Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, or Δ8 THC, is a psychoactive cannabinoid found within 1% of the cannabis plant. The National Cancer Institute recognizes Delta-8 as “an analogue of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties.”
So how do we extract such a precious and beneficial cannabinoid? In this article, we will explore the various ways Delta-8 is extracted from the hemp plant.
The Production Processes of Delta-8 THC
To create a solution of Delta-8, there are a few methods that are used in the hemp industry. The making of D8 can be done through:
- Distillation or extraction from hemp
- Conversion from distillate or isolate of other cannabinoids
1. Distillation or Extraction from Hemp
Extracting Delta-8 directly from raw hemp plant material can be costly and wasteful since the rare cannabinoid is only present in trace amounts. As a result, the following are not common methods used within the cannabis industry. However, there are a few manufacturers who do undergo the task, creating a costly product.
Distillation of Delta-8 From Hemp
Here are the steps of a fractional distillation process that produces Delta-8 directly from cannabis flower extract:
- The thin film distillation varies temperature and pressure to isolate Delta-8. The crude extract is boiled, producing vapor with higher purity than the starting liquid.
- The vapor enters the fractional distillation column, like a spinning band. In spinning band distillation, the stages of separation are increased as the rotating band forces the vapor and liquid together.
- Terpenes and cannabinoids have their boiling points, but fractional distillation enables the separation of these compounds. The spinning band pumps the higher boiling components back into the boiling flask, allowing the lightest compounds to pass through.
- This distillate typically contains over 80% Delta-8. A further refinement process produces higher concentrations of over 99% Delta-8.
Extraction of Delta-8 From Hemp
Here are the steps of extracting Delta-8 from hemp through a standard CO2 extraction process:
- Pressurized carbon dioxide lifts Delta-8 from plant material.
- Technicians use nanotechnological means to isolate the small amount of Delta-8, creating an extract.
These methods are difficult, tedious, and expensive. Let’s take a look at the more common methods of making Delta-8.
2. Conversion from Distillate or Isolate of Other Cannabinoids
Cannabinoids are related to each other, thus have a similar genetic makeup. This makes it possible to convert one cannabinoid to another through simple chemical reactions.
Conversions of cannabinoids have become standard industry practice. Conversion processes are often used not only to create Delta-8 isolates but also Delta-9, cannabichromene (CBC), cannabinol (CBN), among others.
Within cannabis, cannabinoids change into each other with the help of three factors:
The Cannabinoid Family Tree
Cannabigerolic acid (CBGA) is known as the “mother of all cannabinoids.” This matriarch produces all cannabinoids coming from cannabis. CBGA becomes synthesized into other cannabinoids as the plant matures.
Due to this natural family tree, CBGA can be manipulated into other cannabinoids under nature-imitating lab conditions.CBGA is the precursor of both CBD and THC. This means that early yields of hemp harvesting will be higher in CBGA and CBG.
As heat and time increase, THCA levels increase in the last few weeks before what is considered full maturation. For this reason, growers must make sure THC levels do not exceed 0.3% on a particularly hot day, exceeding the legal limit for hemp.
CBG turns into CBC which turns into CBL and CBT. CBD turns into CBE and CBF. The acidic forms of cannabinoids such as THCA and CBDA transform into other cannabinoids. THCA becomes THC and CBDA becomes CBD. From THCA, Delta-9 THC is created through decarboxylation.
Heat, ultraviolet rays, or other agents change THCA to THC. A tangible example of this is when marijuana high in THCA is smoked, this decarboxylation process occurs, converting THCA to THC. Then you get high from THC.
THC degrades with time, temperature, and UV-light, oxidizing to become CBN. It also degrades into Delta-8, known as an aged form of THC. There is a small shift in the position of the carbon chain as it ages: D9 has a double bond on the 9th carbon chain, while D8 has a double bond on the 8th.
The conversion of cannabinoids to Delta-8 THC can be done through the use of solvents, reagents, and acids. Typically this is done using a base of distillate or isolate and then through a reaction becomes Delta-8. We will discuss the two most common cannabinoid conversions:
- CBD to Delta-8
- Delta-9 to Delta-8
CBD Conversion to Delta-8
Converting Delta-8 from a cannabinoid is most often done using hemp’s most abundant cannabinoid cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is found in concentrations in hemp between 12 and 18% on average.
1. CBD extraction process
CBD is present in high amounts in the trichomes of hemp flowers. Trichomes are resin glands with minuscule fine hairs and bulbous heads. The making of CBD is done through one of the following methods:
- CO2 extraction: This method for producing CBD employs the use of carbon dioxide gas. Using a closed-loop extractor which is a pressurized chamber, CO2 gas is compressed into a liquid, after which it is combined with cannabis. The CO2 liquid strips away the plant’s cannabinoids, including CBD. Then the solution is returned to normal temperature and pressure, at which the CO2 returns to gas form and evaporates. The cannabidiol is left behind, separate from the remaining plant material. This method can also be used to extract other cannabinoids and terpenes. CO2 extraction is often used for the large-scale production of CBD.
- Solvent extraction: This method for producing cannabidiol oil occurs through a similar process, though it is cheaper and faster. This method can be performed with the use of butane, ethanol, or propane. One of these solvents is washed over the cannabis and the CBD, other cannabinoids, or terpenes are released. Next, the solvent is slowly and methodically heated or cooled to cause a separation from the extractions without damaging them. One downside of this method is that the solvents may extract impurities from the plant, which can leave an unpleasant taste in the resulting product.
Both CO2 and solvent extraction methodologies are dangerous due to their highly combustible properties. These methods should only be performed in a lab with the proper equipment, by trained professionals.
2. Isomerization process of CBD to Delta-8
Next, CBD can be converted to THC in a very simple isomerization process. This involves the chemical adjustment of the CBD isolates to produce Delta-8 distillate. Here is that process:
- Dissolve 1-gram of CBD in 10 mL 0.005molar H2SO4 in glacial acetic acid.
- Once it has dissolved, let the solution stand at room temp for about 3 hours. At that point, the solution will be 52% Delta 9 and 2% Delta-8.
- After letting the solution to set for 3 days, you will have the following:
- 15% Delta-9
- 54% Delta-8
- 10% Delta-8-Iso
- 10% CBD
Another method of CBD to THC conversion was an experiment done by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam. Psstt.. Don’t try this at home. It goes as follows:
- Boil a solution of CBD (3.0 g) in absolute ethanol (100 ml) containing 0.05% HCI for 18 hours.
- Pour the solution into water and extract with ether.
- Wash ether solution with water, dried (Na2SO4), and evaporated.
- Delta-8 and Delta-9 are eluted from the resulting oil and separated by chromatography.
Here is another experiment that was done by Mechoulam’s team:
- Dissolve CBD (3.14 g) in benzene (100 ml) containing 2 mg/ml p-toluene sulphonic acid and boil for two hours.
- Pour the reaction mixture into water. The upper layer is separated and washed with 5% NaHCO3, then with water, dried, and evaporated.
- Elution with pentane-ether (95:5) was oily and then was distilled.
The yield of Delta-8 for this experiment was 64%.
Delta-9 conversion to Delta-8
Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is much more abundant in cannabis than the rare Delta-8 isomer. This makes it a good candidate for D8 conversion. Delta-9 can be produced from plant extract through the spinning band fractional distillation process that we’ve described earlier.
Next, instead of the natural oxidation that occurs in cannabis to create D8, D9 can be converted to D8 through the following process in a lab:
- Mix 4% acidic alumina silicate with winterized crude cannabis oil extract.
- The cannabis oil is distilled, and THC is collected. The heat of the boiling flask will work with the acidic alumina silicate to catalyze the rearrangement of the molecules from Delta-9 to Delta-8.
The end product is typically liquid at room temperature, but some products may become semi-solid to completely solid at cooler temperatures.
Implementing Delta-8 THC in Products
The best part of making Delta-8? It is now federally legal thanks to the Farm Bill of 2018. This legislation allowed for the legal production and sale of hemp and hemp derivatives like CBD and Delta-8.
Keep in mind that these hemp products are legal only if they contain 0.3% THC or less. That being said, make sure to check the legal status of Delta-8 in your state before you buy.
Once Delta-8 THC has been made, it is produced into the forms that can be found at dispensaries, or online, then delivered straight to your door. Here are several forms D8 takes on:
- Delta-8 THC distillate: Since D8 is found in cannabis in such small amounts, the best way to produce the highest quality is to extract it from CBD isolate. From there, it goes through an isomerization process which produces Delta-8 distillate. This substance is highly potent because the high heat from distillation has fully activated the compound. Be sure to check the color, potency, brand, and clarity before buying to determine if it is a high-quality Delta-8. Quality D8 distillate will be either a clear to rose-red color or golden color. A clear rose indicates a natural solution that hasn’t been bleached, and a clear color indicates it has been bleached for clarity.
- Delta-8 infused hemp flower: This variety is produced when hemp flowers have been infused with Delta-8. Although a small amount of D8 is already present within cannabis, it is not enough to perceive its presence. Therefore growers spray hemp flowers with Delta-8 distillate, sometimes adding terpenes to reduce their viscosity. Additionally, D8-rich strains are being bred to produce higher amounts of this wonderful substance. Having the compound more naturally present within the plant is more advantageous than infusing the plant.
- Delta-8 tincture: A tincture is a liquid extract produced when growers soak the hemp in alcohol. This process causes the D8 to release. Typically a hemp strain high in CBD and low in THC is used. Tinctures may also be made by diluting D8 in a carrier oil. Often it comes as flavored drops, which you simply drop onto your tongue.
- Delta-8 THC vape cartridge (“carts”): Carts include D8 distillate with added terpenes. If you are into vaping, this is an excellent option for immediate effects. Carts pair with vape pen batteries that power an atomizer in the cartridge. This then heats the oil, which activates the components in the compound. Then you inhale the vape smoke and enjoy the effects. It is important to choose a cart that doesn’t have additives or fillers that can harm your body such as vitamin E acetate. We recommend using a ceramic coil cart rather than a metal one so there is no risk of burning the distillate.
- Dabs: Dabbing is the vaporization of concentrated amounts of Delta-8. The shatter, crumble, or wax are applied to a hot surface and then inhaled. With a dab, a little goes a long way. To dab, you need a dab rig, a nail, a dabber, and a cigar torch.
- Edibles: Gummies and chewing gums contain D8 distillate and are the most common form of edibles. Sometimes D8 is sprayed on. Besides gummies, you can also find Delta-8 infused a variety of baked goods, and sometimes even in dishes served in specialty restaurants.
- Delta-8 Softgel Capsules: Typically D8 soft gel capsules contain a carrier oil such as MCT oil and Delta-8 inside a gel capsule.
Delta-8 THC products and CBD products come with a wide selection of properties and potential benefits. Selecting the strains the product is made from can produce varying effects. CBD and D8 products often combine with other cannabinoids and terpenes to enhance their properties.
Don’t Try This At Home Folks
Delta-8 THC is made through the use of solvents, reagents, and acids. Due to the danger of some of these substances, only lab technicians with the proper training and knowledge should attempt Delta-8 conversion.
The bases that are used must be properly removed from the final product to ensure the safety of consumption. Therefore, we don’t recommend the everyday D8 user to give any of the above processes a try. Leave it to the professionals of the cannabis industry. Like Bay Smokes.
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