Beyond Delta-9: What Other Types of THC Are There?
Cannabis culture made the three-letter acronym “THC” a famous name. Short for tetrahydrocannabinol, THC typically refers specifically to delta-9 THC, a phytocannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating feeling cannabis can elicit.
As researchers have uncovered more about THC, though, it’s become clear that it is more than just a single compound. There are several forms of THC out there, and each one in the family has its own distinct and unique properties. Here’s what you need to know about these THC types.
The many faces of THC
Cannabis has been known for millennia for its intoxicating effects, but it wasn’t until 1964 that it was clear why. It was that year when Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, Dr. Yehiel Gaoni and Dr. Haviv Edery first isolated and elucidated the chemical structure of THC, the source of cannabis’s heady experience and a number of its therapeutic benefits.
While delta-9 THC might be the most famous THC type, it’s not the only compound to bear those three letters. THC has several varieties, called “analogs,” that all have similar molecular structures. Only one thing separates each THC type from one another: the location of a particular double bond among their atoms. This tiny change is enough to impact how the compound affects you when consumed.
While researchers are learning more about each of these THC analogs, there is already a fair amount known about some of them. For example, Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and delta-9 THC only differ by two carbon atoms (THC has two more than THCV), and yet early research into THCV suggests it is very different from its counterpart. While both are technically intoxicating, THCV is reportedly significantly less potent and results in a clear-headed experience. THCV also appears to be an appetite suppressant; anyone who has ever had a case of the munchies knows delta-9 THC can be anything but.
Comparing the different types of THC
There are, undoubtedly, plenty of similarities across the THC analogs. After all, their chemical structures are so similar, they are inevitably going to share some traits. However, each is also unique, and as extractors have perfected the art of isolating and distilling individual cannabinoids into a concentrate, each analog is becoming more widely available. Here’s a closer look at five of the most commonly encountered analogs of THC.
Delta-9 THC is the most common of the THC family and is the most famous compound sourced from cannabis flower. As mentioned above, it is known for producing the intoxicating effects associated with cannabis consumption.
Beyond this, delta-9 THC offers several key therapeutic benefits. These include:
- Pain management: Delta-9 THC has been observed to modulate pain, both related to inflammation and neuropathy. There have been many studies on THC and pain relief, including recent human studies that showed a 48:1 THC:CBD oil consumed sublingually could help manage chronic pain related to fibromyalgia. Another demonstrated that just 1mg of THC could meaningfully reduce neuropathic pain for a duration of about two hours.
- Stress alleviation: When it comes to relaxing and alleviating stress, THC can be a double-edged sword. At lower doses, researchers believe that THC can help alleviate feelings of anxiety. However, at higher doses, THC can actually worsen feelings of anxiety, especially in consumers living with an anxiety disorder. However, responsible and regimented consumption of cannabis as anti-anxiety tool, particularly products with a healthy ratio of delta-9 THC to Cannabidiol (CBD), could provide relief for people managing stress and anxiety.
- Anti-nausea/vomiting: THC has long been studied for its powerful anti-emetic properties, so much so that synthetic forms are used to prevent nausea and vomiting induced by chemotherapy treatment in cancer patients. Delta-9 THC also appears to be effective at preventing nausea and vomiting caused by other conditions as well. Researchers believe this is due to the interaction between delta-9 THC and the CB1 receptor, which is one of the receptors within the body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) activated by phytocannabinoids like delta-9 THC.
Delta-8 THC offers a more subdued intoxication than its more potent cousin, making for a more clear-headed experience. This isomer also offers similar therapeutic benefits as delta-9 THC, including its propensity for pain management, as well as its ability to alleviate stress and anxiety. However, delta-8 THC isn’t likely to exacerbate anxiety in the same way that high doses of delta-9 THC might.
Delta-8 THC can be extracted from high-THC cannabis or from industrial hemp, where it appears naturally in very small amounts. Some dispensaries carry delta-8 THC products or manufactured products which contain delta-8 THC.
Delta-8 THC is widely available in stores and markets where other cannabis products are not. This is largely because of its uncertain legal status. Many retailers have sold the hemp-derived cannabinoid and claimed it is legal, much like hemp-derived CBD. However, state and federal authorities differ; in fact, the State of New York became the most recent to ban delta-8 THC, joining Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) maintains that delta-8 THC is a synthetic THC and therefore illegal to sell under the law without a state-legal THC license.
Delta-10 THC is similar to delta-8 THC in that it is less potent than delta-9 THC but still intoxicating. However, a unique aspect of delta-10 THC is that it is semi-synthetic. Delta-10 THC exists in such trace amounts naturally that creating a delta-10 THC extract involves the use of a catalyst to convert delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC into delta-10 THC.
Delta-10 THC remains a bit of a mystery; even the fact that it is less potent than delta-9 THC was gleaned from a study observing pigeons. As researchers learn more about the potential therapeutic effects of delta-10 THC, though, it could become yet another household name in the THC family.
THCV is one of the most unique types of THC. As mentioned above, it is known to decrease appetite, while other types of THC often stimulate appetite. THCV is also not intoxicating, like the delta-THCs. THCV is a minor cannabinoid found in high amounts in certain cultivars, such as Durban Poison and GSC, but THCV isolate products are rare.
So far, researchers know the following about the effects of THCV:
- Energy stimulation: THCV may provide an uptick to the metabolism, boosting energy and helping consumers to be more active.
- Appetite suppression: THCV’s appetite suppression also comes with an increase in satiety, or the feeling of being full. This prevents sensations of hunger and keeps you feeling full between meals. It appears to also offer glycemic control and glucose regulation, suggesting it could be useful for consumers living with diabetes.
- Stress alleviation: THCV is also effective in reducing stress and anxiety. Researchers have observed THCV to also mute the anxiety-inducing effects of high dosages of delta-9 THC, so if you over-imbibe it might pay to keep some THCV by your side.
THCA is the acidic precursor to delta-9 THC. To convert an acidic cannabinoid to its active form, the catalyst of heat is required. When heat is introduced, such as a flame or vaporizer’s heating chamber, the acidic cannabinoid is converted to the active form (Delta-9 THC). Without heat, THCA molecules are too large to fit into endocannabinoid receptors.
Early research suggests THCA might offer some benefits of its own, even if it doesn’t fit precisely into CB1 receptors like its activated, intoxicating counterpart. Researchers are currently investigating the following potential benefits:
- Anti-inflammatory: Researchers think that THCA may offer some anti-inflammatory properties that could reduce joint pain and flare ups in sore spots, which is why you’ll usually find THCA in topical products.
- Neuroprotective: THCA could act as a neuroprotective agent, which could both maintain focus and mental acuity while preventing cognitive decline.
- Anti-nausea: Like other members of the THC family, THCA excels at preventing nausea and vomiting.
- Anti-cancer: Like some other cannabinoids, researchers are investigating THCA for its potential anti-tumor characteristics. Several phytocannabinoids are receiving the same treatment as researchers seek to unlock more answers about how cannabis could be used to improve cancer treatments and side effect management.
THCA products can be found in some dispensaries as ingestible products, such as tinctures or edibles.
Many types of THC mean many choices for you
As you can see here, there’s much more than meets the eye when it comes to THC. While “THC” almost always refers to delta-9 THC, there are many more forms of this phytocannabinoid that each carry their own purported, potential benefits. These promising findings suggest that each type of THC could play an important role in the health and well-being of cannabis consumers in the very near future. We are only at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about cannabis. At Ethos, our resource center provides useful guides to phytocannabinoids like THC and CBD, cannabis basics, and information on the many product types you’ll find at our dispensaries. Visit the learning center to explore other cannabis resources.
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