The delta-8 gray area

What is delta-8 THC, what does it do and why have 14 states moved to ban it in recent months?

Delta-.8-THC type: .delta-8-THC and its acid precursor are considered as THC and THC acid artifacts, respectively. The 8,9 double-bond position is thermodynamically more stable than the 9,10 position.

When the federal Farm Bill passed in 2018, it was huge news for the CBD industry. Finally, the regulation of hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3% delta-9 THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana) was no longer the job of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) — with the Farm Bill, it became the job of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). 

However, the bill created a loophole for another cannabinoid called delta-8 THC — a close cousin to both delta-9 THC and CBD. And thanks to the Farm Bill’s very specific language, for the last three years patients across the country have been able to legally access delta-8 products online from CBD vendors like Austin, Texas-based Elevated Wellness.

In recent months, though, that’s started to change. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Utah and even Colorado have all moved to cinch that legal loophole shut. All 14 of those states are blocking the sale of delta-8 THC, arguing that there isn’t enough research on it yet to justify its sale — even though it’s bringing relief to many people, according to Dr. Chris Adlakha. 

“Delta-8 is a highly medicinal cannabis compound,” says Adlakha, a pharmacist and founder of Elevated Wellness CBD. 

He explains that the bad rap delta-8 THC is getting boils down to three things: a lack of third-party testing; poor extraction methods; and a lack of education. But, unlike CBD, states are legally blocking the sale of delta-8 THC. 

So, what’s the difference? 

Foremost, delta-8 THC has the least amount of clinical research behind it, Adlakha explains. It’s not very well understood, as far as common cannabinoids go. Which makes some opponents of delta-8 THC question its safety and efficacy. 

And beyond that, some legislators simply see this as a circumvention of the federal ban on delta-9 THC. Because, unlike CBD, delta-8 THC gets you high. 

“Delta-8 does produce a psychotropic effect, albeit much lower than that of delta-9,” Adlakha says. “For that reason, some consumers have issues with it. I do have patients who choose not to use delta-8-rich products for their pain relief, because they don’t want that psychotropic feeling.”

For patients who find relief from traditional delta-9 THC, but can’t legally access it or who can’t tolerate the psychotropic effects, delta-8 THC products can offer great medicinal middle-ground, according to Adlakha.

“There has been immense anecdotal evidence of its ability to help reduce inflammation, pain, stress and even sleep issues,” he says.

One of the few clinical trials ever done on delta-8 THC showed promise. In 1995, Raphael Mechoulam, at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tested delta-8 on chemotherapy patients, all of whom experienced significant reductions in their post-treatment nausea. Another study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior in 2004 showed delta-8 THC as having positive effects on appetite. 

Beyond those clinical studies, there really isn’t much to go on in terms of peer reviewed scientific research on delta-8 THC for physicians and lawmakers. 

But, to Adlakha, the bigger issue is that the federal government doesn’t require any third-party testing for any hemp-derived products. (See Cannabis Corner, page 37, for more about Colorado’s new requirements for testing hemp products.) Without that requirement, the doors for con men selling bunk “medicinal” CBD and delta-8 THC products are open. More concerningly, Adlakha adds, dangerous chemical compounds can make it into these products and onto shelves — directly beside authentic third-party tested products.  

“[That] exposes consumers to harmful impurities, which could be 100% avoided with proper manufacturing and testing methods,” Adlakha says. 

That’s why Adlakha insists on third-party testing every single one of Elevated Wellness’s products, and makes certificates of authenticity available to customers. 

“It’s one of the only tangible ways we can build honest trust in this industry,” he says. 

Colorado’s ban on delta-8 THC started in May, when the state’s Marijuana Enforcement Division (MED) sent a letter to dispensaries informing them of the rule change, citing safety concerns about the under-researched molecule. 

“Insufficient evidence exists to determine whether or not any toxic or otherwise harmful substances are produced during these reactions and may remain in the regulated industrial hemp products ingested or applied/used by consumers,” the agency said. “Therefore, these [THC] isomers are not allowed in food, dietary supplements or cosmetics.”

Proponents argue, because the Farm Bill legalized hemp-derived products, delta-8 THC should be legal just like CBD. However, the DEA disagrees, claiming that since delta-8 THC is extracted from hemp-derived CBD instead of directly from the hemp plant, it’s still technically a federally controlled substance. 

“I have patients who get honest relief from delta-8,” Adlakha says. “And I would hate for them to lose access to it because of political hindrances.” 

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