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As federal legalization of marijuana products stalls, states yet to pass laws regulating natural cannabis are seeing a rise in new, synthetic alternatives to traditional delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis plants.

These alternative cannabis products are not regulated in many states, causing them to be widely available and legal to purchase, often being sold in places such as gas stations, convenience stores, and vape shops.

Due to how recently these products came into existence, little is known about their long-term effects or the overall harm that could be presented. By exploring the different types of synthetic cannabinoid compounds and understanding their effects, it may be easier to determine if alternative cannabis products are safe for user consumption.

Types of Alternative Cannabis Products

As the market for these products grows, a variety has emerged. While initially, alternative cannabis products were limited to forms such as CBD and, more recently, delta-8, there are now many options available for purchase.


Delta-8 THC, also referred to as “diet weed,” is found in minimal quantities in the cannabis plant. The delta-8 THC that is widely marketed in the U.S. is a derivative of hemp CBD, which is then chemically synthesized to produce larger quantities of the compound.

Delta-8 is similar in structure to delta-9, which allows it to bind to the same receptors in the brain. This creates the high feeling that occurs from smoking or ingesting marijuana, although delta-8 has been shown to bind less strongly to CB1 receptors, causing milder experiences than delta-9.

Due to the compound’s lesser psychoactive properties, people who seek delta-8 for medicinal benefits seem to prefer it over delta-9. Since delta-8 binds to CB2 receptors with similar strength to delta-9, the compound is a viable option for suppressing inflammation without leading to adverse mental effects.


Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabiphoral, or THC-P, is a lesser-known phytocannabinoid with a unique chemical composition. This cannabinoid has potent psychoactive effects due to a longer chain of carbon atoms than traditional THC, allowing the compound to bind more strongly to the receptors in the brain.

THC-P is not as common as other forms of THC since there are only tiny amounts found in cannabis plants. Research suggests that THC-P has the potential to produce more substantial intoxicating effects than delta-9, so controlled consumption is essential to maintain safety.

Due to the compound’s lesser-known status, THC-P exists in a legal gray area. When derived from hemp and not cannabis sativa, it is thought to be legal. Few states have explicit laws regarding THC-P; however, its similarity to delta-9 means it could be considered a controlled substance.


Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCa) is a naturally occurring cannabinoid found in raw cannabis buds that does not contain psychoactive qualities when consumed in its unprocessed form. THCa is converted into a psychoactive THC chemical when heated, smoked, or vaped.

THCa possession is legal in most states, but unregulated products contain potential contamination risks and unknown potency levels. Additionally, the substance may cause altered sensations, poor physical mobility, and hallucinations.


Hexahydrocannabinol (HHC) is a THC that has gone through a chemical process called hydrogenation. Like other synthetic compounds, it’s made from hemp. CBD extracted from hemp is given additional hydrogen atoms to create HHC.


Similarly to delta-8, delta-10 THC is also derived from hemp CBD. Delta-10 has the same chemical formula as delta-9, but the atoms are arranged differently, which causes different effects. Delta-10 is considered even less potent than delta-8.

The compound is said to produce a more energetic and less sedating experience than is offered by delta-8, with fewer psychoactive effects such as anxiety and paranoia than regular marijuana.

Alternative Cannabis Products
Adult woman using and holding medical cannabis oil. CBD. Concept of herbal and alternative medicine

The Growing Prevalence of these Products

In 2018, the passage of the federally recognized Farm Bill (the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018) removed hemp and its byproducts from the list of controlled substances due to its low THC levels (less than 0.3%). 

However, the bill does not explicitly mention any alternative cannabis compounds, creating a loophole that has allowed for the production and sale of products containing less than 0.3% THC. As alternative cannabis products are derived from hemp instead of cannabis sativa, the plant where delta-9 is found, this means these compounds are technically legal.

The use of delta-8, the most common alternative cannabis product, has soared in the U.S., with sales increasing by 144% from 2020 to 2021. People living in states without legal medical or recreational cannabis laws have higher rates of using alternative cannabis products such as delta-8.

Alternative vs. Traditional Cannabis

Alternative and traditional cannabis are both forms of THC–though people usually use this term to describe the high concentrations of delta-9 found in marijuana. Since these compounds are very similar in structure, many effects are the same.

Effects on the Body

The structure of delta-9 and synthetic cannabinoid compounds are close enough to the chemical makeup of particles found naturally in the body, known as endocannabinoids. They can mimic these particles and activate CB1 receptors to control and adjust your nervous system.

CB1 Receptors help control mood, hunger, body temperature, sense of pain, and alertness. The use of these products has been anecdotally reported to increase appetite, calm nausea, and ease chronic pain. Though these effects seem beneficial, more research is needed to prove whether these products are more helpful than harmful.

Potential Dangers

Alternative cannabis products are currently under-researched, so they have yet to obtain FDA approval. With the product delta-8, the FDA received 104 adverse event reports in 2 years, with many individuals reporting adverse side effects such as anxiety, confusion, tremors, vomiting, hallucinations, and loss of consciousness.

The U.S Cannabis Council also tested 16 delta-8 products purchased in 6 states, revealing that all but 1 sample contained traces of heavy metals, and an additional 7-10 unidentified compounds were present in the products.

Delta-8 use can also be dangerous because of how the compounds are extracted–some manufacturers use dichloromethane, known to emit highly toxic fumes when exposed to heat. There have also been cases where the compound is extracted using pool chemicals and battery acid.

Future of Regulation for Alternative Cannabis Products

The sale of these alternative cannabis products, particularly in states where marijuana is illegal, has become highly controversial.

Though alternative cannabis products remain federally legal, many states have enacted their regulations against these substances. Due to the lack of research on its effects, delta-8 is illegal in 12 states, including Alaska, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Missouri, South Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New York.

Though not banning delta-8 entirely, other states have implemented regulations against the compound. These states include California, Oregon, Nevada, Utah, South Dakota, Louisiana, Michigan, Connecticut, and Maryland.

Deciding the Level of Harm from Synthetic Cannabinoids

Though alternative cannabis products seem to offer many potential benefits–similar to the medicinal properties of delta-9, yet without the psychoactive effects–it is difficult to say whether these products are overall helpful or harmful definitively.

However, due to the current lack of regulation on these substances, products may contain harmful ingredients or more of the compound than advertised. This can lead to adverse effects as individuals ingest more of the substance than they are meant to, unprepared for the reactions it may cause.

Additionally, the lack of research means that not much is known about the long-term consequences of using synthetic cannabinoids. Until these products have undergone more testing and received FDA approval, avoiding their use may be the safest option.

Free Yourself from Dependency

Suppose you or a loved one has become dependent on marijuana or synthetic cannabis products. In that case, TRUE Addiction & Behavioral Health can guide you toward a life free from reliance on these substances.

Our facility promotes overall healing through caring and innovative treatment and can lead you to wellness. For more information, call our 24/7 helpline at (615) 802-6460 or contact