This morning, New York finally passed legislation to legalize recreational cannabis, making it the 16th state to do so, and the second largest by population after California. Legally partaking for fun is now an option for around 91 million Americans over the age of 21—but even if you aren’t one of them, you don’t have to let stoner FOMO rule your life. Because there’s actually a 100 percent federally legal way to consume THC—and get high—almost anywhere in the U.S.
I learned this as I learn most everything these days, from a podcast—specifically, from an ad during one of the many film podcasts I listen to when I need to quiet my restless mind. The ad promoted a company selling something called delta-8 THC, which is a modified form of THC—the most famous of the psychoactive chemicals in cannabis, and the one most responsible for making you feel high—derived from hemp.
How is this stuff legal?
Like the largely non-psychoactive CBD, delta-8 THC is federally legal (or, perhaps more accurately, technically not illegal) because of a loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill that allows for the broad cultivation of hemp and hemp-derived products. According to the non-profit public policy group the The Brookings Institution, the bill “puts no restrictions on the sale, transport, or possession of hemp-derived products, so long as those items are produced in a manner consistent with the law.”
The Farm Bill wasn’t looking to legalize weed, so it features a specific restriction on the levels of THC that can be included in these various hemp-sourced products (from oils to tinctures): .3%, a trace amount too small to get you blitzed or have much of a psychoactive effect at all (though your mileage may vary depending on whether your CBD oil is “full-spectrum,” your personal tolerance levels, or your susceptibility to the placebo effect).
But here’s the tricky part: the Farm Bill specifies hemp products cannot contain more than a .3% “delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration.” And being it is a separate substance—and just one of more than “120 other naturally occurring cannabinoids known to exist in the hemp plant,” according to a policy article by the law firm Harris Bricken—that makes delta-8 THC totally “legal.”
You know, technically. For now, at least—in a 2020 ruling, the Drug Enforcement Agency declared “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols” remain schedule I controlled substances. It’s just that no one has addressed quite yet whether delta-8 THC qualifies as one of those, which means the sale of products containing the stuff currently falls under the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, just like CBD. But that could change at any point—and in fact, commercial cannabis sellers are actively campaigning to make that happen, concerned about competing with a cheaper product for customers’ dollars.
How delta-8 THC is made
The Farm Bill dictates that in order to be legal, hemp-derived products must be just that; technically you could extract delta-8 THC from cannabis plants that also contain copious amounts of “regular” THC, but that would be illegal.
In its purest form, the process starts with the whole hemp flower, which must be chemically distilled to isolate the delta-8 THC cannabinoid. The resulting distillate can then be further concentrated and made into various products that match the ones consumers might expect if they’ve ever purchased cannabis legally, from edibles to oils. Some delta-8 THC is also made by chemically converting CBD or delta-9 THC using “heat, catalysts, altered pH environments, and/or solvents.”
Does it work?
Great, delta-8 THC is legal [Editor’s note: Unless you live in one of the handful is states where it isn’t, sigh] and, unlike cannabis products even in states with legal weed, it can be shipped through the mail by companies like the one I heard advertised on that podcast. This much I learned easily enough in my internet sleuthing, but if the fervor over CBD oil is any indication, lots of companies are more than happy to advertise products with bold claims of their effects when they don’t really have to offer proof to back them up. This particular delta-8 THC purveyor was promising all the benefits of consuming regular ol’ reefer—calling it “a more functional substitute for delta-9 THC”—without any of the potential (slightly dubious) negative effects, namely: “addiction, sleep issues, paranoia, anxiety, laziness, etc.” (It’s worth noting that none of these claims are supported by verified research—like CBD, the delta-8 THC market is not yet federally regulated, so you have to take the manufacturer’s word for it when it comes to what’s in the products, how they are made, and what effects they might have.)
My initial reaction was that I’d only believe that when I experienced it, but I wanted a second opinion, so I turned to Reddit as the go-to place to learn everything I could want to know about getting high. (There are subreddits for nearly every state with legal weed, discussing locally available strains and retailers, and offering tips for beginners.) And Reddit had a lot to say about delta-8 THC, most of it exactly what you’d want to hear if you’re bothering to research the stuff. In short: Yeah, it’ll get you high.
What “high” looks like is going to differ from person to person—but then, that’s always the case with any psychoactive substance, from bud to a Budweiser. But the consensus on delta-8 THC, both from the company selling it and from the Redditor’s comments, seems to be that it definitely has strong effects, if different from those of delta-9 THC. Specifically, it is more of a “body high,” one characterized as being “lighter” and “more calming”; it will give you a nice “buzz” while still leaving you clear-headed enough to go about your daily business. Though if your daily business includes being drug-tested, tread carefully—delta-8 THC may very well still trigger a positive result on a drug screening.
That all sounded good to me, so I decided it was worth risking an order—an easier decision, given that delta-8 THC products are a heck of a lot cheaper than the legal cannabis on sale in other states. I chose a 16-pack of gummies for about $30, but you can also order vapes and tinctures, as well as concentrates (if you prefer to make your own edibles). They arrived in short order, and I admit it felt slightly weird opening up a decidedly illicit-seeming product I’d received by regular mail, though I’ve felt the same about weed imagery-bedecked orders of CBD oil in the past. But what I really cared about was whether they gummies would actually work as advertised.
I ate two, because I am not inexperienced with partaking of legal cannabis and the consensus on Reddit seemed to be that delta-8 THC is about half as potent/effective. Within 45 minutes, I knew I’d gotten my money’s worth. As promised, I felt some familiar weed-adjacent effects—lightness in the body, heightened focus, increased appetite, increased hilarity of Spongebob Squarepants—if with less intensity and none of the confusion or brain fog that can result from getting hit with a heavy lid, so to speak.
Is delta-8 THC going to replace the other stuff as your substance of choice? If you have access to both in your state and your primary goal is getting stoned, buddy, probably not. If you are looking for an intoxicant with subtler effects, though, you might actually prefer it—and, like I said, it’s cheaper, too. And if you live in a state where cannabis is either still illegal or not yet commercially available? It could be just what you’ve been searching for.
This article was edited after publication to include an additional note and link about delta-8 THC’s potential to trigger a positive drug test. It was edited again on April 1 to expand the second on how delta-8 THC is made and to note that delta-8 THC is illegal in Idaho and others states. We also added the word “Almost” to the headline and first paragraph.