A Loophole, Some Red Tape, and Lots of Unintended Discrepancies Surround Delta-8 THC

delta 8 cbd hemp

By J.J. McCoy, Senior Managing Editor, New Frontier Data

The popularity of Delta-8 THC is driving lawmakers and large cannabis producers to try and clamp down on it amid worries of unintended consequences, including lack of regulatory oversight resulting in heavy metals and unexpected intoxicants winding up in an expanding array of products.

At first, American hemp farmers jumped at the chance to unload surplus biomass, while consumers nationwide enjoyed the sudden availability of Delta-8 THC’s (comparatively mild) psychoactive effects even in states where marijuana remains prohibited. Having hit the market due to a loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill which — predicated on what the definition of “synthetic” means — allows its production and sale, it spread like a commercialized wildfire. Among the ironies around the issue is that while Delta-8 THC is nearly chemically identical to its federally outlawed cousin Delta-9 THC, it has generally escaped scrutiny and is readily available even in some states without legalized cannabis either for medical or adult uses (e.g., Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, South Dakota [pending judicial review], Tennessee, and Wyoming).

Conversely, while Colorado remains proudly pro-cannabis, it has banned Delta-8 THC, and trade groups like the U.S. Hemp Roundtable and the U.S. Hemp Authority are in discussion with the both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) about parsing the differences between CBD and Delta-8.

Technically, Delta-8 THC is not extracted from the hemp plant, but instead produced chemically through isomerization of CBD that can be extracted from hemp. According to the letter of the law, all hemp-derived cannabinoids with a Delta-9 THC concentration under 0.3% are lawful, but “synthetically derived” THC remains prohibited. As a derivative compound of CBD, Delta-8 has escaped widespread scrutiny thanks to ambiguity in how it is classified under federal and state law.

As of this week, 34 states (and the District of Columbia) were reportedly allowing production, sales, possession, or consumption of Delta-8 THC, while 16 had restricted or banned such (with legislative reviews pending in five states).

Since the compound resides in a regulatory gray area, wholesalers can undercut licensed cannabis companies on pricing and taxes. Consequently, the cannabis compound is now readily available whether at gas stations or online, in forms ranging from gummies, flower, joints, oils, tinctures, topicals, and vape pens, with reported U.S. sales more than doubling in the past year. Unfortunately, the unregulated nature of such products and the rush for profits from them have also resulted in findings of higher-than-allowed levels of THC (i.e., Delta-9 THC), residual pesticides, and even dangerous heavy metals like lead and arsenic.

Bloomberg cited a previously unreported industry effort by stakeholders calling for heightened oversight after health advocates and chemists cited potentially dangerous contaminants and unknown potency among commercially available products. Two tests of Delta-8 samples — sponsored, respectively, by the U.S. Cannabis Council trade group and Bloomberg News — each found both high levels of intoxicants and some metals among their selected products for testing.

One of the legal industry’s largest underwriters for cannabis, CBD, and hemp was quoted as describing “the very blurred lines of the legality of Delta-8 THC” as just too uncertain to deal with, leading to a CannGen Insurance Service’s “100% refusal rate of any company that touches or sells Delta-8 THC.”

What seems predictable is that states will increasingly continue to restrict or ban Delta-8 THC until the science and consensus become more certain about the supply.

For now, the status of Delta-8 THC’s availability in the United States (subject to change):

AVAILABLE: Alabama, California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia.

BANNED: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

PENDING REVIEW: Alabama (tabled until 2022), Illinois, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Oregon.