California’s Cannabis Loophole: “Delta-8”

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It there wasn’t enough tension and anxiety in the world today – from the pandemic, alone – now the state of California is dealing with a new federal weed loophole that allows people to purchase products designed to get them high.

Small hemp farms – even after surviving the bottoming out of prices in the CBD market, as well as the pandemic and all the pain that came with it – are now fighting a battle with a product called Delta-8 THC.

In fact, in the span of only a few months’ time, companies went from selling approximately fifteen pounds of CBD-rich hemp flower monthly to zero pounds. This only occurred because wholesale customers turned to stocking Delta-8 THC, which is a close “relative” to Delta-9 THC that is the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana.

Delta-8’s rise in popularity is being seen as overnight. As meteoric as the early days of CBD sales, Delta-8 products are now on the shelves of gas stations, vape shops, and a variety of e-commerce outlets. But the difference is: Delta-8 is being marketed as the “legal” way for people to get high.

When talking to entrepreneurs, like Jeff Gray and Josh Wurzer who run a cannabis testing facility in California (SC Labs), they worry that the Delta-8 trend is another “vaping” problem on the horizon. For those who are unaware, beginning in 2019, nearly 3,000 people were hospitalized and 68 died due to lung illnesses largely connected to illegal marijuana vaping products.

Josh Wurzer was quoted as saying: “States are behind the eight ball on this one. It’s taking the CBD and synthesizing a new compound using other chemicals that can introduce contamination and byproducts that are harmful.” Just like vaping.

So…what exactly is Delta-8? Although its “stoned” effects are basically the same as Delta-9 THC, slight atomic differences cause harm. The majority of Delta-8 products aren’t extracted from cannabis; producers actually convert plant-derived CBD into Delta-8 THC using a chemical process called “isomerization.” This combines CBD with a solvent, acid, and heat to cause the reaction that turns CBD into THC. So, whereas cannabis is cleaner than the water you drink, it’s also heavily tested. This is especially true in the highly regulated marijuana market that exists in California. Delta-8 is a highly unregulated industry, meaning there are no set requirements.

When Congress passed the 2018 farm bill legalizing hemp, everyone involved was eager to distinguish the crop from marijuana. Hemp and marijuana are the same species of plant, cannabis sativa L., but hemp can’t contain more than 0.3% THC. The distinction is legal, not scientific. Although it’s not clear whether Delta-8 products are illegal under this bill, what is clear is that it violates the reason why the bill was passed in the first place – to protect consumers from dangerous contaminates.

Crossing all fingers that this will not actually turn into another vaping catastrophe, California companies are trying desperately to increase consumer awareness regarding Delta-8 products, and teach them the differences between those and the highly tested Delta-9 products used in the legalized marijuana industry.

After all, consumer trust needs to be kept at all times if the cannabis industry can continue to flourish.

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