Delta-9-THC, the key drug in cannabis plants that keeps people high, may also be a potent medication. It may treat severe nausea and stimulate appetite, which is particularly beneficial for people who have HIV or are undergoing chemotherapy. Since the 1980s, a synthetic form of THC, called Dronabinol, has been used to treat these conditions, although some people prefer their THC to come from the plant itself.
But though marijuana is a relatively mild substance with few side effects—at least compared to alcohol or tobacco—too much of Delta-9-THC has its downsides. It can also cause paranoia and anxiety, or it can cause dizziness and headaches. And it’s worth remembering that most of the cannabis sold legally in the U.S. contains a high concentration of THC.
That’s why many cannabis users are moving to an obscure Delta-9-THC analog named Delta-8-THC. The difference between Delta-8 and Delta-9 is subtle: both will stone you, but the former is about half as strong as the latter. Many people contend that Delta-8 is a smoother, less anxious psychoactive experience than the more familiar Delta-9. It also tends to have additional therapeutic effects than normal THC, such as increased pain relief, although these reports have yet to be considered in clinical trials.
Based on these anecdotal accounts, Delta-8 is increasingly becoming a trendy new cannabis product, appearing in products such as steam cartridges, soft drinks, gums and tinctures. The increase in popularity is mirrored in the CBD (cannabidiol) craze before it and as with CBD, there is still not much quality control for goods or data to back up anecdotal accounts. Many of the same optimistic assumptions are made regarding Delta-8 products—although scientists have yet to research their effects in detail.
Rules and Regulations
Delta-8 has a complicated, hazy legal system. There is no doubt that Delta-9 is extremely illegal: under U.S. federal law, standard THC is a drug of Schedule I, which ensures that the government classifies it as dangerous as heroin and LSD. This rule, passed in 1970, makes cannabinoid studies costly and difficult—part of why we know so little about Delta-8.
But there was no clear law banning the Delta-8 until August, when the U.S. did. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has revised its list of controlled substances. Most of the misunderstanding stems from the origins of Delta-8. It’s probably illegal if it comes from Cannabis sativa. If it comes from hemp—a variant of the same plant, bred with non-intoxicating THC levels—then it is legal under the Farm Bill 2018. Or so many cannabis firms have believed that.
“The entire industry… assumed that it was legal because it was derived from hemp,” says Ryan Cassell, co-founder and chief scientist at Crystal Creek Organics, a cannabis company located in Pensacola, Florida. “Legislation clearly defines all hemp-derived cannabinoids and products with a Delta-9-THC level below 0.3 percent as legal.” However, according to Marijuana Moment, the changing, vague laws of some of the industry worried about the DEA crackdown on hemp farms. Since hemp was legalized, the complicated mess of legislation has forced the USDA to reopen a public comment period to discuss some of these reforms and the effects they have on the industry.
“We’ll see how all that happens in the coming months,” says Cassill. “For the time being, our company has had to step back [from production] and wait for further clarification on the law and legal status of Delta-8.”
In the meantime, it’s not clear what the future holds for the Delta 8. Consumers certainly seem willing to try new unknown cannabinoids, say both Cassell and Peterson, but whether they can legally buy them outside states where recreational cannabis is legal, or whether scientists can easily research them, is still being smoked out.
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