The introduction of delta-8 THC onto the scene in America has meant a different offering of THC, and a new legal predicament. Delta-8 has mainly been a US phenomenon, but as word spreads, so does THC. Here’s a look at Delta-8 THC and the UK, to see how the word of delta-8 is spreading so far.
Delta-8 THC might be most popular in the United States, but as the rest of the world catches on, the industry is sure to blow-up quickly. The best part about delta-8 THC is that it gives users options. Many people like the lower psychoactive effect, and significantly less anxiety and paranoia. If the term ‘delta-8 THC’ is still new to you, check out these great Delta-8 THC deals to try the newest form of THC out there.
The UK and cannabis laws
Before getting into delta-8 THC specifically, and how relevant it is in the UK, let’s remember that delta-8 is still cannabis (or hemp, to be exact). And the UK does have very particular cannabis laws.
Cannabis law is governed by the Misuse of Drugs Act in the UK, and has been illegal as per this legislation since 1971. It is a class B drug under this law. In 2004, it was actually changed to a class C drug, before being moved right back to class B in 2009. Class B drug possession crimes result in up to 5 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both. For small amounts, cops are more likely to issue a ₤90 on-the-spot fine.
Drug penalties are dependent on different factors, like how much cannabis the person had, where the offender was found with the cannabis, personal history, and whatever other relevant factors are present. Drug policies in the UK were reviewed in 2019, but sadly, no change was made at that time to cannabis scheduling or penalties. So to be clear, the UK has no actual decriminalization policy for small amounts of cannabis.
For selling/supply crimes, the sentence can be as high as 14 years with an unlimited fine, or both. The highest sentences are saved for large-scale operations, with smaller offences considered the same way as possession crimes, by looking at the amount the person is caught with, their history, and what the supply plan was. The amount an offender is caught with correlates to the ‘category of harm’. 200 kilograms or more is considered Category 1, 40 – 200 kilograms is Category 2, six – 40 grams is a Category 3 crime, and 100 grams or over is Category 4.
Personal cultivation is illegal in the UK, but medical cannabis cultivation is legal, along with medical cannabis which was legalized in 2018. In the country, the medical cannabis program is rather limited, offering only three pharmaceutical products, and an inability for home cultivation. As of yet, very few licenses have been given out, making cannabis medicines hard to obtain for citizens.
Conversely, and weirdly similar to many African countries, the UK has been growing medical cannabis for exportation, in 2016 growing as much as 95 tonnes according to the UN, exporting 2.1 tonnes, which was considered the highest amount for legal cannabis that year, comprising 67.7% of all legal cannabis exports for the year. That last part is a bit confusing though, as the majority of the production is actually being done by GW Pharmaceuticals, which happens to be based out of England.
By now it’s pretty well-known that THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol) is the main psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis plants. It appears in greater quantities in some plants, which are called marijuana, and is found significantly less in other cannabis plants, which are referred to as hemp. The chemical formulation for THC is C21H30O2. THC has been demonized for years, and even today is often thought of as only a compound to produce a high, while its medicinal benefits are often overlooked.
This study from 2019, The Association between Cannabis Product Characteristics and Symptom Relief sheds light on the necessity of THC more than other cannabinoids for symptom relief. It is, of course, THC which specifically sits in Schedule I of the Convention on Psychotropic Substances treaty, and likely the main reason that cannabis as a whole, is still in schedule I of the Single Convention on Narcotic Substances. These two UN treaties, regulate the global legality of cannabis.
Of course, we’re not talking about standard THC, but rather delta-8 THC, which is an isomer of delta-9. So, what’s the difference? Not a whole lot. Delta-9 THC comes from THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. THCA is the most abundant cannabinoid, and must be decarboxylated to become the delta-9 THC we’re familiar with. This happens when a carbon atom is removed from a chain with the release of a carbon dioxide molecule (CO2), and usually happens when cannabis is heated, or over the course of time.
Once it becomes delta-9 THC, a small proportion will oxidize (lose electrons) to form delta-8 THC. Since delta-8 THC comes from an oxidation process, it’s actually very stable when exposed to air, giving it an advantage over other cannabinoids like delta-9, which is not as stable due to oxidation.
While the previously mentioned statement is a proponent for delta-8 use, one of the major drawbacks in the miniscule amount found. After decarboxylation, delta-9 can account for up to 30% of some strains, whereas after oxidation, the resulting delta-8 THC generally only amounts to about 1%. In order to use delta-8 THC, it has to be a refined concentrate, sourced from delta-9. There has not yet been much research into delta-8 THC, but preliminary findings suggest that the psychoactive effect is approximately 50-75% less potent, and that it has shown to produce less anxiety in users, with a cleaner, clearer high. In fact, it is even said to heighten senses and perception in users.
In terms of medical benefits, the US National Cancer Institute defines delta-8 as an analogue of delta-9, and attributes it to medical properties like nausea and vomiting prevention (antiemetic), fighting anxiety and panic (anxiolytic), as a pain reliever (analgesic), as an appetite stimulator, and in preventing nerve cells from damage (neuroprotective). If you thought delta-8 was new, well, it’s not. Raphael Mechoulam, the guy who isolated THC in 1964, used delta-8 THC in research back in 1995, when he administered it to eight children with cancer who had been receiving chemotherapy. The delta-8 THC completely eradicated vomiting in the children.
Delta-8 was partially synthesized in 1941 by Roger Adams, with total synthesis complete by 1965. In terms of legality in the US, its main home, there is confusion and debate. Since delta-8 THC can be processed from either high THC marijuana, or low THC hemp, the production of it doesn’t have to break laws as it can be sourced from hemp. Under the 2018 US farm bill, this would afford it some legality. On the other hand, in August 2020, the DEA released an Interim Final Rule on hemp and hemp derivatives, stating “[a]ll synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule I controlled substances.” As delta-8 THC might be termed ‘synthetically derived THC’, this would indicate it’s not legal.
Delta-8 THC and the UK
Delta-8 THC is so far a mainly US product with not as much popularity in the UK. One of the things we know about drugs though, is that when there’s a good one, it tends to gain popularity worldwide. So, it’s not surprising that the topic is being raised. When it comes to delta-8 THC, the UK government’s ‘Drug licensing factsheet: cannabis, CBD and other cannabinoids’ makes no specific mention of delta-8 THC.
It doesn’t come up as either of the two possibilities: ‘exempt product’ or ‘controlled substance’, which would determine legality and usage ability. This means there isn’t a regulated market for delta-8 THC in the UK, since the UK has no guidelines for it, and any delta-8 THC products bought in the UK, are unregulated with uncertain quality.
A quick internet search provides plenty of UK options for buying delta-8 THC products, regardless of regulation (it’s probably good to remember that recreational cannabis is also not regulated in most of the world, which hasn’t stopped global populations from smoking it without incident.) So, unlike standard marijuana, it isn’t being expressly illegalized, but without a legal grounding point, it’s a part of a plant that is technically illegal.
In the same way that the legal quandary exists in the US, it does in the UK too. The UK allows the production of hemp so long as the maximum THC level is .2% or less, which would indicate delta-8 can be legal as long as it’s sourced from these plants. On the other hand, THC is illegal, which would work to count it out. Perhaps, at some point, if regulation doesn’t change by the government, this might come to a head in court.
One of the interesting things about looking into the legality of delta-8 THC in the UK, is seeing all the questions being asked about it in forums. This can be seen in threads like these from Reddit, going back a few years, about legality and supply of delta-8.
Delta-8 THC has been very slowly making its way toward the mainstream in the US, and hasn’t caught on as quickly in the UK. But no matter where it is now, it could be a whole new world by the end of 2021. Considering how quickly new trends can catch on, I’d stake a bet that within a year from now, some pharmaceutical company will have created a product that pushes delta-8 toward affirmative legality. In fact, unless it can be easily processed by users, it’s probably a great pharmaceutical investment. I expect it will have quite the global name for itself within the next couple years, in the US, the UK, and everywhere beyond.
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Disclaimer: Hi, I’m a researcher and writer. I’m not a medical professional, I have no formal legal education, and I’ve never been to business school. All information in my articles is sourced from other places which are always mentioned, and all opinions stated are mine, and are made clear to be mine. I am not giving anyone advise of any kind, in any capacity. I am more than happy to discuss topics, but should someone have a further question or concern, they should seek guidance from a professional in the relevant field for more information.