The Delta-8 Debate
Is getting high the point?
The Broccoli Report
Friday, November 4, 2022
Time to read: 8 minutes, 35 seconds. Contains 1719 words.
Asking where Delta-8 fits into the cannabis industry and how existing hemp operators feel about it.
This new world of hemp-derived cannabinoids is a weed writer’s nightmare. New acronyms arrive daily—HHC, Delta-10— and there’s even less reliable information about them than there is for good, old-fashioned CBD. Not to mention the whirligig of state-by-state legislation that varies more wildly by the day. But I can’t avoid it any longer: We’re due for an update on the booming hemp-derived THC space.
I dread writing about this realm because it’s messy as hell. Wrapping my head around the variety and vagueness of cannabinoids—ok. Understanding a suite of compounds created through highly technical processing of hemp oil that end up as cannabinoids that exist in cannabis—oof. Because it is so complicated, the editing process on our first Delta-8 dive was much longer than usual as we wrestled with how best to explain it. That was back in November 2020 😳, and boy—Delta-8’s popped off since then. Licensed cannabis brands like Wunder continue to incorporate cannabis and hemp-derived THC, and CBD brands from Terra Vita to Onyx + Rose skincare are adding hemp-derived THC gummies to their lineups—not to mention the debuts of many Delta-8-focused companies.
This segment is no small part of the consumable hemp realm, which is predicted to reach $16 billion by 2026. It’s still hard to say how much profit Delta-8 is generating, as little data has been collected exclusively on Delta-8 sales, but people are typing it into their Google search bar more often. LFTD—a big publicly-traded company out of Florida making lots of products with various kinds of hemp-derived THC—reported that its gross revenue increased by nearly six times year-on-year, up from $2.2 million in Q4 2020. And just anecdotally, I see Delta-8 everywhere I used to see CBD in 2018, from gas stations to grocery stores and online retailers, and in some cases, Delta-8 is replacing CBD’s spot on those shelves. The weird thing is: These aren’t interchangeable hemp products. Delta-8 gets you high. Not to the same degree as cannabis—only about 30-50% as much—but still. It’s not like CBD at all.
So, what does that mean? What does the surge in Delta-8 say about what customers really want?
These issues are a recurring topic of conversation whenever I speak with hemp brands, and after a particularly illuminating catchup during the research for our state of CBD dispatch, it felt like the perfect time to update you on what I’ve heard on these weed streets. In different ways, this trend is affecting CBD brands’ business, impacting products and perceptions, and for some, entering the Delta-8 space feels like it defeats the purpose of what they’ve been working for in cannabis.
Why the high?
I was sending surplus hemp goods to a friend’s stoner dad in a prohibition state when he suddenly asked me to stop. Curious, I asked why. He told me the Delta-8 he could buy locally got him higher than anything I sent.
He had access to Delta-8 thanks to a legal loophole. Most cannabis and hemp legislation define the federally illegal cannabinoid THC as “Delta-9 THC” because that’s the cannabinoid researchers first identified in cannabis and the one most commonly associated with getting folks high. But Delta-9 is not the only cannabinoid with THC. On a molecular level, the THC in Delta-8 and Delta-9 are nearly identical, but unlike Delta-9 THC, Delta-8 cannot be extracted from raw hemp material in significant amounts.
Clever processors were not deterred—they figured out that by further processing hemp oil, they could create Delta-8. And since it’s technically made from hemp, which is legal in places where cannabis is not, most states classify it as a hemp product, like CBD. Dana Smith put it well for the NYT: “Delta-8 is chemically THC, but legally hemp.”
Producers selling Delta-8 in unregulated markets are doing what early CBD producers did: They are betting that the federal government won't be able to crack down on them quickly and hoping that THC will become federally legal sooner rather than later. And there clearly is a market for it, especially in states where adult-use legalization is lagging. William Zitser, the founder of Flor de Maria CBD, recently relocated to Miami, Florida, from Los Angeles, and he says that Delta-8 is huge in the southeast. In his eyes, Delta-8 shoppers are looking for weed, and this is as close as they can get. He still operates his CBD chocolate brand, but he’s developing—somewhat reluctantly—a separate project for the Delta-8 space. Zitser sees these brands speaking to two very different consumer groups: Delta-8 is for people who want to get high, and CBD is for people who don’t, folks who may be seeking a more medicinal experience. Zitser thinks the product distribution will reflect that split, with his CBD chocolate bars sold at wellness boutiques and CBD destinations. They'd never perform as well at vape shops, for example, where he’s got buyers begging for Delta-8 products.
“Delta-8 is replacing CBD at places like vape shops and gas stations, where consumers care more about getting high than sourcing and branding,” says Zitser. “It’s really frustrating to have to use this roundabout way to create cannabis products in these markets, but that revenue will allow me to keep doing Flor de Maria exactly the way I want to.”
Dealing in hemp-derived cannabinoids is not as simple as dealing in CBD, though. Besides negotiating statewide bans and negative headlines, their synthetic manufacturing process has resulted in them sometimes being referred to as “synthetic cannabinoids,” a word that groups them in with scarier synthetic cannabis products like spice or K12.
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