Marijuana has become more commonplace in our society and more socially acceptable. With the rise of its use medicinally and recreationally, a slew of unregulated products have invaded the market.

Delta-8 THC is one of them. Adult and youth users and their parents need to be informed of its dangers. The popularity of products containing delta-8 is increasing. In a recent study, 11% of high school seniors reported delta-8 use last year. In many states you can legally buy products such as gummies, vapes and capsules containing delta-8 on-line and in convenience stores.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 removed hemp and its byproducts from the list of controlled substances. Delta-8 is not mentioned in the bill. This loophole has led to legally marketing delta-8 products with no age restrictions in some states. Without oversight, lab testing or research, there are serious safety concerns. There is no federal minimum age requirements to buy delta-8 products.

The Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources’ Hemp Program has jurisdiction over the hemp and hemp-derived products. The removal of hemp from the list of controlled substances does not remove the control status of natural or synthetic THC. Thus, the MDAR has prohibited the sale or manufacturing of delta-8 products in Massachusetts. The FDA has provided information stating that delta-8 is not an approved ingredient in any product that falls under their jurisdiction.

Poison control centers handled 2,362 delta-8 cases in a 14-month period. Delta-8 is chemically known as delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol. It is a psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. It is a compound of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol that is commonly known as THC. Delta-9 is found in hemp. Delta-8 is also found in hemp but only in trace amounts. The delta-8 you can buy is made in a lab. It is synthetic and not controlled or regulated by the FDA, and therefore not tested for safety or quality. It is thought to contain other harmful chemicals and metals. You cannot be sure of the dose you are getting, either.

Hemp and marijuana are not different species of plants. They are two different names for cannabis. Cannabis is a flowering plant. Science does not differentiate between the two, but the law does. The difference is the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content. THC is one of many cannabinoids or chemicals found in the plant. Delta-9 is primarily responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use. Hemp legally is defined as cannabis that contains 0.3% or less THC content by dry weight. It has been reported to cause less of a high than delta-9, but people report euphoria, feeling relaxed, hungry and pain-free with use. There is no research that confirms its efficacy to alleviate stress, depression or chronic pain.

Side effects of delta-8 include confusion, anxiety, drowsiness, dizziness, slow heart rate, fast heart rate, numbness, low blood pressure, hallucinations, psychosis, vomiting, shaking, tremors, loss of consciousness and more. In 2022, the FDA issued a warning of the serious health risks associated with delta-8 and risks of exposure to toxic byproducts.

The harmful effects of delta-8 use compound the negative health impacts found to occur to the brains of teens who use cannabis. This includes learning, memory and attention deficits, changes in brain development, cannabis use disorder, psychiatric disorders and suicide.

There are no medications to treat cannabis use disorder. We need to provide adequate treatment for cannabis use disorder and mental health care. Studies suggest there needs to be continued surveillance and more research of its use and health impacts. Public health efforts need to help youth and parents stay informed and safe.

Over my many years in public health, it has been frustrating to observe the repeat performance of harmful products or public health issues facing local health departments when they clearly require far more research and intervention at the state and national level. Government agencies, state and local municipalities are challenged to regulate these substances. It is frustrating how products that have not been tested for safety, but studies have shown they alter brain development of our youth, can be purchased as easily as buying a snack at a convenience store.

Delta-8 THC is known to cause serious short-term and long-term health problems. Despite best efforts, people and the black market will continue to find ways to circumvent regulations. Collectively, we need to protect our youth from these dangers with a call to action and education.

Take care of yourself and someone else.

Juanita Carnes is a Westfield resident and a nurse practitioner with 38 years of experience in a hospital emergency department and urgent care facilities. She served 30 years on the Westfield Board of Health.

 With the rise of marijuana use medicinally and recreationally, a slew of unregulated products have invaded the market.  Read More