Cannabis tourism is picking up all over Canada and the United States. Destinations like Coachella Valley and Cannanaskis are now mainstays in the bucket lists of devotees and enthusiasts around the world, and for good reason. However, cannabis greenhorns planning a whirlwind trip through North America would do well to take a crash course on the differences in Canadian and American cannabis law; particularly the legal status of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9 THC) and delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8 THC).
Differences between delta-8 & delta-9 THC
Delta-9 THC (more commonly known as THC) is the primary active compound found in cannabis. Delta-9 produces the psychoactivity associated with marijuana consumption, colloquially referred to as a “high”. Common effects associated with delta-9 THC are muscle relaxation, drowsiness and pain relief. There are some undesirable side effects as well, such as decreased motor function and affected short-term memory.
Delta-8 THC is an isomer of delta-9 with key differences in its psychoactivity profile. Instead of a down regulation of the nervous system, delta-8 is associated with increased focus and appetite, as well as relief from symptoms of mood and anxiety disorders. Additionally, delta-8 THC has a shorter duration of action within the endocannabinoid system compared to delta-9, so the effects don’t last as long. Delta-8 is also less likely to cause anxiety and paranoia than delta-9 THC at higher doses.
Generally speaking, delta-8 is viewed among cannabis consumers as a safe way to access the therapeutic potential of cannabis without the high caused by delta-9 THC. This makes it similar to other cannabinoids like CBD, which are safe for daytime use with little to no risk of diminished productivity.
While the legal cannabis industry is certainly taking off across North America, it’s worth noting that delta-9 THC is still technically illegal at the federal level in the United States — and that taking cannabis products in or out of Canada is against the law, even if they’re intended as gifts or for personal use. In this post, we go over everything you need to know about the laws around delta-8 and delta-9 THC in Canada and the US, comparing the differences between the two.
The Legal Status of THC in Canada
The recreational use of cannabis was legalised in Canada in October 2018. This allows adults over the age of 18 to purchase and consume cannabis products from licensed retailers. However, there are restrictions in place on how cannabis can be sold and consumed. Most notably, there are limits on the THC content allowed in cannabis-derived products like tinctures or edibles.
According to the government of Canada’s Guide on Composition Requirements for Cannabis Products summary page, dried or fresh cannabis products sold in Canada “intended for ingestion or nasal, rectal or vaginal use” must contain no more than 10mg of THC per package. This limit takes into account the potential for THCA conversion into THC upon consumption. Dried cannabis products “in discrete units that are intended to be inhaled” must not exceed a net weight of one gram (1g).
Under the Canadian Cannabis Act and existing regulations, products that exceed the legal limits of THC content are considered illegal. For this reason, along with ethical manufacturing practices and legible ingredients panels, THC content is one of the most important things to look for when buying D9 gummies or other edibles.
As of October 2019, addendums and amendments to the legalisation of cannabis in Canada made it legal to purchase and consume delta-8 THC products. However, there are also restrictions in place for goods containing D8. For example, delta-8 THC products can only be sold by licensed retailers and must be labelled clearly with their cannabinoid content.
Is It Different in The US?
In the United States, delta-9 THC is classified as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This means that it’s still technically illegal to manufacture, possess, or distribute delta-9 THC according to federal law. However, in states where marijuana has been legalised for medicinal or recreational purposes, delta-9 THC can often be found in dispensaries in a variety of forms, including tinctures and hash (i.e. kief).
The number of states that have legalised the recreational consumption of cannabis is growing steadily, but there are still a number of regulations on products containing THC across the country; most notably limits on THC content and strict controls on what can be printed on product labels (e.g. health claims).
As of this writing, delta-8 THC is in a legislative grey area for the simple reason that it isn’t expressly mentioned in any existing reform bill or regulatory framework. This is likely to change in time, but at the moment, cannabis aficionados and DIYers alike are enjoying more or less complete freedom around their consumption of delta-8 products.
Delta-8 THC is already available in a wide range of formats within Canadian and American markets, including cartridges, balms and edibles. Cannabis tourists — particularly newer consumers — are encouraged to do their due diligence on local laws in either country before planning out their destinations to ensure they stay within the law at all times.