Delta-8, a synthetic form of THC made from chemically processing a natural compound in hemp, is creating controversy in the cannabis community.
At its basic level, delta-8 is a psychoactive isomer cannabinoid found in small amounts in some cannabis plants. But most delta-8 products on the market are created from CBD.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds found naturally in cannabis plants or created artificially. There are estimated to be more than 50, including THC, which attach to receptors in the body and create physical and mental effects.
Some processors have begun creating delta-8 commercially, even though the process raises the amount of THC in it, making it no longer fit the definition of commercial hemp. (Natural hemp is defined as containing no more than .03% of THC.)
The U.S. Hemp Roundtable, an independent nonprofit organization that advocates for full hemp legalization, has been warning growers that seeking synthetic ways to increase THC in hemp in the lab is a dangerous road to take.
It recently released a statement against “marketing products, under the guise of the hemp name, for any intoxicating value or euphoric effect,” calling the practice irresponsible.
“Unlike marijuana, hemp is, by definition, not intoxicating,” the Roundtable said in a statement. “Rather, hemp products like CBD are popularly used by consumers to benefit their general health and wellness, not to get them high.”
Crystal Oliver, executive director of the Washington Sungrowers Industry Association, a group of independent and outdoor cannabis farmers, said that when the 2018 Farm Act passed, it allowed for broader cultivation of hemp products.
But initial oversupply led to falling prices, so some hemp extractors started looking for other products to create to bring in more revenue. Some turned to converting their hemp CBD into delta-8, which like naturally derived delta-9, contains more THC.
Delta-8 is created when hemp CBD is altered with chemicals, heat and pressure. It’s considered less psychoactive than delta-9, because it connects to fewer cannabinoid receptors.
The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board has taken steps to stop the selling of synthetic delta-8 products. Earlier this year, it issued a draft document specifically mentioning commercial products, including a Smokiez Edibles gummy product by Pacific Northwest Consulting labeled as featuring “250 mg delta-8.”
In late April, the LCB followed up with a formal policy statement regarding these types of THC compounds. It clarified that it is considered an unfair or deceptive practice to distribute, dispense, manufacture, display or sell products that include any amount of synthetic cannabinoid, including delta-8 THC or delta-9 THC made from commercially altering CBD.
LCB officials have been concerned about synthetic delta-8 because there are no mandatory testing standards for it, and Washington hasn’t established potency or concentration limits.
Advertising claims for the Smokiez gummies asserts that they contain 25 mg delta-8 THC per serving and each package contains 10 servings, the equivalent of 250 mg delta-8 THC per package. Other products promoted as including delta-8 include Unicorn Brands vape products.
LCB communications director Brian Smith also has concerns about youth access and public safety to delta-8 products that could be sold outside of LCB licensed retail stores and online.
The updated policy statement describes “the process of synthetically deriving delta-8 THC from CBD or hemp may generate additional chemicals that are not naturally occurring in cannabis. The impact of those different chemicals on health are unknown and could be harmful.”
Oliver thinks investing in delta-8 is a dangerous for growers to explore. She has also said that delta-8 hemp products are being sold in other states where cannabis isn’t legal but some CBD products are, including gas stations, and may lack cautionary messages or labeling. These products are promoted as being able to reduce anxiety, protect nerve cells and reduce nausea.
“The delta-8 PR machine makes it sound safe,” Oliver said.
But she’s encouraged that the LCB has taken action.
“It is a positive step forward for Washington’s cannabis consumers who deserve to know if the THC they are being sold is naturally derived from cannabis or chemically synthesized in a lab,” she said. “It’s also great news for Washington’s pioneering WSLCB licensed cannabis farmers who have seen a decline in the sale of naturally derived THC as imported, chemically synthesized THC began flooding the market.
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