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How Is Delta-8 Made?

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol has recently become one of the most desired components of that can be extracted from legal hemp and CBD. It produces a smoother and more calming effect and does not cause the same paranoia or inability to concentrate as is well-known cousin. Delta-9 (more commonly known simply as “marijuana”) is far more regulated in many states and remains federally illegal compared to Delta-8. In contrast, Delta-8, as long as it is hemp-derived and contains less than 0.3% delta-9 THC, is legal under the United States Farm Bill. Because of this, Delta-8 has become an exciting alternative to its highly regulated cousin.

Delta-8 is an isomer of THC, meaning it has a very similar chemical structure to delta-9 THC (the “high” in marijuana), but with a slightly different molecular makeup. Instead of there being a chemical bond on the 9th carbon chain, Delta-8 has the bond on the 8th chain, hence the name. This also makes it bond less tightly to cannabinoid receptors in the body, explaining its smoother, less intense effects compared to traditional marijuana.

How Delta-8 Work

Unlike marijuana, Delta-8 from hemp does not typically grow in substantial concentrations within the cannabis plant and occurs in much lower potency levels compared to primary cannabinoids like THC and CBD. To maximize the potency of this exciting cannabinoid, it is first necessary to synthesize it from CBD. CBD is well-known as a safe, non-psychoactive component of cannabis. It is used all over the world for its effects on health and mood.  To convert raw CBD over to its more mood-enhancing Delta-8, some basic organic chemistry must be first applied to CBD oil.

How are large volumes of commercial-grade Delta-8 made from hemp or CBD? We answer this question in this article. To know what goes into the commercial production of this hemp-derived compound, read on.

Delta-8 via Cannabinoid Conversion — The Most Common Method of Delta-8 Production

Delta-8 is a natural compound present in hemp, but only in small quantities. While it is possible to harvest a lot of hemp flowers to yield a commercial-grade amount, it is not always the most efficient way. It is often easier and more effective to “convert” a related legal cannabinoid that is already a chemical precursor to Delta-8. That precursor candidate is CBD.

Delta 8 Production

This is why Delta-8 production involves two main steps. The first is gathering enough hemp flowers from which to extract Delta-8. The second and most instrumental step is laboratory extraction. For higher production, laboratories extract the Delta-8 and subject it to a process known as cannabinoid conversion.

Cannabinoid conversion is a multi-step process to get from the organic hemp plants growing in a field, to the end-consumer Delta-8 products enjoyed by adults seeking a marijuana alternative. Essentially, cannabinoid conversion involves taking a certain amount of the precursor cannabinoid (CBD) and moving a chemical bond to a different spot with some food-grade ingredients to produce the desired cannabinoid (Delta-8). Just like raw flour, eggs, water, and milk can be converted into a delicious birthday cake in your kitchen, the process of making Delta-8 from CBD oil can be done by someone with the requisite knowledge, ingredients, and equipment. For Delta-8 producers, this involves a laboratory-grade kitchen, some simple solvents and acids (similar to high-proof alcohol and cooking vinegar) and heat and cold to begin the conversion process.

In the next sections, we will go over the steps of making Delta-8 from hemp.

1. CBD Extraction from Hemp
CBD Purification

The process of cannabinoid conversion begins with the extraction of CBD. CBD is extracted from dried hemp using either of the following methods:

  • CO2 extraction
  • Ethanol extraction

The result is a raw form of CBD oil that also contains other byproducts of the extraction process, which need to be further filtered and removed before the conversion to Delta-8 can begin.

CBD oil on its own is already safe for consumption. However, for optimum Delta-8 production, the CBD needs to be further processed to reduce it to its purest form. Preferably, the CBD needs to be at least 98% free of residue and other byproducts from when it was extracted from the hemp plant material. The purer the CBD is, the better it will be for Delta-8 conversion. Other natural ingredients from the hemp plant, like chlorophyll and plant waxes, can interfere with the isomer’s conversion to pure Delta-8. While these natural ingredients aren’t harmful, they can dilute the strength of the final delta-8 product.

2. CBD Purification

To get the CBD to be at least 98% purity, the lab needs to filter dried hemp biomass, then run it through either a CO2 or ethanol extraction process. This “pulls out” the valuable cannabinoids from the plant, while leaving the bits of plant parts, waxes, chlorophylls, and other vegetative material behind. Then the solvent (usually ethanol) is boiled out of the mixture, leaving behind a dark, syrup-like juice that is purified CBDa oil. This mixture is called cannabidiolic acid and must then be heated to higher temperatures to “cook off” the acidic part of the molecule before it can be used effectively by the human body. Similar to THC, which is usually smoked or cooked before its effects are felt, the CBDa oil must be heated to convert it into true CBD that the human body can use. Once this cooking process is complete, the CBD that remains can begin the conversion process to Delta-8.

3. CBD Reagent and Solvent Treatment

The purified CBD oil then undergoes chemical treatment involving alcohol, a base, and an acid. The chemicals mixed with the CBD are both a form of acid and solvent. First, though, the CBD is introduced into a solvent, usually either 95% proof alcohol or heptane. After its introduction into a solvent, an acid is added. The acid can be any of several food-grade options to begin the conversion process. Once this mixture has begun converting, an alkaline base (e.g., baking soda) is added to control the catalyst and continue the conversion.

Heat is applied to this mixture, and the PH levels are tested to ensure an efficient conversion. It typically takes at least 12 hours for the process to complete. Not all of the CBD will convert to Delta-8, a large amount is “used up” in the process. Starting with 100 grams of purified CBD oil may yield less than 40 grams of Delta-8. Once the chemical conversion has slowed, the mixture must be “washed” with distilled water and some cleansing clays to remove the solvent residue and any byproducts that occur as a result of the chemical process. Getting these byproducts out, and then testing the final product using a 3rd-party chromatography lab is critical to ensuring the purity of the Delta-8 product. Because of the amount of chemical reagents, leftover solvent, and other byproducts that can be left behind by inexperienced chemists, it is strongly recommended that any Delta-8 product you ingest be made in a GMP lab, by trained chemists, and that you never purchase any Delta-8 product unless you can view third-party lab tests for purity and potency.