What is Delta-8?
What does it do?
What’s the legal status?
Delta-8 is the newest product to come out of the CBD industry. This product, though, can get people high. Derived from hemp, Delta-8 is legal in most states and increasing in popularity. It’s a drug, to be sure. It’s a lot like marijuana because its chemically only slightly different. The difference does change the impact on the user’s experience, but its still giving the person the similar type of high that marijuana gives. Learn more in this episode on the Delta-8.
You’re listening to the All Things Substance podcast, the place for therapists to hear about substance abuse from a mental health perspective. I’m your host, Betsy Byler and I’m a licensed therapist, clinical supervisor, and a substance abuse counselor. It is my mission to help my fellow therapists gain the skills and competence needed to add substance use to their scope of practice. So join me each week as we talk about All Things Substance.
Welcome back to the All Things Substance Podcast. This is episode 61. It’s hard to believe that it’s already mid November. The fall is fully in swing here, and the leaves are pretty much all on the ground. There’s a forecast for snow in the air. That’s what it’s like living in the Northwest part of Wisconsin and we’re all sort of just used to it.
As I’ve been working on content planning for the next year or so, we’re coming to the end of the series about drugs of abuse. There’ll be a few more episodes about different substances and then around the turn of the year, we’re going to be starting on assessment and then into treatment and recovery.
I’m going to be talking to you about why we need to do an assessment, the different parts of an assessment, what you’re looking for and a host of other things. I have a lot of great things planned for the new year, and I’m hoping that you’ll all continue joining me in the new year. I am so appreciative of all of my listeners. And I’m also thankful when you share the podcast with friends and colleagues. It’s really neat to see it spreading. Today we’re going to be talking about a substance called Delta-8.
Delta-8 is something that you may have seen pop up in the news. For some people though, it may just not be on your radar yet. If it’s not, it will be fairly soon. It’s the newest derivative from the cannabis plant that’s being pushed all over the United States. The cannabis industry had incredible overproduction of CBD and needed to find something else to do with it. Well, enter Delta-8.
Delta-8 is a cannabinoid that is extracted from the cannabis plant. Most of the time it comes from hemp specifically, rather than from marijuana. It also tends to occur in very small amounts. Before we get into the major details about Delta-8 let’s talk about the endocannabinoid system because derivatives of the cannabis plant impact the endocannabinoid system.
All of us have that and need that system and it’s active, regardless of whether you use marijuana or CBD or Delta-8. The endocannabinoid system, or ECS involves three main components: endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes.
The endocannabinoids, which are also called endogenous cannabinoids, are molecules that are made by our bodies. They’re similar to cannabinoids that we find in the plant, but they’re produced by the body. They’re produced as needed so it’s difficult to know what levels we have for the two key endocannabinoids that have been identified.
In order to work the endocannabinoids bind to two main receptors in the body called CB-1, which is mostly central nervous system and CB-2 which is mostly found in our peripheral nervous system, especially in immune cells. When the endocannabinoid binds to it, which receptor it binds to changes what action it is going to take.
For example, an endocannabinoid might target the CB-1 receptor in the spinal nerve to relieve pain, others might bind to the CB-2 in your immune system to signal a response to inflammation. The enzymes that are the third part of the system are responsible for breaking down endocannabinoids once they’ve carried out their action.
So the endocannabinoid system is complicated and honestly, science hasn’t quite figured out exactly how it works or all of its potential functions. Research has linked this system to appetite and digestion, metabolism, chronic pain, inflammation, mood, learning and memory, motor control, sleep, cardiovascular system function, muscle formation, bone remodeling and growth, liver function, reproductive system function, stress and skin and nerve function.
This is all in relation to the natural endocannabinoids that are created in the body. So the system is really important and the receptors are used all the time to signal a number of different responses in the body.
The typical point of the system is to help maintain homeostasis in the body, in the different functions. There are a number of CB-1 receptors in the brain and they frankly outnumber many of the other receptor types in the brain. Harvard health blog refers to them traffic cops to control the levels and activity of most of the other neuro-transmitters. This is how they regulate things with immediate feedback turning up or down an activity in whatever system needs to be adjusted.
The endocannabinoid system is really important in our discussion today, as we’re talking about Delta-8, which uses the endocannabinoid system and receptors to have its effect. One of the things I want to point out is that we know that the endocannabinoid system has a lot to do with learning and memory. Marijuana, which is a cannabinoid, interrupts short-term memory. This is how it works is that it uses those receptors and that’s why short-term memory is impacted when people use marijuana.
Instead of the normal amount of endocannabinoid in the system, though marijuana and other cannabinoids can hijack the system, flooding it with the substance, causing the levels to rise and overtaking for a time, the system and its functions. If you want to know more about the endocannabinoid system, there are links in the show notes to a few scholarly articles to help explain it.
In order to talk about Delta-8, we need to talk about the fact that marijuana could be called Delta-9. THC is the main component in marijuana. That’s the part that gets you high. THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol and it’s tetrahydrocannabinol nine. Well, Delta-8 is tetrahydrocannabinol eight.
Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC are naturally found in cannabis and chemically speaking the two compounds are very similar. All that separates them is the location of a double bond. The double bond is found on the eighth carbon inDelta-8 and on the ninth carbon in Delta-9.
Because of the location of that double bond being slightly different, Delta-8 binds to the same receptors, but in a slightly different way. Because of this it makes Delta-8 less potent than Delta-9. Partial synthesis of Delta-8 was published in 1941 by scientists at the University of Illinois. In 1942, they studied its physiological and psycho effective effects after oral dosing in human volunteers.
Delta-8 currently exists in a legal gray area. Delta-8 is found in trace amounts in cannabis and hemp plants. And as hemp is legal to grow anywhere in the U S and more readily available, the cannabinoid is often sourced from that. CBD is extracted from hemp and refined into an isolate and then the CBD isolate is synthesized into Delta-8. Because of that, Delta-8 requires more processing and is more expensive to make than CBD, but this production cost is balanced by the high demand. Total synthesis of Delta-8 was achieved in 1965.
The thing you need to know aboutDelta-8 and why it’s popping up is that it’s legal in most places. A number of states have moved to ban it, but it’s largely legal and you can buy it in gas stations, convenience stores, or online.
Being touted as a milder form of marijuana or marijuana light, this is something that’s attractive to people who want to be able to use marijuana, but are in a place where it’s legally available. The Delta-8 craze came when there was an oversupply of CBD extracted from US grown hemp. Hemp is a by-product of the cannabis plant.
Because of oversupply, CBD prices began to plummet. Producers were looking for a way to turn it into something more profitable. Using simple chemistry from the 1960s, the industry got creative and started experimenting with ways to convert CBD into Delta-8 THC. If this sounds like a loophole, it is.
The process of creating Delta-8 isn’t uncomplicated. There’s some serious chemistry involved here. One of the reasons why this is legal is because of a piece of legislation in 2018 called the Farm Bill. The 2018 Farm Bill was a federal act passed by Congress that legalized hemp in the United States.
The act defines hemp as “all derivatives extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers where they’re growing or not with a Delta-9 THC concentration of not more than 0.3%. The language here makes Delta-8 legal because it doesn’t contain any Delta-9 THC.
In August of 2020, the DEA released an Interim Final Rule, which is a document meant to update and confirm the differences between hemp and cannabis. That interim rule says, “all synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinol remain Schedule One controlled substances”. This would make Delta-8 illegal because it is a tetrahydrocannabinol that has been extracted or synthetically derived.
The DEA Interim Final Rule was open for review until October 2021. As of the time of recording I wasn’t able to find where they’ve ruled on this. Supposedly that letter was open until October 2021and it’s November, but I don’t see anything updating it. I did see one article coming on Yahoo News that said that it’s still legal because of the fact that the THC nine would be under 0.3%, which is the limit for THC content in U.S. grown hemp.
There are two main requirements for a Delta-8 product to be legal under the definition of hemp: it must be derived from hemp. Again, naturally, or synthetically produced from cannabis materials. Synthetically produced from non-cannabis materials is illegal.
The second thing that makes it legal is that it has to contain no more than 0.3% of Delta-9 THC. There really isn’t concern over Delta-8 being made from anything other than hemp because converting CBD that’s cannabidiol into Delta-8 is known to be the easiest and most cost-effective way to create the compound.
So the question that people want to know when it comes toDelta-8, is will it get you high? And the answer is yes. Whereas CBD that has no THC in it will not get you high. THC whether Delta-8 or Delta-9 will get you high. THC is the part of the compound that gives the high feeling.
Delta-8 though is just not as powerful as Delta-9. Delta-8 consumers report many of the same effects as THC, like mild euphoria, happiness, uplifting feelings, and relief from some symptoms like pain. Much like Delta-9, the side effects are similar, like dry mouth, red eyes, getting the munchies, short-term memory issues, paranoia or anxiety.
So what they’re doing here is they’re taking the over supply of CBD and they’re breaking it down to create Delta-8. When they break down the Delta-8, it is by a chemical process that changes what they extract does. This is why Delta-8 gets you high and CBD doesn’t. The fact that Delta-8 is less potent than Delta-9 doesn’t mean that it can’t hit you hard. If someone isn’t used to marijuana, then taking Delta-8 could react really strongly.
What it seems to be is based on dosage. Delta-8 is used just like marijuana. The smoked version of course, is going to be oil form use in a vaping cartridge. This is not going to be a plant form like marijuana. Because they’re deriving Delta-8 out of CBD, which was extracted already from the plant.
Delta-8 can be smoked or eaten in gummy. So we’re talking about like gummy bears or other kinds of edibles. . Those gummies come in about 10 milligrams and people might take half a gummy or a full gummy for their dose, either five or 10 milligrams. When it comes to Delta-8, these gummies tend to come in 25 milligrams. So half of one would be 12 and a half milligrams.
So a 25 milligram Delta-8 gummy might equate to the effects of a 10 milligram THC gummy. We don’t know though, because there really is not a lot of research at all. Even pro Delta-8 websites will say that we are guessing at these things and we truly don’t know what a dosage should be and how it affects the body with any real clarity.
How quickly it takes effect depends on how you use it. Smoking of course is going to give you the effect in a much quicker window, like 20 to 25 minutes. Whereas eating a gummy, they tell you it’s about an hour and a half to two hours, and that you should wait that long before deciding to take more.
So we know that Delta-8 gets people high. We know that it’s legal in most states and it seems like Delta-8 may stay that way. Definitely the feds are coming for Delta-8. They’re trying to find a way to make it illegal. My guess is that has something to do with wanting to stop the sale of something that we don’t totally understand.
A tiny step into the semantics here is that hemp and marijuana are both cannabis plants. The difference between them is the level of THC in them. Legally hemp is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3% or less of THC like we talked about before. 0.3% is an arbitrary number, but it needed to be defined for legality purposes.
So Delta-8 is probably around to stay for a while. The hemp industry has already filed suit against the federal government to stop them from trying to further regulate the industry.
So the question then remains, is it safe? And by safety we’re talking about basically, is it going to hurt you or can it kill you? In response to the question of, is it safe? It currently looks like potentially it could be safe and potentially it could not be safe. And the reason all relies on how it’s made. Because how it’s made is what determines what comes out of it.
Currently there’s no regulatory oversight and limited lab testing for most products sold as Delta-8. The majority of products being sold as Delta-8 are not actually pure Delta-8 THC. A number of labs have taken to testing Delta-8 products and are finding that they typically contain a high percentage of Delta-8, but small amounts of other cannabinoids, including Delta-9 and reaction byproducts. Some of the cannabinoids are not naturally found in cannabis.
Scientists at ProVerde Lab have been testing these products using chromatographic methods and with ultraviolet or mass spectrometry detection. They’ve looked at thousands of products labelled Delta-8 THC.
The President and Chief Scientific Officer of ProVerde Laboratory is quoted as saying “So far, I have not seen one product that I would consider a legitimate Delta-8 THC product. There’s some Delta-8 in there. He continues, but there’s very frequently up to 30 chromatographic peaks that I can’t identify.” There’s a lot more information on how people are doing it involving organic solvents, like Tulane or heptane. Along with another acid that serves as a catalyst. Here’s where we’re getting a lot of byproducts and it’s “soup”, they call it, of things that we’re not sure what they are. This is what has scientists most concerned.
Mislabeling is rampant throughout the industry and some companies have altered or faked out-right their products “ lab results” a recent investigation found. CBD Oracle is a website that reviews hemp derived products, including CBD as well as Delta-8 THC products. They sent 51 different Delta-8 products to a lab in Santa Ana, California to see if potency levels and other metrics on product labels were accurate. According to the CBD Oracle’s results Delta-8 product manufacturers routinely mislabeled their gummies, vaporizer cartridges, and other products.
Of the products tested 77% had less Delta-8 THC than advertised. One of them particularly contained only a third of the advertised Delta-8. 76% contained more than the .3% Delta-9 THC, which is allowed, which puts that in the illegal category.
So the issue here is that if there’s more Delta-9 THC in there, you could easily fail a drug test. So somebody taking Delta-8 who thinks that it’s going to be just Delta-8 and not Delta-9, believes that they’re acting within the law. And in fact, they’re not.
This isn’t the case with all Delta-8 THC products, because we have absolutely no way of knowing. A lot of these lab’s “results” and they’re not actually getting those results because the industry isn’t regulated yet. This is part of why the feds are acting.
So here’s what’s happening when Delta-8 is “unsafe”. The issues are coming from overdosing, meaning that someone took far too much of Delta-8 and they’re reporting to emergency rooms or having adverse effects.
Part of the safety issue comes from the fact that these are vaping cartridges and that the medical community is still reeling from the influx in 2019 of people coming into the emergency room because of high levels of vitamin E acetate, which led to thousands of hospitalizations and more than 60 deaths.
Poison control centers across the US received an influx of calls from January 2021 forward. There were a number of exposure cases and about 41% of those involved unintentional exposure to Delta-8. Of that 41%, three quarters of those people were pediatric patients, less than 18 years of age. 18% of those calls required hospitalizations, including some children who required intensive care unit admission, following exposure to these products.
From an article in emergency medicine news there’s an article about toxicology in the emergency department. In that they talk about the risk being from the vaping cartridges and by people taking far too much. They’re encouraging their emergency personnel to ask specifically about Delta-8.
The reason that they’re suggesting that they ask someone specifically, is that people aren’t necessarily going to associate this with cannabis or marijuana. So if you ask them, if they’ve been using marijuana or cannabis products, they may say no.
There is one reference I could find to a possible medical use for Delta-8. An Israeli study pretreated eight children with hematologic malignancies, or cancer, with Delta-8 THC prior to administering chemotherapy that was expected to produce significant vomiting.
None of the children vomited and the authors reported no significant side effects from 480 treatments in those eight children. Unfortunately though there was no control group for comparison, and there wasn’t a follow up study.
The issue here with Delta-8, is that when you look at it online, the information ranges from alarmist, which honestly, the FDA and the DEA are some of the worst culprits. I understand their perspective and so would expect them to come out in a strongly worded caution. However, I feel like even the large font and bolded letters that they use are a little over the top. And then there’s articles like in men’s journal from this year, the 25 best Delta-8 THC gummies on the market.
So what does one do with that kind of information? It’s confusing and hard to know what to trust. Is the government just over responding and over-hyping the dangers associated with Delta-8 or are there actual dangers that we should be aware of? I’m not a scientist or a medical person. From the research I’ve done my conclusion is this: Delta-8 gets you high. It can cause side effects like anxiety, paranoia, and those sorts of things. I don’t want someone coming to therapy high on Delta-8. I would prefer they not drive either because it does act in a similar way, which is going to slow reaction time.
Sketchy Delta-8 products abound everywhere and are likely cheap compared to other ones that may be produced more responsibly. Although I couldn’t actually find a name of a company that was tested and said to come out on top. That is concerning. It seems like the majority meaning, like almost all of the products, aren’t actually what they say. ProVerde Labs tested thousands of products and couldn’t find a single one that had what it said it had and that was pure Delta-8 THC.
I don’t know that our clients are going to care about that. It’s something that we need to keep in mind because there could be adverse side effects from byproducts or whatever else is in there. It seems like vaping increases the risks because of a number of issues and that gummies might be safer.
This is just something that I think we need to be aware of and keep on our radar. For those of you who see children or teenagers, this may come up and parents may ask you. Or for those of us who are seeing teenagers and adults who might be using it, it may come up as well.
When we’re doing our assessment and asking them, we may want to ask specifically about Delta-8. If you get a blank look, probably they haven’t used it. However, I have a number of clients in the last few months who have talked about. For us, we’ve just had a conversation about what they think it is, how they’re using it, how it makes them feel and of course my standard don’t use it within four hours of coming to see me. That’s about how this has affected my practice anyway, I’m curious about your practices. Have any of you heard of this before? Are your clients using it?
Send me an email with your stories about Delta-8. It’d be really interesting for me to hear what’s happening in other parts of the country or in other parts of the world. Is this happening in Australia, in the UK. What’s Delta-8, like where you are?
I hope the information on Delta-8 was interesting and useful. Next week on the podcast, we’re going to talk about vaping. I alluded to it here and we’ve talked about it a little bit when we talked about marijuana, a number of episodes ago. Vaping is something that started as e-cigarettes and turned into this whole huge thing.
To be honest, it’s not something I’ve known a ton about. Lots of my clients vape and especially my teenage clients. I thought it would be good for us to talk about so that those of you who are like me and didn’t know a whole lot can know some more information. I hope you’ll join me for that podcast and until then have a great week. I hope you’ll join me for that podcast. And until then have a great week.
Thank you for listening to the All Things Substance podcast. For show notes, links and downloads, please visit betsybyler.com/podcast. If you loved what you heard today, it’d be great if you would share those with your therapist friends and colleagues. If there are topics that you think would be useful and you’d like to hear me cover them, please let me know. Just send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll see you on next week’s podcast. And until then have a great week.
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