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Delta-8 Use Among Adolescents: New Report

Delta-8 is legally derived from CBD but closely resembles marijuana’s THC.

Key points

  • Although delta-8 is legally derived from CBD, its effects resemble marijuana's THC.
  • In a recent survey, 11.4% of high school seniors self-reported using delta-8 in the last 12 months.
  • Regional, ethnic, and state policy differences strongly influence the prevalence of delta-8 use.

In a previous post, I described how the 2018 Farm Bill permitted cannabidiol (CBD) to be extracted from legally grown hemp containing only .3% or less delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (commonly called THC), the primary psychoactive component in marijuana. When a glut of CBD flooded the market, the cannabis industry realized a simple chemical process could convert CBD into delta-8.

The tetrahydrocannabinol molecule in cannabis contains a double bond between two carbon atoms. The difference between delta-9, or THC,and delta-8 is a very slight shift in the location of this double bond. The difference in subjective experience between these two forms of THC is equally slight. Estimated at perhaps two-thirds the power of THC, delta-8 consumption produces substantially the same effects—e.g., mild euphoria, pain relief, diminished short-term memory, and altered sense of time.

There is no federal law prohibiting delta-8. It is legal, except in states that have passed laws regulating its sale and use. In California, for example, delta-8 is treated the same as all other legal cannabis products, while it is banned in some other states. Delta-8 products are available in smokable, vapable, and edible forms, legally or illicitly, across the U.S.

A March 12, 2024, article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports interesting data on the prevalence of delta-8 use among high school seniors nationwide. The data in this new study are extracted from the 2023 Monitoring the Future annual survey of adolescent self-reported drug use. Of the 2,186 twelfth-graders surveyed, 49% were female, 11% were Black, 23.5% were Hispanic, 46% were White, and 14% were multiracial. In the past 12 months, 11.4% reported using delta-8, and 30.4% used marijuana. Of those who used delta-8, 35.4% acknowledged using it 10 or more times in the past year.

Regional, ethnic, and state regulatory policies affect the prevalence of delta-8 use:

  • Delta-8 use was lower in Western vs. Southern regions (5.0% vs. 14.3%).
  • States that regulate delta-8 have lower use than unregulated states (5.7% vs. 14.4%).
  • States with legal adult-use marijuana have lower delta-8 use than states without legal adult-use marijuana (8.0% vs. 14.0%).
  • Fewer Hispanics than Whites use delta-8 (7.3% vs. 14.4%) and also use less marijuana than Whites (24.5% vs. 33.0%).

While these data probably bear no more significance than typical THC use, they do raise the need for improving community education. The fact that delta-8 is a derivative of CBD does not mean it shares CBD’s non-addictive and relatively benign safety profile. Delta-8 shares the same risks associated with THC. It is addictive, and regular use will almost certainly decrease the brain’s usual number of endogenous cannabinoid receptors.

In other words, delta-8 can be used frequently enough to be expected to produce measurable changes in memory, concentration, executive functions, emotional reactivity, and the rate of psychosis, though scientific examination of these expected changes has not yet been verified as thoroughly as they have been for delta-8.

No one should be fooled that an adolescent’s use of delta-8 would be safer than THC products. With both, consumers need to be educated about the signs of using too frequently to use safely.


Harlow, AF, et al, Adolescent Δ8-THC and Marijuana Use in the US, JAMA. March 12, 2024;331(10):861-865.

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