It’s so frustrating, the federal government will spend $15 million to fund research into the performance of golf equipment in space, but won’t spend a dime, and in fact restrict, research into the potential health benefits of cannabis. Cannabis research in the United States is, and always has been, limited to proving the dangers of marijuana, not the medical benefits. And, despite the legalization of cannabis in various states across the nation, the federal government still continues to enforce restrictive policies and regulations on research into the health harms or benefits of cannabis products.
So when it comes to using cannabis as medicine, much of the evidence we have is anecdotal. Ask around and you’ll hear plenty of stories of cancer patients using cannabis as an antiemetic and anti-nausea medicine, or of others using it for its anti-inflammatory properties, but a cursory search into scientific research on the subject will show how severely limited it has been.
As long as the plant is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, the research on cannabis as medicine will be severely restricted in the United States. Luckily, there has been research conducted in other countries — along with accidental discoveries during other studies in the U.S. — that have helped to prove the efficacy of certain cannabinoids in the plant, including delta-8 THC, the cannabinoid we’re so fond of.
That research has led the National Cancer Institute Drug Dictionary to recognize that delta-8-THC has multiple beneficial effects, including analgesia, appetite stimulation, and neuroprotective properties. We still have a long way to go and a lot of research to do, but the fundamentals are there.
Let’s take a look at the proven and potential benefits of delta-8 THC and what it could do for you as a patient.
Research Shows Cancer-fighting properties
It has long been hypothesized that cannabis could play an active role in fighting cancer, and there are studies as far back as the 1970s that back up this theory.
One of the only studies regarding delta-8 as a cancer treatment occurred back in 1974, with government researchers using mice infected with lung cancer to try and determine if delta-8 was harmful to the immune system.
An unexpected discovery occurred during the study, though, after researchers realized that the mice who had been treated with delta-8 THC for a period of 20 days actually had reduced tumor sizes. Researchers also found that survival time went up when mice with cancer were treated with delta-8 THC.
Unfortunately, any further research into the subject was limited in the decades following that 1974 study due to cannabis’ legal status in the U.S., but there is still plenty of reason to believe that delta-8 could be a weapon in the fight against cancer. After all, a report by the National Cancer Institute that noted that delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, and CBD were all shown to have the ability to stop tumor growth.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/medgen/27983 An analogue of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties. This agent exhibits a lower psychotropic potency than delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9-THC), the primary form of THC found in cannabis.
Anecdotal evidence has long led cannabis users to believe in the antiemetic properties of the plant, but it was backed up by scientific research that occurred in Israel in 1995.
As part of a research project into the antiemetic properties of cannabis, Israeli researchers administered delta-8 to pediatric cancer patients who were suffering from nausea associated with chemotherapy. What they found was that it dramatically cured the nausea of the patients, with a 100% success rate over 480 treatments — and with negligible side-effects (including psychoactive effects).
The U.S. government also has a patent on the antiemetic uses of delta-8, furthering the idea that delta-8 can help alleviate nausea and vomiting in cancer patients. As part of the research for one of the patents of the cannabinoid, delta-8 THC was shown to be 200 percent more effective as an antiemetic when compared to Delta-9.
Appetite stimulating properties
Delta-8 has also been shown to have appetite stimulating properties (which likely won’t surprise anyone who’s used cannabis in the past, recreationally or medically). Researchers found during a 2004 study by Avraham et al. that rodents treated with low doses of delta-8 THC had appetites that were stimulated more than those treated with delta-9 THC, which is the cannabinoid cannabis is most known for.
Delta-8 may also have a role to play as an anti-anxiety medication. Medications which inhibit anxiety are referred to as anxiolytics, and delta-8 THC is categorized as an “analogue of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) with antiemetic, anxiolytic, appetite-stimulating, analgesic, and neuroprotective properties” — meaning that the NIH considers this cannabinoid to have anti-anxiety properties (among others).
Delta-8 is also much less likely to induce anxiety in high doses than its more widely known counterpart, delta-9 THC. Research has shown that delta-8 has less psychoactive potency than its analogue delta-9, and it appears to offer a more clear-minded experience with less anxiety, too.
Lesser psychotropic effects
As we mentioned above, research has shown that delta-8 has less psychoactive potency than its analogue delta-9. Researchers have estimated the potency to be about two-thirds of the potency of delta-9-THC.
The “high” from delta-8 has been described as more clear-headed when compared to delta-9-THC, and people who have used it often note less of an impact on concentration and anxiety, though it still retains its medicinal properties.
Potential for improving cognitive function
Delta-8 may also have some promise when it comes to treating cognitive issues like Alzheimer’s disease. The 2004 study referenced above by Avraham et al. also found “a tendency (of delta-8-THC) to improve cognitive function.”
A study from 1987 using mouse models (HL Tripathi et al.) found that delta-8 THC increased acetylcholine levels in the cortex and hippocampus, and decreased acetylcholine turnover in hippocampus. This is relevant because Alzheimer’s disease is associated with declining levels of Ach in the brain.
Another study from 1994 (Mechoulam et al.) found that oral delta-8 THC significantly reduced the incidence and severity of neurological deficit in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis in rats.
Potential for treating pain and inflammation
Unsurprisingly, delta-8 may also be a potential treatment for pain and inflammation. A 2018 study by Thapa et al. found that topical delta-8 THC decreased corneal pain and inflammation in an experimental mouse model.
This cannabinoid could prove to be especially helpful for patients with GI issues, given that a 2004 review in the BJP (Hornby and Prouty), concluded that “the beneficial effects of CB1R activation in animal models include reduction of transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxations, increased compliance of the proximal stomach, reduced acid secretion, reduction of GI transit, reduced intestinal fluid secretion in response to secretogogues and reduced large intestinal propulsive activity are all aspects that could be beneficial in functional bowel disorders such as IBS. However, administration of CB1R agonists to patients would be associated with CBS adverse effects due to the psychotropic actions.”
A number of other studies in patients with IBD have shown that cannabis — and possibly delta-8 THC in particular — can result in decreased symptoms and fewer medications needed.
Potential for addiction treatment
While there is no specific research into delta-8 THC as a treatment of opioid addiction, there is some hope that certain cannabinoids may be useful in the fight against opioid addiction.
Many researchers believe that cannabidiol, or CBD, which is the second most abundant component of cannabis, is thought to modulate various neuronal circuits involved in drug addiction, and the limited research done on the subject appears to back that up.
A number of preclinical studies have suggested that CBD may have therapeutic properties on opioid, cocaine, and psychostimulant addiction. We won’t know whether delta-8 can help treat opioid addiction until more research is done on the subject, but so far, the outlook is promising.
Delta 8 THC just might be everything that CBD wishes it was and everything that good ol’ Medical Marijuana and Delta 9 THC wishes it wasn’t.