Jan. 31, 2022 -- This past October, Chris Habitz, the owner of Your CBD Store in Burbank, CA, began getting more requests from customers for CBD products with delta -8 THC, also known as "diet weed" or "marijuana-lite."

Many were seniors, he says, asking for the products to soothe pain and avoid opioids, as well as to avoid the high" from using marijuana.

Citing the potential for addiction to prescription painkillers, Habitz says, "a lot them are scared."

Others asked for the delta-8 products to soothe anxiety during the pandemic. So, Habitz ordered three times as many of the delta-8 products as usual -- and sold them. The demand has remained. And, he says, “it hasn't peaked."

On the other side of the country, Bison Botanics in Buffalo, NY, which sells a range of CBD products, began seeing high demand for delta-8 products at the start of 2021, says Sean Connors, Bison's vice president. "By the end of 2021, it was 65% of sales," he says.

Delta-8 THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is one of more than 100 compounds, or cannabinoids, found in the Cannabis sativa plant. Delta-8 is found in marijuana and in hemp-derived CBD, but in trace amounts, much lower than the levels of delta-9 THC found in marijuana that produces the “high."

Delta-8 THC products, sold in vape pen cartridges and as oils, gummies, candies, and other edibles, are widely available at CBD stores, convenience stores, gas stations, dispensaries, and online. Besides pain and anxiety relief, promoters say it can boost appetite, help you sleep better, combat nausea and vomiting, and help with relaxation.

It's difficult to pinpoint nationwide sales figures, with many companies not reporting publicly, says Adam Koh, editorial director of Cannabis Benchmarks & Hemp Benchmarks, which provides industry data.

"I think it's safe to say that sales of delta-8 THC and similar products in the U.S. likely generated several hundred million dollars in 2021. These products began to emerge around summer 2020, and I believe sales were substantially smaller that year."

Online searches for delta-8 THC rose dramatically from 2019 to 2020, say researchers from the University of California, San Diego, who reported that interest was especially high in U.S. states that restricted delta-9 THC use.

Is It Legal, or Is There a Loophole?

No one debates delta-8 THC's popularity. But is it legal? As sales have risen, so have debates about its legality.

The boom in delta-8 products began shortly after the passage of the Farm Bill, also known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. This act removed hemp and its byproducts (but not cannabis) from the federal list of Schedule I controlled substances. It legalizes the production and sale of CBD products as long as they have less than 0.3% of THC. Many advocates of delta-8 CBD products point out that the Farm Bill fails to mention delta-8, so the products are on legal firm ground. Not everyone agrees.

"People read that Farm Bill and said, 'Wait, delta-8 and delta-10 [another cannabinoid] are not mentioned,'" says researcher Shanna Babalonis, PhD, an assistant professor of behavioral science at the University of Kentucky. "Let's start marketing that stuff."

Here's the problem, says Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML: The Farm Bill language does make a legal distinction between “naturally occurring constituents" and "synthetically derived" ones. He points to how the Drug Enforcement Administration defined the issue in the Farm Bill in 2020.

Under that explanation, "if you extract cannabinoids present in the industrial hemp plant, products from those are legal under the Farm Bill," he says.

If delta-8 were simply extracted, fine. But "that is not what these [delta-8] products are."

The natural amount of delta-8-THC in hemp is low, but concentrated amounts can be created from CBD in a lab. Large quantities of delta-8 THC “are being chemically synthesized from excess CBD that has been derived from hemp plants," Babalonis says.

And all synthetic tetrahydrocannabinols are still Schedule I controlled substances, just as marijuana is, according to language in the Farm Bill, Armentano says. The Farm Bill also specifies that hemp can't contain more than 0.3% of THC, and observers say many delta-8 products contain higher levels, making the products intoxicating.

Delta-8: Nicer and Milder, or Potentially Hazardous?

While some debate whether delta-8 THC is legal, researchers say it has been called “delta-9's younger, nicer sibling." That's what one respondent told researchers Jessica Kruger, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior at the University at Buffalo, and Daniel J. Kruger, PhD, an investigator at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan.

After the husband-wife research team polled more than 500 people from 38 states and asked them to compare delta-8 to cannabis, they concluded that delta-8 appears to have positive qualities and may be a way to reduce harm and negative reactions, compared to marijuana. Respondents said delta-8 THC had all the benefits of cannabis and fewer bad effects.

In their study, 71% of the users reported “a lot or a great deal” of relaxation, and 68% said they’d had euphoria. More than half got relief from pain. But they also reported some of the same unwanted effects with delta-8 as with marijuana, with 81% having moderate to “a lot of" skewed thinking, such as a hard time concentrating. But 74% said they did not have anxiety, and 83% said they didn’t have paranoia, which can occur with marijuana use.

"Delta-8 seems to have a better profile than delta-9," Daniel Kruger says. But, also, he says, states are loosening up on delta-9, and some are tightening up on delta-8. Their data suggests that's backward, he says.

Delta-8's Dark Side

In 2021, the FDA issued a consumer update, warning that delta-8 THC has serious health risks. Reports from December 2020 through July 2021 involved 22 people, some of whom reported vomiting, hallucinations, trouble standing, and passing out after consuming delta-8 THC products.

In September 2021, the CDC issued an alert about delta-8 and possible adverse events. In the first half of 2021, the National Poison Data System recorded 660 exposures to delta-8 (and added another from late 2020), with 18%, or 119, requiring hospitalization and 39%, or 258, affecting children. It also warned that the products may not be tested well for contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides.

Mislabeling is also an issue. In an independent analysis of 51 products, by CBD Oracle, a cannabis consumer research company, 77% had less delta-8 THC than advertised and three-quarters of the products had higher THC levels than permitted by federal law.

The problems come back to a lack of regulation, Babalonis says. The products are sold without adequate warning labels, and they are widely available.

“Online, you can get a package of gummy bears, with beautiful packaging," she says, with no mention that it's a drug. Delta-8 is especially hazardous for children, she says, and as dangerous as delta-9.

“For children [who get into delta-8 products], they sometimes need to be intubated because they have ingested so much," Babalonis says. "Because they are not going to eat just one gummy bear, right?"

Companies’ Safety Efforts

Safety efforts, including efforts to avoid contamination, are ongoing, company representatives say. The website of Your CBD Store, which includes nearly 500 stores nationwide, includes lab reports, and the company walks viewers through how to read them. It posts warnings cautioning that the products may result in a positive drug test.

It also says its delta-8 extract is “100 percent naturally derived from hemp and does not contain more than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC."

At Bison Botanics, products are sent to an independent lab for testing, Connors says. On its website, the company also says people have different sensitivities to different cannabinoids, especially THC. Even though the amounts are low, it warns that everyone handles these substances differently.

Legislative Efforts

Concerns about safety have triggered state actions, with legislators debating whether to prohibit delta-8 or regulate it. As of late December, 14 states have made delta-8 illegal, according to an industry website. It's legal in 30 other states, while it's regulated the same as recreational cannabis in Connecticut and Michigan.

Moves to ban delta-8 are driven by fear, not science, Jessica Kruger says. More research is needed, she and others say. “Our study shows this may actually be a safer way to use cannabis."

The U.S. Hemp Roundtable, an industry group, is not calling for a strict ban on delta-8 products, but it has taken a strong stance against the intoxicating forms of delta-8 -- the ones that are over the approved 0.3 limit.

"From early last year, our position has been that intoxicating products should be treated akin to adult-use cannabis," says Jonathan S. Miller, the group’s general counsel.

Beyond Legislation

The Krugers favor universal product testing and more regulation.

Currently, "you can go to the gas station and get [these products], which is terrifying," Jessica Kruger says. Ideally, Daniel Kruger says, he hopes for de-scheduling cannabis on a federal level, along with more regulation.

“Education is key," Jessica Kruger says, especially for protecting vulnerable populations such as children and pregnant women.

 

Show Sources

Chris Habitz, owner, Your CBD Store, Burbank, CA.

Sean Connors, vice president, Bison Botanics, Buffalo, NY.

Federal Register: "Implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018."

Paul Armentano, deputy director, NORML and NORML Foundation.

Jessica Kruger, PhD, clinical assistant professor of community health and health behavior, University at Buffalo.

Daniel J. Kruger, PhD, investigator, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; faculty affiliation, University at Buffalo.

Jonathan S. Miller, legal counsel, U.S. Hemp Roundtable.

Journal of Cannabis Research: “Delta-8-THC: Delta-9-THC's nicer younger sibling?"

Adam Koh, editorial director, Cannabis Benchmarks & Hemp Benchmarks.

Shanna Babalonis, PhD, assistant professor of behavioral science, University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research: "Delta-8 THC: Legal Status, Widespread Availability, and Safety Concerns."

International Journal on Drug Policy: "Public interest in Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC) increased in US states that restricted Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-9) use."

NORML: "NORML's Guide to Delta-8 THC and Other Novel Cannabinoids."

FDA: "Five Things to Know About Delta-8 -tetrahydrocannabinol -- Delta-8 THC."

CDC: "Increases in Availability of Cannabis Products Containing Delta-8 THC and Reported Cases of Adverse Events."

CBD Thinker: "Is Delta 8 THC Legal in Your State? Laws and Map (December 2021)."

GetSunMed.com.

BisonBotanics.com.

CBD Oracle: "Products Are 7700% Over the Legal Delta-9 THC Limit."

Cleveland Clinic: "What is Delta-8?"

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