Many are turning to delta-8 as a marijuana alternative.

Research has suggested that delta-8 is less potent than classic delta-9 THC, the major psychoactive compound in cannabis.

As Texas continues to grapple over whether the recreational use of marijuana should be legalized and whether its medical marijuana program should be expanded, many state residents have turned to other options.

Those alternatives include delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a hemp derivative that provides a soothing effect similar to marijuana and is typically sold in the form of edibles, vape cartridges, tinctures and other products.

But exactly how do its effects compare to marijuana?

Research has suggested that delta-8 is less potent than classic delta-9 THC, the major psychoactive compound in cannabis. It’s sometimes referred to as “marijuana’s younger brother,” said Leslie Ohayon, the owner of the Houston CBD business Sacred Leaf Wellness Studio.

The majority of Ohayan’s customers are over age 40 and use delta-8 products for pain management or anxiety, or as an alternative to medications such as opioids. Some are veterans who use delta-8 for post-traumatic stress disorder, she said.

Will delta-8 get you high?

Delta-8 causes a “high,” but Ohayan said it’s more of a “body high” that can help customers with pain management or inflammation. It does cause a “head high,” too, but not to the level of marijuana, she said.

“Marijuana, obviously, is medicinal. But a lot of people don’t want to get stoned to get its medicinal benefits,” Ohayan said. “Delta-8 will get you high, but it’s not as intense.”

Zach Jones, the co-owner of Houston CBD Supply, said many in the industry believe delta-8 is roughly 70 percent as potent as the same quantity of delta-9. But it does have psychoactive effects, so Jones recommends treating it like other substances that cause impairment.

“It’s definitely a psychoactive product,” he said. “It should be used, in my opinion, in the comfort of your home.”

Ohayan said she works to ensure each customer is experiencing the intended effects by providing each with a recommended dosage that’s based on their body weight. She said she generally recommends starting with a smaller dosage.

“My whole method that I preach to my customers is that you can always take more, but you can’t go back,” she said.

Veterans Chris Luna and Carl Arnold eat steak dinners beside a Delta 8 vending machine located in the Tomball VFW Post 2427 on Friday, Feb. 24, 2023 in Houston, TX. Research has suggested delta-8 is less potent than marijauna. Raquel Natalicchio/Staff photographer

Who is buying delta-8?

Jones said he initially anticipated that customers seeking out delta-8 would be younger individuals looking for a legal alternative to marijuana. But like Ohayan, he found many were older and looking for something to manage pain or help them sleep.

“The majority of our customer base on that side of things is a lot older, a lot of veterans,” he said. “A lot of people who’ve been dealing with a lot of pain for a long, long time.”

While delta-8 is legal, both Jones and Ohayan cautioned that it will show up on a drug test. The National Drug Court Institute recommends avoiding it if you’re going to be drug tested.

Delta-8 is currently legal in Texas

Delta-8 has exploded in popularity since 2019, after the passage of a federal law reclassified hemp as an agricultural commodity. Texas and other states then legalized hemp production.

The law set a limit of a 0.3 percent concentration of delta-9 in hemp products. It did not put on a limit on delta-8.

More than a dozen states have blocked the sale of delta-8, citing a lack of research into its psychoactive effects. The Texas Department of State Health Services is engaged in an ongoing legal battle over delta-8, but veterans who rely on the drug are among its biggest proponents.

Because delta-8 products are not regulated by the federal government, their quality can vary based on the producer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it has received reports of adverse effects related to delta-8 products, and a University of Rochester Medical Center study found some delta-8 products contained harmful byproducts.

Jones said he is wary of overregulation but is generally supportive of any standards that are designed to ensure delta-8 products are safe for consumers.

“You cannot trust a whole industry to do the right thing, so sensible regulation I’m all for,” he said.

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