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Delta-8 and the Problem with Cannabis Alternatives (2023)

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THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED TO INCLUDE NEW LEGAL UPDATES AS OF 3/29/2023

INFORMATION THAT HAS CHANGED;

Our statement claiming that delta-8 is naturally occurring has been changed, to now read that it can either be synthetically produced or found in trace amounts naturally in the cannabis plant. We have also updated the list of states where the selling of delta-8 has been made illegal and added a list of states where the laws are still unclear on the status of selling/consuming delta-8. In addition, a section has been added which includes a new letter released by the DEA on February 7th, 2023 that states both delta-8 and delta-9 meet the definition of tetrahydrocannabinols and are no longer in the same category as hemp. We have also included an additional section on how Virginia is taking a stance on clearing up the legal confusion surrounding delta-8 and how they are pushing forward on having it made illegal


Delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as Delta-8, can be either synthetically produced or found in trace amounts naturally in the cannabis plant, and has gained popularity in the last few years. It is similar to the major cannabinoid present in Marijuana (delta-9), although it’s supposedly less potent as its concentrations in the marijuana plant are much lower. Due to the milder high it gives users, many have coined the term “diet weed” or “Marijuana-lite” when referring to the substance. But, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to this substance, especially when discussing its potential for misuse. 

Delta-8 use has soared high in the US, with sales increasing by 144% from April 2020-April 2021. However, there are still many dangers that come with purchasing all types of cannabis, and the public should be aware of why delta-8 use is problematic.

Understanding Delta-8 THC

THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the psychoactive compound that is found in the cannabis plant. Delta-8 THC is the chemical variation of delta-9 THC. Even though cannabis plants possess higher levels of delta-9, delta-8 is still present. What lures unbeknownst users in is the fact that this variant is a weaker strain 

Or is it? 

It might be weaker than delta-9, but it will still interact with the same cannabinoid receptors, causing the effects that many people are seeking when consuming marijuana, but without the negative side effects. Yet, many users of the substance will still deal with adverse effects. So much so that the FDA had to intervene with a warning. Unfortunately, a mere warning is not enough to deter consumption. And what makes matters more complicated is the fact that the FDA has not evaluated or approved delta-8 use for safe consumption, and it continues to be marketed in a way that is potentially risky for the public. 

More on Delta-8’s Adverse Effects

Since delta-8 products are unregulated, it is possible that they may be created in uncontrolled and unsanitary environments. In order to augment the concentrations of delta-8 THC for products, makers often use harmful chemicals. Additionally, the quality of the products will depend on who is concocting them. Many of these products are contaminated with acids, solvents, heavy metals, mold, and other harmful additives. Just like any other illicit substance, consumers are never sure of what they are putting into their bodies and how it could affect them. 

The FDA had received 104 adverse event reports from December 2020 to February 2022. About 8% of these patients were pediatric. Many of the reported adverse side effects included the following:

  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness

The National Poison control centers documented 2,362 exposure cases from delta-8 products. Of these cases:

  • 40% included unintentional exposure to delta-8 THC and 82% of these exposures impacted pediatric patients.
  • 70% required evaluation from a healthcare facility, in which 8% involved admission into a critical care unit. 45% of these patients requiring evaluations were pediatric patients.
  • One pediatric case had been coded with a medical outcome of death.
  • 58% of these cases involved adults, 41% involved pediatric patients under the age of 18, and 1% did not disclose their age.

Due to the chemical and byproduct consumption, a majority of public health professionals are concerned about potential outbreaks of disease, similar to what we have seen with the e-cigarette and vaping-use associated lung injuries.

The U.S. Cannabis Council also conducted a private lab test on 16 delta-8 products that were purchased in 6 states. In this test, all but 1 sample contained traces of heavy metals, and an additional 7-10 compounds were analyzed but were of unknown identification, and of unknown toxicological significance. 32% of the tested products matched what was advertised while the rest were 10.7%-102.7% off from the label. Persistent Delta-8 use can be dangerous because of how the compounds are extracted. Many manufacturers might even use dichloromethane, which is known to emit highly toxic fumes when exposed to heat. Every so often, the compound is extracted with things like pool chemicals and battery acid.

In What States is Delta-8 Illegal? Gray Areas with Delta-8 Legality

The reason delta-8 is federally legally in the US is because of a loophole. This is due to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. The bill was responsible for removing hemp with very small amounts of THC from the definition of Marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act. The act lists cannabis as a schedule I controlled substance. Removing hemp from the bill made cannabis products derived from hemp legal to sell and use. Hemp is colloquially described as cannabis products with less than .3% of THC. Due to its lower traces of THC, the compound checks off the boxes and is approved for distribution on the federal level.

However, many states have enacted their own measures in making the extracted compound illegal to sell and use, due to the lack of research on its short and long term effects. The 12 states where Delta-8 is illegal currently are:

  • Alaska
  • Colorado 
  • Delaware
  • Idaho
  • Iowa
  • Minnesota
  • North Dakota
  • Missouri
  • South Carolina
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • New York

 *The map below reflects current legal status of Delta-8 in the United States at the time of publication. It is not intended to be legal permission to purchase Delta-8 products in the visitor’s state nor do we endorse the purchasing of such products. (Updated June 2023)

Recently, the DEA has sent out a letter in response to an inquiry they received on the control status of THC acetate ester (THCO), which includes the substances delta-9 and delta-8. They stated that the current Controlled Substances Act is under review and the DEA will be implementing regulations regarding the control status of these substances. Since, delta-9 and delta-8 do not occur naturally in the cannabis plant and can only be obtained synthetically, they do not fall under the definition of hemp. Both of these substances are tetrahydrocannabinols and are now said to have similar chemical structures and pharmacological properties to that of the cannabis plant, not hemp. This makes them Schedule 1 substances, as part of the 21 U.S.C. Section 812(c) and 21 CFR Section 1308.11(d). While most states are still waiting for official rulings on the legality of delta-8 and delta-9, there seems to be a lot of effort being put forth to rule these substances illegal.

What is the Risk for Developing a SUD with Delta-8?

Substance use disorders are classified as both a physiological and psychological phenomenon. Users who are repeatedly using THC of any kind, can eventually build a tolerance to it. Over time, they will need to consume more and more to achieve the desired high. Your body will begin to crave these euphoric-like feelings that are produced from the substance. 

Chronic usage could also lead to dependence–meaning when no THC is present in the system, the onset of withdrawal symptoms is likely. THC withdrawal symptoms may include–Trouble with sleeping, irritability, decreased focus, anxiety, depressive state, and headaches. The good news here is that withdrawal symptoms of delta-8 use are far less severe than, say, opioids. Still, it’s better to exercise caution, even more so if your propensity for SUD’s are higher.

If you or a loved one are committed to living a life that is substance-free, Encore Outpatient Services is here to help you get on the road to recovery. Contact us today to learn more about the specifics of our treatment programs!

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