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The Increasing Popularity Of Delta 8 Raises Concerns

by Emily Murray |  ❘ 

What Is Delta-8?

Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, or Delta-8, is a compound found in cannabis that has become increasingly popular in the last few years. Sales of the compound in the United States increased by 144% from April 2020 to April 2021. THC is the part of the Marijuana plant that produces the “high” feelings associated with cannabis products.

Delta-8 is similar to the major cannabinoid compound found in Marijuana, Delta-9. Small amounts of it occur naturally in cannabis but most commercially available products are made by chemically converting Delta-9-THC or cannabidiol (CBD).  Although comparable to Delta-9, Delta-8 is said to be less potent as it’s concentrations in the Marijuana plant are much lower. Because of the milder high provided, the substance is often called “Marijuana-lite” or “diet weed.” Despite this, there are still risks to using these products due to a lack of research and regulation.

Effects Of Delta-8

The cannabis plant contains more than 500 naturally occurring chemical compounds. Of those compounds, 100 are cannabinoids which means they bind to the cannabinoid receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system. This is what produces the high feelings of THC. Although Delta-9 is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, Delta-8 can produce similar effects. The two compounds are almost identical in structure except for the location of a double bond. The double bond is found on the 8th carbon in Delta-8’s structure and the 9th carbon in Delta-9. This difference in double bond location makes Delta-8 less potent.

Because there is a lack of research, little is known about the effects of the substance’s use. Consumers report similar effects to THC. These effects include mild euphoria, happiness, uplifting feelings, and relief of pain. The possible adverse side effects are also not well researched but those who use Delta-8 products say confusion, anxiety, drowsiness, slow heart rate, numbness, fast heart rate, and low blood pressure can occur.

Legal Gray Area

Delta-8 is currently federally legal in the United States, essentially through a loophole. The Farm Bill is an omnibus, multiyear law that has been revisited and renewed every 5 years since the 1930s. The 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp with very small concentrations of THC from the definition of Marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Under this act, marijuana is listed as a schedule I controlled substance. The removal of hemp from the Farm Bill made it so cannabis products derived from hemp could legally be sold and used. Hemp is defined as cannabis products with less than .3% of THC. Because of its low concentrations of THC, the compound fits this description and is legal on a federal level.

Recently, 14 states have decided to make the extracted compound illegal to sell and use based on a lack of research on the effects. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Utah. Additionally, Michigan, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina have issued public safety warnings for the compound.

Lack Of Regulation

The biggest risk to using Delta-8 is the fact that the substance is not approved by the FDA and is therefore unregulated. This lack of regulation increases the chance of dangerous contaminants being present in the products being sold. The US Cannabis Council did a private lab test on 16 Delta-8 products purchased in California, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Michigan, and Massachusetts. In this test, all but 1 sample contained amounts of illicit Delta-9. Additionally, several contained traces of heavy metals. Leafreport tested 38 Delta-8 products and had similar results. More than half had illicit levels of Delta-9. This test also showed the mislabeling that occurs with the compound because it is unregulated. 32% of the tested products matched the advertised amount while the rest were 10.7% to 102.7% off from the label.

Using Delta-8 can be dangerous because of how the compounds are sometimes extracted. Manufacturers may use dichloromethane which emits highly toxic fumes when exposed to heat. Occasionally the compound is extracted with things like battery acid and pool chemicals. Because of the unregulated market, chemicals can sometimes be left in the products and can be harmful when eaten, smoked, or vaped.

Increasing Delta-8 Incidents

The legal gray area that Delta-8 exists in makes it so there are no age restrictions on the purchase of these products. Additionally, young children and teenagers have the risk of accidentally taking Delta-8 as packaging is often like CBD. Low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, severe sedation, coma, and psychological effects can be caused when a younger person uses Delta-8. Long term effects are not known at this point.

Reported incidents have been increasing with the compound’s popularity. The North Carolina Poison Control Center reported having 157 cases related to Delta-8. Because the compound has not been studied extensively, many healthcare workers don’t know much about the substance or how to best treat those with adverse side effects.

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Experts continue to warn against the use of Delta-8. Its potential benefits and medical uses are mostly spread by word-of-mouth and social. These claims do not have research to back them up. The unregulated market of Delta-8 makes the substance dangerous to purchase from places like connivence stores and boutique weed dispensaries.

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