Earthy Select Future of THC

What is the future of THC?

Cannabis innovation moves fast. If you haven’t checked into the cannabis industry lately you may be pleasantly shocked at its progression. Federal legalization through the hemp bill caused a rise in cannabinoids like Delta-8 from hemp to rise to the forefront for cannabis consumers across the country. The majority of people in the United States now live in a state where marijuana is legal (1), and a quick survey of those states’ markets shows the mind-boggling variety of cannabis-related products available to their geographically-advantaged consumers. Rumors and hopes of federal legalization around the corner also have many consumers and cannabis companies alike wondering what the future of THC is.

Where is THC legal?

For the rest of us in non-green states, the 2014 and federal government Farm Bill’s removal of hemp from the list of Schedule 1 substances was the seed of a solution for the cannabis space. The Bill allowed long-forbidden medical research into hemp-derived cannabinoids to begin, and since then, federally-compliant cannabinoids like Delta-8 THC and Delta-10 THC were the biggest trend in medical cannabis use and have already seen rapid research and development into in-demand products for recreational sales in small businesses and large companies alike. Science continues to find benefits from these and other cannabinoids, and the legal status of some cannabinoids continues to be frustratingly in flux. Even Delta-9 THC from hemp is federally compliant under the Farm Bills legislation.

The future of THC is not easy to predict and will be dependent on factors like legislative control details and scientific abilities, and how cannabis companies are permitted to interact.

Cannabis boom, and bust…

The legal cannabis industry market is definitely booming. Total U.S. consumer spending on hemp was estimated to have reached $3.83 billion in 2020, and is projected to reach $6.26 billion by 2025 (2). And amazingly, total combined sales across legal medical marijuana and adult-use state markets crossed the $20 billion mark In calendar year 2020. The demand is expected to grow steadily higher too, making the cannabis industry a big business (3).

We don’t all celebrate 4:20 though, and it’s not because we live in different time zones. For example, for a Floridian, where cannabis remains illegal, simple marijuana possession of over 20 grams can be charged with a third-degree felony in their state (4). Yes, that means that you can face up to five years in Florida state prison for being found in possession of less than an ounce of marijuana; hardly what we’d consider secure and fair enforcement. On the other side of the same country across state lines, a Californian may happily possess 28.5 grams (just slightly over an ounce) without fear of imprisonment (7). This disparity raises serious questions about equity and justice. This is why the call to legalize cannabis has become so strong over the past few decades. Federal cannabis policy has to be changed in order to rectify these differences, not only for public health, but to make cannabis legalization available to all who need it.

The FBI’s last published Uniform Crime Report (UCR) in 2019 reported that over half a million people were arrested for possession of marijuana in the U.S. (4). The same data showed that there were stark regional differences in legal consequences, ie. people living in the northeast were the most likely to be arrested. Troubling data from the ACLU additionally shows that in 2018, black people in the U.S. were almost four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people (5).

This is sounding bad, but I mentioned a solution, right?

Is THC from hemp legal?

Hemp and marijuana both come from the same plant, Cannabis, which naturally contains Delta-9 THC, the single cannabinoid that is under federal-control, and the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. The amount of Delta-9 THC existent in the plant material per dry weight determines the federal-compliance of the final product. The 2014 Farm Bill defined the federal level of legal limit at 0.3% so cannabis with less than that is considered legal hemp, moving the hemp and CBD industry forward immensely and changing cannabis policy forever.

The 2018 Farm Bill expanded on this, making it clear to legal experts that all other plant material and substances derived from legally-defined hemp are also federally-compliant (8). This also played a huge role in job creation due to all the emerging cannabis businesses both brick and mortar and e commerce. States continue to see more and more CBD product categories and cannabis businesses pop up month after month as the market develops.

With this allowance, cannabis innovators and cultivation operations quickly began exploring how to use hemp to capture and utilize the cannabinoids from marijuana use in this newly-legal resource. There are over a hundred identified cannabinoids in cannabis, some with psychoactive effects, some without (9). These interact with the human endocannabinoid system and play a role in regulating multiple processes and functions in the body (10). These cannabinoids may come from hemp or marijuana – remember they are the same plant and the greater or less than 0.3% threshold is the arbiter.

It appears that a cannabinoid extracted or converted from marijuana is not federally-compliant, while the same cannabinoid made from hemp is, provided that it is not synthetically-derived (13). However, the definition of synthetic has not been satisfactorily defined by authorities (8).

Some of the question then expectedly comes down to science, law, cannabis policy, and definitions of controlled substances. If an isomer of THC is converted from hemp material, is it synthetic and therefore a federally “controlled substance?” The Drug Enforcement Agency has implied this (14) but legal experts maintain that, for Delta-8 at least, it is not synthetic, and furthermore, even if it were, would not be a controlled substance because of the 2018 Farm Bill definitions legalization of hemp and its derivatives (8). Other THC isomers may have the same legal status as Delta-8 THC.

Under current federal law and regulatory conditions, people are able to make, sell, buy, and use cannabinoid products made with Delta-8 THC, Delta-10 THC, and Delta-9 THC, as long as the amount of Delta-9 THC is under 0.3% of the source materials’s dry weight and the product is from hemp.

Keep in mind that individual states may have their own rules, which further muddies the waters for cannabis companies. For example In October 2021, Texas’s Department of  Health and Human Services stated that it still considers Delta-8 THC a controlled substance (15), which left those in the industry in that state worrying about legal action and cannabis companies scrambling for clarity on regulatory framework (16).

Is Delta-8 legal?

Cannabidinol (CBD) is one cannabinoid that was successfully developed into a $4 billion industry by 2019, and has shown steady upward growth in legal sales since then (11). CBD is not psychoactive but does seem to have beneficial health effects for humans. It can contain up to 0.3% of Delta-9 THC to be considered “full-spectrum,” or can be altogether free of Delta-9 THC.

CBD can also be converted to other cannabinoids, which involves refluxing it in an organic solvent (12). There are two particular cannabinoids of interest at the moment, Delta-8 THC and Delta-10 THC, both of which have a molecular structure very similar to Delta-9 THC, and appear to have less intense but related psychoactive effects.

Looking at Delta-8 specifically, it has taken off as a popular THC ingredient in consumer goods, with a bevy of anecdotal reports of effects ranging from feelings of euphoria and relaxation, to beneficial health claims. Delta-8 THC is legal at the federal level, but without a federal level of regulation to regulate cannabis itself, gathering data on cannabis experience its effects or even knowing the purity of, or creation methods of, a product is difficult. There are good reasons to be wary of unregulated production. Residual materials and byproducts can remain in converted cannabinoids and these can be harmful if consumed (12).

If it remains off of federal controlled substance lists, Delta-8 THC could be used for great good. By the same token, if it remains unregulated, it has potential to do harm.

Finding a balance will likely result in the best outcome for conscientious cannabis consumers, and those in the cannabis industry.

Bleeding Edge Research

Assuming that hemp-derived isomers remain off of the federal controlled substance list, there is much good to anticipate from cannabis federal legalization. Here are some types of THC we are aware of now, and brief descriptions of what we know about their future in the legal cannabis industry.

What is Delta-8 THC?

Delta-8 THC occurs naturally in the cannabis plant, but in low quantities. It has a double bond on the 8th carbon chain, and delta-9 has a double bond on the 9th carbon chain. This small distinction is enough to produce slightly different cognitive and physical effects (24). Research in 1973 compared Delta-8 to Delta-9 THC and reported that Delta-8 produced effects similar to Delta-9, at a third less potency (18). The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) additionally stated that Delta-8 THC has psychoactive and intoxicating effects, similar to delta-9 THC, and that concentrated amounts of Delta-8 THC are typically manufactured from hemp-derived CBD (17).

Modern Delta-8 products have been called “marijuana-light” and “diet weed” which is in line with these findings. Delta-8 is thought to be similar to sativa strains of marijuana in its effect. It’s already available in most forms that Delta-9 THC is, ie. smokeable flowervapesgummies, and concentrates. Producers continue to find ways to market Delta-8 to the folks who desire it and this is particularly true in states that do not have laws allowing medical or adult use of marijuana. We expect to see more research and development into this cannabinoid.

What is Delta-9 THC?

Delta-9 THC is one of the two most abundant cannabinoids in cannabis (along with CBD). Delta-9 has a double bond on the 9th carbon chain and is psychoactive; strains of cannabis are cultivated to bring out the specific psychoactive effects of either the sativa or indica cultivars. Indica is believed to have a relaxing effect on the user. Sativa is considered to have a more energizing effect, while hybrid is a combination of the two (20). These descriptions can have a lot of variance though.

Certain terpenes across various strains are also associated with the effect produced (21). With the advances legalized cannabis has brought by the Farm Bills, Delta-9 is available in a wide range of levels in product, from less than .3% up to the percentages in the high 30s (22). An interesting new opportunity is afforded by the ability to produce Delta-9 THC from hemp derived cannabis. We expect to see more low-THC products appearing in states without adult-use cannabis protections. These products will appeal to people in those states who want low-dose options which have not previously been available.

For someone looking for higher-doses, buy 50mg Delta-9 gummies online for direct delivery!

What is Delta-10 THC?

Delta-10 is another cannabinoid that occurs in low levels in cannabis. Following the pattern, it has its double bond on the 10th carbon chain, and is reported to have similar but lower intensity effects to Delta-9. Delta-10 has been described as a mood-enhancer (23) and is thought to be similar to sativa strains of marijuana in its effect. Not much data is available on the effects of Delta-10 on the body but we should expect more. Delta-10 THC is not easy to manufacture and must be refined extensively, so you usually don’t see it in abundance. Because of this, a lot of products combine Delta-10 with Delta-8 (25). One chemical analyst reported that whereas Delta-8 can essentially only produce one compound, Delta-10 can produce up to six different isomers (variations of the same compound). “So, in terms of psychoactivity, instead of having to test one compound, you have to test six (23).”

Delta-10 is currently available in many of the forms that Delta-9 THC is, ie. smokeable flower, vapable liquids, edibles, and concentrates. As people are able to use and learn the powers of Delta-10 it should gain more traction in the consumer cannabis market.

What is THCA?

THCA, or tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, is the non-psychoactive acidic precursor to THC found in raw and live cannabis. “In its natural state, the cannabis plant goes through a vegetative and then flowering stage where it produces cannabigerolic acid (CBGA), the mother of many therapeutic cannabinoids. Enzymes called synthases convert CBGA into THCA and other cannabinoids such as CBDA or CBCA before being converted to their parent compounds (31).” As the plant dries, the THCA slowly converts to THC, and heat expedites this conversion through a process known as decarboxylation (26). When a user smokes, vapes, or cooks it, THCA converts quickly to a psychoactive Delta-9 THC. THCA may indeed have therapeutic benefits but academic studies are limited. The way federal law is written in the 2018 Farm Bill, THCa is considered legal at the federal level.

Research published in 2017 found that THCA’s clinical use may be hampered by its relative instability due to minimal binding affinity at cannabinoid receptor 1 (27). On the other hand, there is interest from the industry in continuing research and developing applications for medical uses of this common cannabinoid. “THCA can be consumed in the form of the raw cannabis plant or be extracted and made into tinctures, transdermal patches, edibles, capsules, and isolates (31).”

Learn more in What is THCA Flower?

What is THCO?

THCO is the acetate form of THC. It is a semisynthetic form that can be derived from Delta-8 or Delta-9 THC, which may itself be from hemp derived CBD, or cannabis plant material that contains THC (GG,HH). The chemical process is called acetalization, also used to formulate aspirin (29). THCO is reported to be three-times as strong as THC which troubles some who are concerned there are no regulations on its production. Producing THCO uses chemicals that can remain residually in the consumed product if done incorrectly (28). Others like Matthew Guenther, the founder of the American Cannabinoid Association, are more enthusiastic about THCO. Guenther is confident of producing a 100% pure and safe product, but acknowledges that “THC-O Acetate is a brand new innovation, and there is not one verified laboratory in the country with a qualified reference standard and method for testing it yet (29)”  He added that he personally enjoys THCO’s mood lift and described it as an evening substance (29).

What is THCP?

In 2020 Italian scientists discovered THCP, or tetrahydrocannabiphorol, which shares a similar structure to THC. Before the discovery, THC had the longest known alkyl side chain, which consisted of five atoms, but THCP contains a seven-atom side chain. The length of a cannabinoid’s alkyl side chain of atoms may directly influence its biological activity in the human body (30). Researchers found that THCP binds easily to both human CB1 and CB2 receptors, and “was 33 times more active than THC against the CB1 receptor and up to 10 times more active against the CB2 receptor compared to THC (30).” Future designation as a major cannabinoid is desired by the researchers, which they say will promote experimentation for potential pharmaceutical benefits of THCP (30). If it is in fact much more powerful than THC, combining THCP with other therapeutic cannabinoids could multiply the benefits of both.

More to come…

As more states embrace cannabis rather than demonize it, the future outlook for THC is positive for the cannabis industry. With post-prohibition research ramping up, we should see more data and analysis of cannabis and all the THCs soon. And more will certainly be “discovered.” With this knowledge our modern society can finely make better decisions about safely and effectively using cannabis in all of its promised ways. Interested in the current state of federally compliant THC? Order 50mg Delta-9 gummies and find out for yourself how good they are!

Medical Disclaimer / Legal Disclaimer – Information is provided for educational purposes. It does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice or medical advice. We attempt to be accurate and up-to-date, but the legality of cannabinoids and the science of cannabis are evolving. The author is neither a legal professional nor a medical expert. Before buying or using any products, you should check with your local authorities and medical providers.


  1.  PBS: The Cannabis Question
  2. The US Hemp Market Landscape
  3. US Mid-Year Report for Legal Hemp Industry Projected To Top 6 Billion In Quarterly Sales
  4. More People Were Arrested For Cannabis Last Year Than For All Violent Crimes Put Together According To FBI Data
  5. Two Countries Racially Targeted Arrests In Marijuana Reform
  6. Orlando Cannabis Marijuana Possession Laws
  7. Shouse Law: Marijuana Laws in California
  8. HIA: Position Statement on Delta 8 and Hemp Cannabinoids
  9. Wikipedia: Cannabidiol
  10. Health Line: Endocannabinoid System
  11. CBD Product Dollar Sales in the US
  12. Delta-8 THC Craze Concerns
  13. DEA Diversion Scheduled Rules
  14. DEA Diversion Schedule
  15. Texas Consumer Protection Hemp Program
  16. Texas Says Cannabis Extract Delta 8 is Illegal
  17. FDA: 5 Things To Know About Delta 8 THC
  18. Delta 8 and Delta 9 in Oral and Intravenous Comparison
  19. Delta 8 THC: More Risk Than Reward?
  20. Health Line: Beginners Guide to Marijuana Strains
  21. What Is The Cannabis Chemovar Classification Method?
  22. Weed Maps: 10 High THC Strains You Should Know About
  23. Delta 10 THC Infinitecal ACS Laboratory
  24. Delta 8 THC: How It’s Made, Extraction Testing and Measuring
  25. Leafly: What Is Delta 10?
  26. What Is THCa?
  27. Affinity and Efficacy of THCa
  28. THC-O: Dr. Ethan Russo Science
  29. THC-O Acetate: Everything You Need To Know About Safety Purity and Effects
  30. THCP and CBDP: Newly Discovered Extremely Potent Cannabinoids
  31. THCa Isolate

Frequently Asked Questions

People may feel high after using any THC products. Products with THC, even at low dosages, have the potential to produce psychoactive and therapeutic effects. The strength of the effects on a particular person will be different depending on a few things: dosage level, body weight, food or other substances in the system, and experience/tolerance level of THC, and personal body chemistry.

A certificate of analysis (COA) is a document attesting to a product’s laboratory analysis for cannabinoids and in some cases adulterants, heavy metals and pesticides.It is a useful tool for cannabis producers and customers to ensure quality and trust.

Yes, the Farm Bill permits this. Though products are federally-compliant because they have less than .3% Delta-9 THC per dry weight, individual states may have their own regulations about purchasing or using hemp-based THC products, and these are subject to change. You should check your state and local rules before ordering.

When using Delta-8, Delta-9, and Delta-10 THC products, users report feelings of relaxation, euphoria, creativity, focus and pleasure. Some people like to compare the effects to those of traditional adult-use cannabis products.

The strength of the effects on a particular person will be different depending on a few things: dosage level, body weight, food or other substances in the system, and experience/tolerance level of THC, and personal body chemistry.