Hemp-derived delta-8 circumvents marijuana laws and raises health concerns

Suzan Kennedy has smoked marijuana and says her Wisconsin roots mean she can handle alcohol. So she wasn’t worried earlier this year when a bartender in St. Paul, Minnesota described a cocktail with the cannabinoid delta-8 THC as “a little.” powerful.”

Hours after enjoying the tasty drink and silliness that reminded Kennedy of a weed high, she said, she started feeling “really shaky and weak” before collapsing in her arms. of her friend. Kennedy has regained consciousness and recovered, but his distaste for delta-8 remains, even though the substance is federally legal, unlike marijuana.

“I’m not one to really tell people what to do,” said Kennedy, 35, who lives in Milwaukee and works in software sales. But if a friend tried to order a delta-8 drink, “I would tell them, ‘Absolutely not. You don’t put that in your body.

The FDA and some marijuana industry experts share Kennedy’s concerns. At least a dozen states have banned the drug derived from hemp, including Colorado, Montana, New York and Oregon, which have legalized marijuana. But delta-8 makers call those concerns unfounded and say they’re driven by marijuana companies trying to protect their market share.

So what’s the difference? The flower of the marijuana plant, the oil derived from it, and edibles made from them contain delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the substance that produces the drug’s high, and can only be legally sold in dispensaries in states that have legalized marijuana. Similar products containing delta-8 THC are sold online and in bars and retailers across much of the United States, including some places where pot remains illegal. That’s because a 2018 federal law legalized hemp, a variety of the cannabis plant. Hemp is not allowed to contain more than 0.3% of the mind-altering delta-9 THC found in marijuana.

Concerns about delta-8 are largely centered on how it is made. Delta-8 is typically produced by dissolving CBD – a compound found in cannabis plants – in solvents, such as toluene, which are often found in paint thinners. Some people in the marijuana industry say the process leaves potentially harmful residue. A study published last year in the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology found lead, mercury and silicon in delta-8 e-cigarettes.

The FDA has issued warnings about the “serious health risks” of delta-8, citing concerns about the conversion process, and has received more than 100 reports of people hallucinating, vomiting and passing out, among other issues, after having consumed it. From January 2021 through February, national poison control centers received more than 2,300 cases of delta-8, 70% of which required users to be evaluated at healthcare facilities, according to the FDA.

Delta-8 is “just the obvious solution for people who want access to cannabis but live in a state where it’s illegal,” said Dr. Peter Grinspoon, primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and cannabis supplier. long-time doctor. “You can either have a hard time buying cannabis or you can get delta-8.”

Grinspoon described delta-8 as about half as potent as marijuana. But due to the lack of research on the possible benefits of delta-8 and the lack of regulation, he would not recommend his patients to use it. If it were regulated like Massachusetts’ medical and recreational marijuana programs, he said, harmful contaminants could be flagged or removed.

Christopher Hudalla, chief scientific officer of ProVerde Laboratories, a Massachusetts-based marijuana and hemp testing company, said he’s reviewed thousands of delta-8 products and all contain contaminants that could be harmful to consumers’ health. .

Delta-8 has “incredible potential as a therapeutic” because it has many of the same benefits as marijuana, minus some of the intoxication, Hudalla said. “But delta-8, like unicorns, doesn’t exist. What exists on the market are synthetic mixtures of unknown waste products.

Justin Journay, owner of the delta-8 brand 3Chi, is skeptical of concerns about the products. He started the business in 2018 after hemp oil relieved his shoulder pain. He quickly started wondering what other cannabinoids in hemp could do. “’There must be gold in those hills,’” Journay recalled thinking. He said his Indiana-based company now has more than 300 employees and sponsors a NASCAR team.

Asked about the FDA reports of bad reactions, Journay said, “There are risks with THC. There absolutely are. There are risks with cheeseburgers.

He attributes the side effects to taking too much. “We say, ‘Start low.’ You can always take more,” Journay said.

Journay said he understands the concerns about contaminants in delta-8 products and that his company is conducting tests to identify the tiny fraction of substances that remain unknown, which he believes are cannabinoids from the plant.

An analysis of 3Chi delta-8 oil conducted by the Hudalla Company last year and published on the 3Chi website revealed several unidentified compounds that “do not occur naturally” and therefore “would not be recommended for human consumption”. Delta-8 oil is still sold on the 3Chi site.

Journay said analysis revealed that only 0.4% of the oil contained unknown compounds. “How then can they definitively say the compound is unnatural when they don’t even know what it is?” he said in an email.

“The vast majority of negative news and the push to make delta-8 illegal comes from the marijuana industries,” Journay said. “It’s cutting into their profit margins, which is funny that the marijuana guys are all of a sudden for prohibition.”

Delta-8 products appear to be significantly cheaper than weed. For example, Curaleaf, one of the world’s largest cannabis companies, offers gummy packs containing 100 milligrams of delta-9 THC for $25, plus sales tax, at a Massachusetts dispensary. At 3Chi, gummies with 400 milligrams of delta-8 are $29.99 online, tax-free.

Journay’s criticism of the marijuana industry contains some truth, said Chris Lindsey, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for the legalization of marijuana for adults. “We see this happening in every state that legalizes adult use,” Lindsey said. “Their established medical cannabis industry will sometimes be your most vocal adversaries, and that’s a matter of business. It’s not a marijuana thing.

Still, the bans might not fully work. In New York, which banned delta-8 in 2021, Lindsey said, it’s available at any bodega.

In July, Minnesota implemented a law that limits the amount of THC, including delta-8, allowed in hemp products outside of its medical marijuana program. According to news reports, the law would eliminate delta-8. But the state cannot “control what is sold on the internet outside of Minnesota and shipped,” said Maren Schroeder, policy director of Sensible Change Minnesota, which aims to legalize recreational cannabis for adults.

Minneapolis-based writer and editor Max Barber remains interested in the delta-8 despite his state’s restrictions. Although he could probably get a prescription for medical marijuana because he has an anxiety disorder and chronic sleep issues, he didn’t pursue it because pot made his anxiety worse. He used CBD oil but found the effects inconsistent. In March 2021, he tried a 10-milligram delta-8 gum.

“It made me get pretty high, which I don’t like,” he said.

Then he found what he considers to be the right dosage for him: a third of candy, which he takes in the evening. He said he now slept between six and eight hours each night, was less anxious and was better able to concentrate. “I’ve become something of a delta-8 evangelist for everyone I know who has trouble sleeping,” said Barber, who bought enough gummies to last for months after the new law took effect. law.

To address concerns about delta-8, the federal government should regulate it and make it easier for consumers to access cannabis, said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform.

He pointed to a recent study in the International Journal of Drug Policy showing that the number of Google searches for delta-8 in the United States skyrocketed in 2021 and that interest was particularly high in states that restricted the cannabis use. “In an environment where whole plant cannabis is legally available, there would be little to no demand for these alternative products,” Armentano said.

Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project isn’t so sure it would matter. When he first learned of the growing popularity of delta-8 in 2021, he thought it would go in the direction of drugs like K2 or Spice which he says are between regulatory rules long enough to be put on the market. tablets before finally being arrested.

“It didn’t materialize,” Lindsey said. “The more we understand about this plant, the more these different cannabinoids are going to come out.” And that, he said, will in turn stimulate consumer and business interest.

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