental wellness.
What is CBD?
CBD, or Cannabidiol, is a non-intoxicating cannabinoid found in both hemp and marijuana plants. While it appears in higher concentrations in hemp plants, some marijuana strains produce CBD as well.
CBD presents many potential benefits. For example, some studies have shown that it could be a potent anti-inflammatory and pain reliever.¹ Others have shown that it may help with feelings of stress, anxiety, and various effects of mental health disorders—such as a lack of appetite or insomnia.²
CBD works by binding to our endocannabinoid system, or ECS.³ The ECS is what’s responsible for modulating bodily processes such as pain and anxiety responses, sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, mood, and appetite. Its core function is to keep the body operating at an optimal level by producing endocannabinoids and enzyme messages that are sent through the central nervous system and organs to be processed by receptors found in every part of the body.
When CBD binds to the receptors in the ECS, it could help with signaling between the receptors to promote different effects. It may trigger the body to produce more of those naturally-occurring endocannabinoids, or bind to receptors to encourage its potential effects. CBD is very similar to many of our naturally-occurring endocannabinoids, which is why it’s received and processed so well by the body.⁴
Essentially, when taken daily CBD may boost the function of the ECS, which has the potential to increase overall wellness and bodily functions without intoxicating effects.
What is delta-9 THC?
Like CBD, delta-9 THC (or delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is a cannabinoid found in hemp and marijuana plants.⁵ However, it appears in higher concentrations in marijuana plants. Although some hemp plants produce delta-9 THC, they occur naturally at much lower levels.
Delta-9 THC is also known simply as THC. This is the cannabinoid responsible for the high you experience when you use marijuana products. This effect landed delta-9 THC with the title of a federally-illegal Schedule I substance. Like CBD, it interacts with the endocannabinoid system to produce potentially therapeutic effects.
Unlike CBD though, THC binds primarily to the endocannabinoid receptors in the body. It may assist in pain relief, nausea, lack of appetite, and muscle spasms.⁶ Its high could also play a role in mood and sleep.
Delta-9 THC is the primary intoxicating cannabinoid found in marijuana. It’s different from CBD in that it causes you to feel high but lacks the same ECS-stimulating properties that make CBD potentially more therapeutic in a holistic sense.
What is delta-8 THC?
Delta-8 THC, or delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, is in a league of its own. It can be found naturally in trace amounts in hemp and marijuana plants. As it occurs in such small concentrations, it isn’t economically viable to produce crops for extracting natural delta-8 THC cannabinoids.
For that reason, scientists have found a way to synthesize delta-8 THC from the molecules of CBD using a series of chemical reactions.⁷ The process transforms isolated CBD molecules into delta-8 THC molecules by altering their chemical structure.
Although delta-8 THC is synthesized from CBD, it’s closer to delta-9 THC in terms of its effects. Delta-9 THC molecules have a double bond on their 9th carbon position, whereas delta-8 THC molecules have this double bond on their 8th carbon position. The effect of this small distinction promotes effects practically identical to delta-9 THC. The positioning of the double bond makes it more difficult for the ECS to process delta-8 THC. For this reason, delta-8 THC seems to feel less potent than delta-9 THC.⁸ It still causes an intoxicating effect, and shares many similarities with delta-9 THC but, anecdotally, its effects tend to feel weaker.
The interest in delta-8 THC comes from the fact that it can be synthesized from hemp-derived CBD, putting it in a legal gray area that makes it arguably legal in most places under the Farm Bill. Due to similarities to delta-9 THC, many states have still moved to ban delta-8 THC.⁹
Synthetic cannabinoids VS. Hemp-derived cannabinoids VS. Marijuana-derived cannabinoids
CBD, delta-8 THC, and delta-9 THC can all be extracted from both hemp and marijuana plants. If you’re looking for a specific product type or desired effect, it’s essential to know the difference in cannabinoids between them all.
Hemp-derived cannabinoids are, you guessed it, extracted from hemp plants. Marijuana and hemp host many of the same cannabinoids and terpenes—but at the end of the day, the plant they’re sourced from makes all the difference.
Under the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp and hemp-derived cannabinoids were legalized as long as their final products contain less than 0.3% delta-9 THC on a dry weight basis.¹⁰ Legal products stay under this level and comply with federal and state regulations. Cannabinoids extracted from the marijuana plant are still illegal on a federal level. Marijuana-derived cannabinoids as Schedule I substances are banned everywhere except in the states with medical or recreational marijuana legalization.¹¹
At the moment synthetic cannabinoids like delta-8 THC, THC-o, and HHC are in a legal gray area. Since they’re hemp-derived, they’re arguably legal in most places—though many states have taken steps to ban them. Unlike cannabinoids derived from hemp or marijuana, synthetic cannabinoids can pose a greater risk of impurities and remain largely untested in preclinical or clinical studies.¹² The scientific community still doesn’t know a lot about them and can’t account for their safety, effectiveness, legality, or otherwise.
If you’re exploring cannabinoids, it’s vital to ensure the products you purchase are hemp-derived and not marijuana-derived. You should also take care to ensure that you are purchasing from a reputable company, like Lazarus Naturals—offering true potency levels in addition to third-party test results ruling out the possibility of contamination or impurities.¹³ As there isn’t quite enough evidence backing possible benefits (or ruling out negative side effects) it’s in your best interest to avoid synthetic cannabinoids altogether.
While delta-8 THC, CBD, and delta-9 THC can all be derived from hemp, there are still many differences between each. At Lazarus Naturals, we specialize in full spectrum, hemp-derived CBD products—which contain trace amounts of delta-9 THC and other cannabinoids and the natural terpenes found in the hemp plant.¹⁴ Together, they enable the entourage effect due to the fact it's as close as it gets to CBD in its natural state. By working better together, it enables people to enjoy the potentially therapeutic, wellness-driven benefits of the plant as a whole.