Susan Kennedy smokes marijuana, and says her Wisconsin roots can handle alcohol, so she wasn’t concerned when a bartender in St. Paul, Minnesota, said earlier this year that she had “a little bit” of a cocktail with the cannabinoid delta-8 THC. powerful”
Hours after Kennedy enjoyed the sweet drink and silliness that reminded her of a weed high, she began to “really shake and pass out” before collapsing into her friend’s arms. Kennedy regains consciousness and recovers, but her hatred of Delta-8 remains, even though the substance is federally legal, unlike marijuana.
“I’m not one to tell people what to do,” said Kennedy, 35, who lives in Milwaukee and works in software sales. But if a friend of mine tries to order a Delta-8 drink, “I tell them, ‘No way. You’re not putting that in your body,’ he said.
The FDA and some marijuana industry experts share Kennedy’s concerns. At least ten states that have legalized marijuana, including Colorado, Montana, New York and Oregon, have banned the hemp-derived drug. But Delta-8 manufacturers call the concerns unfounded and say they are driven by marijuana businesses trying to protect their market share.
So what’s the difference? The flowers of the marijuana plant, the oil derived from it, and the edible constituents delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, produce the highest amounts of the drug and can only be sold in states that have legalized marijuana. Similar products containing delta-8 THC are sold online and at bars and retailers in many US states, including some places where pot is 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 percent of the psychotropic delta-9 THC found in marijuana.
Delta-8’s concerns mostly focused on how it was made. Delta-8 is commonly produced from CBD – a compound found in the cannabis plant – often in solvents such as toluene. Some in the marijuana industry say the process leaves behind potentially harmful residues. A study published last year in the Journal of Chemical Research Toxicology found lead, mercury and silicon in Delta-8 electronic cigarettes.
The FDA has issued warnings about the “serious health risks” of delta-8, citing concerns about the conversion process, and more than 100 people have reported hallucinations, vomiting and loss of consciousness, among other issues, after drinking it. From January 2021 through this February, National Poison Control Centers received more than 2,300 cases of delta-8, and 70 percent of the users required evaluation at health care facilities, according to the FDA.
“Delta-8 is the only obvious solution for people who want to get cannabis but live in a state where it’s illegal,” said Dr. Peter Greenspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and a longtime purveyor of medical cannabis. “You can get into a lot of trouble by buying cannabis, or you can get delta-8.”
Grinspoon describes Delta-8 as about half as potent as marijuana. However, due to the lack of research and regulation on the potential benefits of Delta-8, it is not recommended for patients to use it. If it’s managed like Massachusetts’ medical and recreational marijuana programs, harmful contaminants can be identified or eliminated, he said.
Christopher Hudala, chief science officer of Proverde Laboratories, a Massachusetts marijuana and hemp testing company, said there are thousands of Delta-8 products, and all of them contain contaminants that could be harmful to consumers’ health.
Delta-8 has many of the same benefits as marijuana, reducing some addictions, so “it has incredible potential as a treatment,” Hudala said. But Delta-8, like Unicorn, doesn’t exist. The unknown litter in the market is a synthetic blend.
Justin Journey, owner of Delta-8 brand 3Chi, is skeptical about the products’ risks. He started the company in 2018 after finding hemp oil relieved his shoulder pain. He soon began to wonder what other cannabinoids in hemp might do. “‘There must be some gold in those hills,'” Journey recalled thinking. He said his Indiana-based company now has more than 300 employees and sponsors a NASCAR team.
Asked about the FDA’s reports of adverse reactions, Journey said, “There are risks with THC. They absolutely are. There are dangers with cheeseburgers.
Overdose can cause side effects. “We say start low. You can always take more,” Journai said.
Journai said it is aware of concerns about contamination in Delta-8 products and that its company is conducting tests to identify the unknown trace elements, which it says are cannabinoids from the plant.
An analysis of 3Chi Delta-8 oil conducted last year by the Hudala organization and posted on the 3Chi website found many unknown compounds that are “not naturally occurring” and “not recommended for human use.” Delta-8 oil is still sold on the 3Chi website.
Journai said the analysis revealed that only 0.4 percent of the oil contained unknown compounds. “How come you say compound is not natural when you don’t even know what compound is?” he said in an email.
“Most of the negative information and the push to outlaw Delta-8 comes from the marijuana industry,” Journey said. “It’s cutting into their profit margins, which is ridiculous that people are suddenly banned from marijuana.”
Delta-8 products appear to be much cheaper than weed. For example, Curalef, one of the world’s largest cannabis companies, offers packages of gummies 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 cost $29.99 online, excluding tax.
Chris Lindsey, director of government relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates legalizing marijuana for adults, has some truth to his criticism of the marijuana industry. “We see this happen in every adult-use legalization situation,” Lindsay said. “Their established medical cannabis industry will sometimes be your loudest opponents, and that’s business. That’s not marijuana stuff.”
Still, the restrictions may not be fully functional. In New York, which bans Delta-8 in 2021, Lindsey said, it’s available at any bodega.
In July, Minnesota implemented a law limiting the amount of THC, including delta-8, in hemp products allowed outside of its medical marijuana program. News reports say the bill will eliminate Delta-8. But the state “can’t control what’s being sold and delivered over the Internet outside of Minnesota,” said Maren Schroeder, policy director for Sensible Change Minnesota, which aims to legalize recreational cannabis for adults.
Max Barber, a Minneapolis writer and editor, is still interested in Delta-8 despite the state ban. Although he was able to get a prescription for medical marijuana because he had an anxiety disorder and chronic sleep problems, he didn’t follow through because the pot made his anxiety worse. He used CBD oil but found the results inconsistent. In March 2021, he tried a 10-milligram dose of delta-8 gum.
“It made me so high I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
Then he found what he considered the right amount for him: one-third of the gum, which he took at night. He says he now sleeps six to eight hours each night, feels less anxious and can focus more. “I became a Delta-8 evangelist to everyone I know who has trouble sleeping,” says Barber, who bought enough gum to last him months after the new law went into effect.
To address concerns about Delta-8, the federal government needs to regulate it and make it easier for consumers to obtain cannabis, said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for Marijuana Law Reform.
In the year According to a recent study in the International Journal of Drug Policy, the number of Google searches for delta-8 in the United States will increase in 2021, with interest especially high in states that restrict the use of cannabis. “In an environment where whole-plant cannabis is legally available, there will be no demand for these alternative products,” Armentano said.
Lindsey, of the Marijuana Policy Project, isn’t sure that will matter. In the year When he first learned of Delta-8’s growing popularity in 2021, he thought it would go the way of drugs like K2 or Spice, which he said would fall between regulatory rules with enough time to get on the shelves before being eventually shut down.
“That was unreal,” Lindsay said. “The more we understand about that plant, the more these different cannabinoids are going to emerge.” This, he said, would stimulate interest from consumers and businesses.