Delta-8 THC is legal in many states, but some want to ban it
Nickolas Jarosh started smoking marijuana after his shifts as a 911 dispatcher. He alternated between working days and nights, and the irregular schedule made it difficult to fall asleep. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, helped, he said.
Jarosh, 29, who now lives outside Houston, no longer has a job that requires him to work irregular hours. He also no longer has access to marijuana, which he says has also helped relieve his anxiety and depression.
But four months ago, he found a substitute: a federal legal form of the psychoactive compound called delta-8 THC. Now he’s ordering it from a Boston company that turns it into candies, chocolates, and vape cartridges.
âDelta-8 makes a huge difference in being able to relax, clear my mind and fall asleep. I wake up more rested, âsaid Jarosh, who has also tried cannabidiol, or CBD, products that he says help a little, but not enough.
âSwitching to CBD products that also contain delta-8 has made a huge difference. It’s not as powerful as the Delta-9, but it’s very similar, âhe said.
When people talk about THC, they usually mean delta-9 THC. It is the chemical responsible for the high associated with marijuana. But it’s not the only compound found in cannabis.
The cannabis plant contains over 500 chemical compounds, including 100 cannabinoids, like CBD and various forms of THC.
Although some states have legalized recreational or medicinal marijuana, at the federal level the plant remains listed as a Schedule I drug, a level reserved for drugs with high potential for abuse and no medicinal benefit, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
However, the legality of the plant’s individual compounds, including delta-8 THC, falls into a gray area.
Thanks to a loophole in the 2018 Farm Act, delta-8 THC is not federally regulated. This legislation legalized hemp, which is defined as a cannabis plant containing 0.3% delta-9 THC or less, levels considered too low to have a psychoactive effect. However, the bill does not address levels of delta-8 THC, an omission that makes it legal for sellers to sell the compound, often in the form of edibles, vape cartridges and tinctures, without any oversight.
But in recent months, 14 states – Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and Utah – have blocked the sale of Delta-8s, citing the lack of research into the psychoactive effects of the compound. However, not all states consider the compound to be a health concern. A section that would have banned delta-8 in Texas was removed from a state bill in May, keeping delta-8 THC legal in Texas.
“We don’t know enough to worry about yet, but prevention is better than cure,” said Daniele Piomelli, director of the University of California, Irvine, Center for the Study of Cannabis.
How is Delta-8 THC different from Delta-9 THC?
Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are found naturally in cannabis, and chemically the two compounds are very similar. All that separates them is the location of a double bond, found on the eighth carbon in delta-8 THC and the ninth carbon in delta-9.
As far as scientists know, all forms of THC bind to cannabinoid receptors in the body’s endocannabinoid system, producing a high. However, due to the location of its double bond, delta-8 binds to these receptors in a slightly different way than delta-9 THC, making it less potent. Beyond that, scientists don’t know how the two compounds differ.
“Nobody took delta-8 and delta-9 and gave them to healthy people and followed the difference,” said Raphael Mechoulam, professor of medicinal chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and former president of the International Cannabinoid Research Society. “And even the effects of delta-9 are highly dose dependent.”
Does Delta-8 Have Medical Benefits?
Delta-9 is the quintessential form of THC that has been clinically tested for everything from multiple sclerosis to memory recovery. According to Piomelli, because delta-8 and delta-9 THC have such a similar molecular structure, the two compounds would theoretically produce similar medical benefits, but there is no hard data to prove this to be true.
âVery few people have taken pure delta-8 and reported it. People use it for a long list of diseases, but there are very few clinical trials, âMechoulam said.
Clinical trials are the gold standard of medical research and so far only a very small clinical trial has been conducted on delta-8 THC. In 1995, Mechoulam and his colleagues administered the compound to eight pediatric cancer patients two hours before each chemotherapy session. In the eight months, none of those patients vomited after their cancer treatment, according to the study. More recent research has also tested the ability of cannabis to reduce nausea in cancer patients, with promising results, however, other chemicals in the cannabis plant may be involved.
According to Mechoulam, delta-8 THC is a more stable compound than the more well-studied delta-9. This could make delta-8 THC a better candidate than delta-9 THC for new therapies ââ if future research shows it to be medically beneficial.
Should I be careful with delta-8 THC products?
In short, yes. Very little is still known about Delta-8 THC itself and in an unregulated market, products that contain the compound can easily be cut with toxic materials that consumers have no way of knowing.
Aside from delta-9 THC, there is much less research on individual cannabinoids than there is on the cannabis plant as a whole.
When people smoke marijuana, for example, they inhale all of the compounds in the plant. Delta-8 THC is just one such compound, and scientists know little about how the isolated chemical works in the body, especially at high concentrations.
According to Piomelli, one of the reasons cannabis is generally considered non-toxic is that its complex mixture of compounds forms a kind of system of checks and balances. Although some plants are bred to contain higher amounts of THC, “there is only a limited amount of THC a plant can produce,” he said.
Just because THC comes from a plant that doesn’t kill people doesn’t mean THC alone is safe. We don’t know until we test it.
“But if you extract pure THC – whether it’s delta-8 or delta-9 – and put it in buffers and all the other stuff that we have now, you do something else, and you can’t assume that the toxicity of pure THC is the same as the whole plant, “Piomelli said.” Just because THC comes from a plant that doesn’t kill people doesn’t mean THC alone is without danger.We don’t know until we test it.
And just because delta-8 THC produces milder psychoactive highs than delta-9 THC doesn’t mean it’s always less intense, Piomelli said. “To bypass the power, it’s easy, you just need to use more.”
Unregulated potency isn’t the only issue on the minds of experts.
“It’s not delta-8 that’s dangerous, it’s what it could be mixed with in an unregulated market,” said Steven Hawkins, CEO of the US Cannabis Council, a trade group that represents cannabis companies. state licensed cannabis and legalization advocates.
In a report released earlier this month, the council said the boom in unregulated sales of delta-8 THC “poses a public health risk with potentially broader impact than the vaping crisis.” .
When the group used a private lab to test 16 delta-8 THC products purchased in California, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Indiana, all but one of the samples contained illicit delta-9 THC. A few also contained heavy metals.
While the group works on behalf of groups that would benefit financially from the federal regulation of delta-8 THC, they are not the only ones with safety concerns.
âWhenever you look at any of these derivative compounds, you have to wonder how it was extracted from a plant,â Piomelli said.
Manufacturers extract THC using solvents including dichloromethane, which emits highly toxic fumes when exposed to heat. Particularly in an unregulated market, these chemicals can be left in products that are consumed, vaporized, or smoked – products that may already contain harmful compounds themselves.
âFor a compound to be administered, it must be mixed with other compounds to be taken orally or by inhalation. If you take an FDA approved drug, all of those chemicals are approved, âPiomelli said. “But if this is done in a lab somewhere else, you really don’t know what’s going on.”
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