What is Delta-8?
Learn more about what Delta-8 THC is and where it stands in the current cannabis marketplace.
A few months back, the rest of America discovered what cannabis fans had already learned long ago — that Delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC’s nearly identical twin, had gone where good old-fashioned cannabis couldn’t. Unlike state-legal cannabis, Delta-8 concentrates and flower — which was basically hemp flower sprayed with a Delta-8 saturated solution — could be sold at gas stations, convenience stores or online. No age restrictions, no shoes, no shirt, no problem. Plus, it delivered a far milder and more manageable lift than adult-use cannabis, leading the media to call it “lite weed.” However, public health experts, parents and a growing number of politicians have begun to propose and pass legislation to stop Delta-8’s forward momentum, even as newer molecules wait in the wings to take its place.
What Is Delta-8?
Delta-8 is a VERY rare cannabinoid. In most plants it’s less than 1% of the total cannabinoid content in the plant, which makes extracting it from the cannabis plant itself unfeasible. So by and large, Delta-8 is created synthetically from hemp-derived CBD, which is far more prevalent in the plant, through a reflux reaction with an organic solvent and an acid. After 60-90 minutes, the conversion is complete. The process has been well-known since the ‘50s, and with so much CBD-rich biomass on hand, there’s a massive molecular base on the market to draw from.
Because of that, Delta-8 has become the fastest growing sector in the hemp-CBD market, according to Ian Laird of New Leaf Data Services. Larry Shor of Cleveland Botanical Distribution, a CBD distribution company, told Marijuana Business Daily that it accounts for 60% of his company’s sales. However, this meteoric growth has come with some major headaches. The Blue Ridge Poison Center of UVA Health has reported dozens of calls for Delta-8 products between the months of January to July of this year, compared to zero last year. Foes of the industry have pointed to candy edibles with names such as Trips Ahoy, which can be particularly alluring to children. "This packaging is clearly targeted at children in a dangerous way. It's alarming [that] it could end up in [the] hands of children having an afternoon snack," New York State Senator Todd Kaminsky recently told Newsday.
Where Delta-8 Stands
A dozen states, including Arizona and Colorado, have banned Delta-8 products outright. Other states such as Michigan and Connecticut, have brought it under the same regulatory framework as cannabis and THC-containing products. More specifically, Delta-8 is often included in the “total THC” limit, which sets the bar on THC amounts in a given product. This is particularly important for a state such as Ohio, which imposes a set THC limit on medical cannabis products. However, some medical patients in Ohio say they need more than the 70% the state’s program permits them, and rely on products containing Delta-8 to get around the cap. This, according to Karen O’Keefe of the Marijuana Policy Project, may force patients into the unregulated market to seek out the products they need.
And of course, there’s the quality of products on the market themselves. As most “d8” consumers have learned, the chemical reactions used in Delta-8/CBD conversions can create a lot of toxic byproducts, and with regulations either non-existent or in the development stage, consumers are left to discussion boards on reddit.com and forum posts to determine who the honest brokers are. And apparently, people such as those calling up the Blue Ridge Poison Center end up getting painfully high from overdosing from mislabeled products. “A lot of irresponsible production is going on in the sense that most of these people are getting their information from online forums, and many of them aren’t necessarily trained chemists,” Kyle Boyar of the University of California/San Diego’s Center for Medical Cannabis Research said.
From an industry which is barely two years away from the EVALI vaping crisis, one can only guess whether or not federal authorities such as the DEA will step in. Concerns over poorly made products are not unfounded; two years ago, 68 people died from a respiratory condition named E-cigarette/Vaping Associated Lung Injury, or EVALI, which was strongly linked to the additive vitamin E-acetate. A similar outbreak over Delta-8 could bring the DEA into the picture. And the DEA did proclaim in an interim rule published last year that "synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule I controlled substances." However, this has not led to raids or supply chain shutdowns as of yet. This may change, of course, should a rush of emergency room visits eventually emerge from substandard Delta-8 products.
THC-O Acetate: Waiting in the Wings
Should this happen, there is already a new and reportedly more potent product waiting to take its place — THC-O Acetate. THC-O acetate has been billed online as a more “psychedelic,” less immediate high. Online rumors identify it as one of the psychoactive chemicals tested on military personnel at Edgewood Arsenal from 1948 to 1975 by researchers studying the effects of chemical warfare agents including PCP, scopolamine and LSD. Those who have ventured into the market believe that it evades the bans or regulations which cover THC isomers, because additional molecules have been added to the original Delta-8 molecule. Yet even less is known about this substance, which worries James Stephens, a chemical engineer and microbiologist. “My gut feeling is since no one has any safety data on it, I don’t think anybody knows what this product really does,” Stephens recently told Marijuana Business Daily. “If it is more potent than THC, can we actually end up with real overdoses now?”
If that’s the case, then Delta-8 may be the safest bet in the long run. With or without it, the pursuit of a legal THC-like high will continue. As Larry Shor declared to Marijuana Business Daily, “[Products like Delta-8] are not going to die off… their pipeline already exists.”