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What Does the CDC Say about Delta-8 THC?

A woman analyses THC isomers in a lab.

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Delta-8 THC is a psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants. As one of more than one hundred different cannabinoids, Delta-8 can be found in both hemp and marijuana plants; but because only a miniscule amount is naturally present, this has led to an array of ways to artificially create this substance. 

The THC found in Delta-8 products is usually created through a process known as isomerization. This process takes CBD, the most common and abundant cannabinoid in hemp plants, and converts it into Delta-8 THC with the use of chemicals and solvents. While the final result is chemically structured like the naturally occurring cannabinoid, this process can leave behind potentially harmful chemicals. 

As products containing this unregulated cannabinoid grow in popularity, there has also been a growing concern over the safety and long-term effects of their use. But what does the CDC say about D8 THC, and is it a safe alternative to marijuana and other Delta-9 substances? We dug into how this chemical is made and what officials are saying, to give you the latest update on these psychoactive products. 

D8 Products Aren’t Evaluated or Approved by the FDA

Delta-8 products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safety or serving size, and this lack of regulation is cause for concern. Without a regulating body that sets standards for the quality, testing, and labeling of products, advertising for D8 products may be partial and misleading. 

One of the main concerns is about the variability in their recipes and formulas. This can refer to the other cannabinoids and terpenes that may be present in the product, as well as the concentration of Delta-8 THC. 

Since D8 is synthetically made, D8 products already tend to have a much higher concentration than naturally sourced Delta-9 THC products. An inaccurate or variable concentration makes it difficult to follow proper serving sizes, and including other cannabinoids without making consumers aware of them can result in unexpected, if mild, effects. 

Another concern is that Delta-8 THC products may be advertised and sold for medicinal uses. Although it’s possible that someone can experience benefits, the effectiveness has not been proven nor approved, and falsely leading people to believe such claims may cause issues. 

Adverse Events Involving the Use of Delta-8 THC Products Have Been Reported to the FDA 

Between the beginning of December 2020 and the end of February 2022, a total of 104 reports regarding adverse effects were filed following the consumption of Delta-8 THC products. Common adverse effects include stress, confusion, dizziness, hallucinations, loss of consciousness, tremor, and vomiting. 

At least 77% of these cases involved adults, while at least 8% involved pediatric patients; 66% of all reports also claimed that these adverse events happened after ingesting D8 food products such as brownies or gummies. 

And of all cases reported, over half required some form of intervention, such as a medical evaluation or even hospital admission. 

Delta-8 May Have Undocumented and Potentially Harmful Side Effects

While some people undoubtedly experience adverse effects from using Delta-8 THC products, these effects aren’t limited to only what has been reported. Although the final chemical compound follows that of the naturally occurring cannabinoid, various chemicals that may be harmful to our health are used in the isomerization process. 

The natural amount of D8 found in hemp plants is much lower than the concentrations found in D8 products. Furthermore, Delta-8 is estimated to be only around 50-75% as psychoactive as Delta-9 THC. For these reasons, chemicals are needed to artificially create this higher concentration. 

Chemicals such as toluene, heptane, or p-toluenesulfonic acid are commonly used in the isomerization process. None of these are currently well-characterized, and any of them can leave behind harmful byproducts. 

Some manufacturers may use household chemicals to create their products, or to change the color of the final product, and the byproducts of these chemicals can be harmful when consumed or inhaled. Secondly, some products may be created in uncontrolled or unsanitary settings, which can lead to cross-contamination and uncertainty about what’s actually in the final product. 

Testing methods for these synthetically derived products are still being developed. Unlike anything approved by the FDA, they’re not always tested for contaminants like heavy metals, pesticides, or solvents that remain in the final product. Because the process of creating D8 is relatively new, we also don’t have any existing data to draw from, and it will be decades before we can begin to understand the long-term side effects. 

Consumers Should Be Aware of Limited or False Labeling

A major concern put out by the CDC deals with the proper labeling of products. Aside from a lack of information that results from variability in concentration, some products may simply be labeled as a “hemp product.” While this may technically be true, it can be misleading as many consumers associate “hemp” with not being psychoactive.

This becomes of even greater concern because Delta-8 products are becoming increasingly present in both hemp and marijuana marketplaces. Although what is deemed legal may vary by state, territory, or tribal laws, most states currently allow the sale of hemp and hemp-derived CBD products. Delta-8 product sales aren’t restricted to marijuana dispensaries, and can be found at a wide range of businesses that include convenience stores, gas stations, and online retailers. 

Delta-8 products are sometimes marketed as “diet weed” or “weed light,” despite the concentrations of D8 being far greater than what would be found in Delta-9 products. Furthermore, their wide availability makes it easy for consumers to mistake them for non-intoxicating CBD products. 

Edibles and Other Products that Contain THC Should Be Stored Away from Children

Many cannabis products come in the form of edibles such as candies, cookies, chocolates, and gummies. They often flaunt fun and enticing packaging, and may thus have an appeal to children and minors. Not knowing the effects of using these products puts growing bodies at an even greater risk. 

Of the 2,362 Delta-8 exposure cases reported to national poison control centers between January 1, 2021 and February 28, 2022, 41% of those involved patients under the age of 18, and one pediatric case even resulted in a medical outcome of death. Paired with how easy they are to obtain, it becomes especially important to store any products that contain CBD or THC in a safe place away from children and pets.

Consumers Should Report Any Adverse Effects of Products Containing THC 

Cannabis-derived products can affect individuals differently based on factors such as age, weight, and gender. The severity of adverse events can also depend on the type of cannabinoid, the type of product ingested, and the concentration found in the cannabinoid. 

Although the adverse effects may vary, those reported have been similar to what can result from Delta-9 intoxication. These adverse effects may include lethargy, decreased coordination and motor skills, slurred speech, an irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, and difficulty breathing. 

The CBD recommends that consumers should report any adverse effects brought on by THC-containing products that are of immediate danger to their health or safety. This can be done either by calling their local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222, calling 911, or visiting an emergency room for immediate medical attention. 

Of the 2,362 D8 exposure cases reported between the beginning of January 2021 and the end of February 2022, 40% involved unintentional exposure to Delta-8 THC, while 70% required a medical evaluation and 8% were admitted to a critical care unit. 

For the best possible treatment, it is recommended that consumers reporting adverse effects should also report the list of ingredients found in the product(s) that were ingested. To help future cases and studies, the CDC also encourages consumers to further report these effects to MedWatch.

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