When most people think of THC, they likely picture Delta 9 THC—the primary psychoactive molecule found in cannabis. However, there are over 100 cannabinoids, many of which can be analogs of THC. Legal loopholes have made alternative THC options more readily available, but are they as effective? Let’s take a closer look at what type of THC is best for your wellness and recreational needs.
A High-Level Explanation of THC
All types of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) molecules found in the cannabis plant—including Delta 9 THC, Delta 8 THC, and THCV—are derived from THCA (tetrahydrocannabinolic acid). THCA is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is present in the raw cannabis plant.
When cannabis is heated or decarboxylated, THCA is converted into THC, which is the compound responsible for the plant's psychoactive effects. From there, further chemical modifications can result in different analogs of THC with their own unique properties.
All tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) molecules share a similar chemical structure that includes a central core of five carbon atoms arranged in a specific way. This gives THC molecules their psychoactive properties and sets them apart from other cannabinoids.
When this core structure is modified slightly, it can result in different types of THC molecules, such as Delta 9 THC, Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, THCV, or THC-O acetate. Common effects of THC products include euphoria, relaxation, and altered perception of time.
THC molecules interact with the body's endocannabinoid system, specifically the CB1 receptors in the brain, to produce these effects. However, the duration and intensity of effects vary by type of THC, as well as other factors, including strain type.
The term “THC” typically refers to Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta 9 THC), the most abundant and commonly studied form of THC. However, other cannabinoids such as THCV and Delta 8 THC are also sometimes referred to as "THC" due to their similar chemical structure and potential psychoactive effects. It is increasingly common for these products to be marketed as THC in stores, especially in areas that don’t have recreational marijuana laws.
Understanding Delta 9 THC
Delta 9 THC is the primary, most well-known THC molecule found in cannabis. It's been widely researched for almost a century. In addition to eliciting psychoactive experiences, Delta 9 THC has also been found to exhibit potential health benefits, including appetite support, mood support, and muscle comfort.
As we mentioned, THC molecules have an affinity for CB1 receptors in the brain. The molecular structure of Delta 9 THC allows it to bind strongly with the CB1 receptors. Being bound so strongly to these types of receptors is why marijuana produces psychoactive effects, as well as some potential wellness benefits.
CB1 receptors are protein molecules found on the surface of cells in the central nervous system and other parts of the body. When THC or other cannabinoids interact with these receptors, they can elicit various physiological effects.
Delta 9 THC has a strong affinity for CB1 receptors because its molecular structure closely matches the shape of the receptor's binding site. This allows Delta 9 THC to fit snugly into the CB1 receptor, leading to strong interaction and activation of the receptor. As a result, it produces the psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis use.
On the other hand, Delta 8 THC and Delta 10 THC have slight structural differences from Delta 9 THC. These differences can affect their ability to bind to CB1 receptors with the same strength. Let’s take a closer look.
Other Types of THC
While Delta 9 THC is the most well-known and widely researched of all the cannabinoids found in cannabis, there are many other types of THC molecules that are being investigated for their unique properties. Let’s take a closer look at each cannabinoid so that we can help you decide what type of THC is best for your needs.
Delta 8 THC
Delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta 8 THC) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid. It is a structural isomer of Delta 9 THC, meaning that they have the same chemical formula but differ in their arrangement of atoms.
Specifically, Delta 8 THC has a double bond on the eighth carbon atom in the molecule, while Delta 9 THC has a double bond on the ninth carbon atom. This small difference between Delta 8 and Delta 9 leads to some variation in the way that these two types of THC molecules interact with the body. Delta 8 THC may be structurally similar to Delta 9, but due to its carbon atom, it has a less intense psychoactive effect than Delta 9 THC.
Delta 10 THC
Delta 10 tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta 10 THC) is also a naturally occurring cannabinoid that is an isomer of Delta 9 THC. Compared to Delta 9 THC, Delta 10 THC has a double bond on the tenth carbon atom instead of the ninth.
This small difference in chemical structure causes Delta 10 THC to have a seemingly weak binding affinity for CB1 receptors. As a result, Delta 10 THC may present a more clear-headed high than other forms of THC.
Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid that’s a Delta 9 THC isomer. However, THCV has a propyl side chain (3 carbon atoms) instead of the pentyl side chain (5 carbon atoms) .
Unlike Delta 9 THC, THCV is known to have a higher affinity for CB2 receptors and a lower affinity for CB1 receptors. THCV has been reported to have a more subtle and potentially different psychoactive effect than Delta 9 THC.
In fact, some users describe THCV as producing a clear-headed, energizing, and stimulating experience. Due to promising novel animal studies, THCV is also believed to support a suppressed appetite in rats. These findings are a stark contrast to Delta 9 THC's known tendency to increase appetite.
Tetrahydrocannabiphorol (THCP) is a cannabinoid that was discovered in 2019 and is considered to be a rare and non-typical cannabinoid. While it has been suggested that THCP may have a stronger binding affinity for cannabinoid receptors than other cannabinoids like THC, more research is needed to confirm its properties and potential wellness benefits.
THCP has a similar structure to Delta 9 THC in that it has a cyclohexene ring and a side chain with five carbon atoms. However, THCP contains a longer side chain than THC, which may affect its binding affinity to cannabinoid receptors.
In fact, some users report THCP effects are stronger than Delta 9 THC. While research on THCP is still limited, its discovery may lead to a better understanding of the diversity of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant and their effects on the body.
Over time, THC degrades and can become other cannabinoids. Most commonly, it evolves into cannabinol (CBN). As THC loses its double bond, CBN forms.
THC has a higher affinity for CB1 receptors, leading to its potent psychoactive effects. In comparison, CBN has a lower affinity for CB1 receptors, which contributes to its milder psychoactive profile. As a result, some people use CBN-rich products to support healthy sleep patterns.
THC-O acetate is a synthetic derivative of Delta 9 THC that has been modified to produce more potent and long-lasting effects. The modification involves adding an acetate group to the THC molecule, which enhances its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and may increase its binding affinity for cannabinoid receptors in the brain. Due to its synthetic nature and limited research, the safety and legality of THC-O acetate are still being debated, and it should be approached with caution.
What Are THC Analogs and Are They Legal?
Minor cannabinoids with potential psychoactive effects have become increasingly popular, especially in states that prohibit marijuana sales. While the types of THC discussed above are naturally occurring, they are not abundant in cannabis. This is especially true for hemp, which is where cannabinoids are used to make legal THC products.
Since there are low quantities of Delta 8, Delta 10, etc., these cannabinoids are synthesized from naturally occurring cannabinoids. They become THC analogs and fall within legal loopholes around the United States.
The legal status of THC and its various analogs can vary significantly from one region to another. A THC analog refers to a compound that is structurally similar to Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (Delta 9 THC) but has slight modifications or substitutions in its molecular structure.
These analogs are often synthesized or derived from CBD for various purposes, such as research, pharmaceutical development, or recreational use. As a result, the production of THC analogs may require the use of solvents, which are chemicals that can contaminate the final product if the extract is not distilled properly.
In some parts of America, the difference in molecular structures allows THC products to be sold and marketed to the masses, so long as the THC is Delta 8, Delta 10, or other THC analogs. In addition, the THC analog must be synthesized from compounds extracted from hemp, not marijuana.
As we’ve mentioned, marijuana is abundant in Delta 9 THC. In the United States, Delta 9 THC is classified as a Schedule I drug under federal law. That means it’s illegal to produce, distribute, or possess Delta 9 THC in greater quantities than 0.3% of a product’s dry weight volume. However, some states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use, allowing individuals to legally consume THC in certain circumstances.
Other forms of THC—such as Delta 8 THC, Delta 10 THC, and THC-O acetate—are not explicitly classified under federal law, leading to a legal gray area. Some states have specifically banned these alternative forms of THC, while others have not yet addressed them at all. It's important to stay informed about the legal status of THC and its analogs in your region and to ensure that you are accessing and consuming these compounds through legal means.
Regardless of the legal status, it's important to prioritize safety and responsible use when it comes to consuming THC and its analogs. These compounds can come with risks, including addiction, abuse, and potential negative effects on the body and mind. Always read lab reports to verify the purity and cannabinoid content of any THC product, and consume only in moderation.
Which Type of THC Is Best to Use?
Determining which type of THC is "best" is a difficult question to answer. It ultimately depends on the individual's needs and preferences, as each type of THC has unique properties and effects. That being said, Delta 9 THC is currently the most well-researched of all the THC molecules found in cannabis. It is also the most readily available for production, making it easier and more affordable to extract and produce.
Extraction of Delta 9 THC can be done safely and efficiently using methods such as CO2 extraction, which ensures a high-quality and pure product. However, alternative forms of THC, such as Delta 8 THC and THCV, are often produced through synthetic means due to their low concentrations naturally. These synthetic THC analogs are typically derived from CBD and then chemically altered to create the desired effects.
While these alternative forms of THC may offer potential wellness benefits, they can also come with risks. Because they are not yet regulated by the FDA, there is no guarantee of safety or potency. Additionally, the process of synthesizing THC analogs can introduce contaminants such as solvents, further emphasizing the importance of reading lab reports to verify cannabinoid content and purity.
What Type of THC Is Best for Me?
As you can see, THC is a group of complex compounds found in cannabis that produces a range of effects on the mind and body. While Delta 9 THC is the primary, most well-known THC molecule, there are other types of THC that offer unique properties and potential wellness benefits.
It's important to approach these alternative forms of THC with caution, as they may not be as safe or effective as Delta 9 THC. More research is needed to fully understand their effects on the body.
When it comes to research and credibility, Delta 9 THC might be the best type of THC. But as science evolves, that opinion may change!
Regardless of the type of THC consumed, it's important to use it responsibly and read lab reports to verify the cannabinoid content and purity of any THC product. Regulations around these compounds vary from country to country, so it's important to stay informed and make informed decisions about your consumption of THC.
Ultimately, the decision to consume THC is a personal one that depends on individual needs and preferences. It's important to approach THC with caution and to prioritize safety and responsible use. With proper education and information, you can make informed decisions about your consumption of THC and ensure a safe and beneficial experience.
Gerrid Smith is a seasoned entrepreneur with 15 years of digital marketing experience, featured in notable publications like Forbes and Entrepreneur. In 2018, Smith turned his passion for health, wellness, and cannabis into a business, co-founding Joy Organics, an internationally-recognized CBD brand. It saw remarkable success with $15.9 million in revenue in its first year and the establishment of a thriving partnership program. A few years later, he co-founded budder, a THC-focused sister company, to meet the growing demand for more buzz-worthy products.