Designer Cannabinoids: THC-O, Delta-10, and Delta-8

by Jessica
delta-8 in vape pen, is delta-8 safe

Semi-synthetic cannabinoids have recently seen a huge surge in popularity, with products like Delta-8 THC flying off the shelves. But are Delta-8 and other semi-synthetics safe to consume?

What Are Semi-Synthetic Cannabinoids and Are They Legal?

Semi-synthetic cannabinoids are psychoactive substances made in a lab, using natural cannabinoids such as CBD or THC as the starting ingredient. 

Non-psychoactive cannabinoids (like the ones found in hemp) can be put through a chemical process that changes their molecular shape and make-up to be similar to THC. As a result, they can stimulate the body’s cannabinoid receptors and get you high.

When we talk about THC, normally we’re referring to Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the compound in cannabis that gets you stoned. Semi-synthetic cannabinoids mimic the structure of Delta-9 THC closely enough that they’re able to get you high, although with slightly different effects.

So why would people create lab versions of THC when it already exists naturally? 

Access to natural THC is limited in states where cannabis is still illegal. Thanks to the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is legal everywhere in the US, so manufacturers claim that semi-synthetics made from hemp are legal, too, and can be sold freely. However, the legality of semi-synthetic cannabinoids is still contested at this stage. 

Legal issues aside, semi-synthetic cannabinoids have also arisen out of experimentation with existing cannabinoids, in order to create different effects recreationally and opening up potential for future medical applications. 

How Are Semi-Synthetic Cannabinoids Made and Are They Safe?

Delta-8 THC Delta-8 molecular structure

Delta-8 THC is the most popular semi-synthetic cannabinoid and it’s widely available in the form of vape carts, smoking products, and a variety of edibles.

It occurs naturally in cannabis plants, but in such small amounts that it’s not worth the cost of extracting it. Any Delta-8 you find for sale will have been synthesized in a chemical process, which is much cheaper and produces larger amounts. 

Most Delta-8 is made from CBD that is mixed with a solvent and acid and heated for a long time. The chemical conversion is simple and can even be done at home, but the problem is the leftover solvent and acid. This needs to be thoroughly removed once the conversion is complete, or the end product will be contaminated with unsafe chemicals.

This should be done in a fully equipped lab that makes all of its safety data public. If you’re buying Delta-8, you should be able to verify that the lab it comes from has analyzed the product. Can you confirm a lab has given it the all-clear in terms of contaminants?

Is delta-8 safe to consume?

Delta-8 products are unregulated, and adverse effects have been reported. The FDA has issued a warning to the public due to an increase in adverse events being reported to the Poison Control Center. The warning mentions that some manufacturers might use unsafe chemicals. 

Some states have banned Delta-8 outright due to safety concerns.


Delta-10 is also present naturally in cannabis, in amounts too minuscule for extraction. It is harder to synthesize than Delta-8, so this form isn’t as widely available commercially yet. 

THC-O Acetate

THC-O acetate doesn’t exist naturally in the cannabis plant. Chemists can only manufacture it in a lab, using either CBD or THC as the base. The process requires acetic anhydride, a toxic and potentially explosiv chemical, which has raised many safety concerns around THC-O.

In an interview with Hemp Grower, neuroscientist and cannabis research Dr. Ethan Russo M.D. advised people to stay away from it.

“The process of making THC-O acetate is inherently dangerous,” Russo said. “There can be some nasty chemicals involved in the process that really have nothing to do with cannabis per se, but are going to be very, very potentially harmful to the liver or other organs.”

What Does the High Feel Like?

The intensity of a high is a subjective experience. It’s difficult to quantify how potent one type is compared to another. With that said, there is some consensus amongst regular consumers. 

Delta-8 is said to offer a similar type of high to natural Delta-9 THC but with a lower intensity. This has earned it nicknames like ‘weed lite’ and ‘diet weed’. 

Delta-10 is marketed as the lightest high, with some consumers saying they barely felt any high at all. 

THC-O acetate is claimed to be three times stronger than Delta-9 THC and has been called ‘the psychedelic cannabinoid’ thanks to its powerful head high with hallucinatory effects.

The Takeaway, is Delta-8 and the Other New Cannabinoids Safe?

Semi-synthetic cannabinoids have been rising in popularity, especially amongst people who don’t have access to legal cannabis. The FDA has raised red flags around some health and safety issues. And given that the products are unregulated and may contain contaminants or have very misleading marketing.

Ultimately, safety is a concern and there is very little scientific research to guide us at this stage. If you’re in a state like California, there’s always the option to take advantage of legal, naturally-grown THC to take you on a trip.