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2023 Study: Delta-8 THC—A Scoping Review

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Delta-8 THC

A 2023 study entitled "Delta-8 Tetrahydrocannabinol: A Scoping Review and Commentary" that was published in the journal Addiction reviewed "research from peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed (e.g. anecdotal and news) reports related to delta-8 THC to summarize current knowledge and implications for public health and safety."

A vape pen of delta-8 THC.
Do consumers understand delta-8?

Delta-8 THC Study Design

Delta-8 THC Study. The design of this study was that of a scoping review (sometimes called a literature review) that searched PubMed, Scopus, Google Scholar, and Google as search engines. It found 103 prior studies or reports that qualified for its inclusion criteria.

The scientists carefully identified themes within the prior scientific investigations. These included the following:

  • Legality

  • Use (popularity, motives, psychoactivity/potency, benefits/consequences)

  • Synthesis (byproducts, laboratory testing)

  • Retail (availability, price, packaging, youth-oriented marketing)

The study reported that the sale and use of delta-8 THC has increased in the U.S. since 2018 (when the Farm Bill was passed that legalized many aspects of hemp production). "Delta-8 THC is a psychoactive substance from Cannabis plants," reported the scientists. They noted that the naturally occurring levels of delta-8 THC are very low and that most of what is sold on legal and underground markets is derived from hemp-sourced cannabidiol (CBD).

"Naturally occurring levels of delta-8 THC are very low; most of what is sold is derived from hemp-sourced cannabidiol (CBD)."

Although many consumers and the companies that serve them perceive delta-8 THC to be legal in the United States, the controversial alt cannabinoid has been added to the list of controlled substances by the DEA. "Due to litigation, existing cannabis laws, and creation of new laws, there is much confusion regarding [the] legality [of delta-8 THC] in various states," reported the study.

A packaged vape cart full of hemp-derived delta-8.
Delta-8 laws are confusing.

Delta-8 THC Study Results

Delta-8 THC Study. The study emphasized the ambiguity of the legal status of delta-8 and attributed this to "numerous seemingly contradictory laws." It reported that no current federal laws exist that explicitly address delta-8's legality. In addition, there is no governing body to regulate the cannabinoid.

"Because the 2018 Farm Bill does not explicitly mention delta-8 THC, it is widely assumed by retailers, consumers, and legal experts to be legal due to this 'loophole' defining it as hemp rather than cannabis, despite it being a cannabinoid [and identified by the DEA as a controlled substance]," wrote the researchers.

DEA Makes Delta-8 a Controlled Substance

They noted that, in August 2020, the DEA specified that all synthetically derived THCs are Schedule I substances. "However, there was no formal definition of what should be considered 'synthetic,' leaving some ambiguity," wrote the researchers. Despite the DEA categorization of delta-8 as a controlled substance, the study's authors reported that "it is unclear whether this ruling is legally binding and if the DEA will take any related actions."

"Some states have banned delta-8, while others have allows but regulated its sale in a manner similar to delta-9 THC."

The report noted that individual states can (and often do) craft laws that deal with delta-8. It reported that some states have banned delta-8, while others have allowed but regulated its sale in a manner similar to delta-9 THC. The wide availability of delta-8 products throughout the United States, however, is the result of the fact that most states feature no governing body to enforce compliance (when oversight even exists).

"These changing and often contradictory laws at the federal, state, and local level have led to misinformation and misunderstanding among retailers and consumers," concluded the study's authors.

A couple of cannabis plants.
Delta-8 is popular and less potent.

Delta-8 THC is Popular, Less Potent

The study reported that prior research has revealed that, of a group who had used cannabis in the past month, 17 percent had tried delta-8. Between 2019 and 2020, Google searches for delta-8 THC increased 467 percent. From January to August 2021, they increased by a whopping 850 percent (during which there were 22.3 million delta-8 searches). Interestingly, states with no adult-use delta-9 THC laws in place logged the most searches.

"Delta-8 is less potent than delta-9."

The study reported that delta-8 is less potent than delta-9. Some doctors who recommend cannabinoids to their patients choose delta-8 over delta-9 for patients who easily suffer anxiety or panic attacks from even low or moderate doses of delta-9, calling it "weed lite" or "diet weed."

The scientists reported that, while scant research is available, delta-8 may provide a list of benefits for particular patients, including decreasing the negative side effects of chemotherapy, pain-killing powers, decreases in seizure activity, lower eye pressure (good for glaucoma), decreased cancer cell proliferation, lower depression, and even decreased nicotine consumption.

A diagram showing the synthesis of delta-8 THC.
Delta-8 THC synthesis.

Delta-8 THC Study Conclusions

Delta-8 THC Study. The study's authors made the following conclusions based on their data and analysis:

"This scoping review summarizes the literature relating to delta-8 THC. Most research on delta-8 THC is largely anecdotal, not peer-reviewed, and does not involve human subjects. Although delta-8 THC is federally legal, the DEA's recent ruling seems to be contradictory to the Farm Bill, leading to legal ambiguity of delta-8 THC legality.

"Regardless, delta-8 THC products are widely available online and, in most states, in retail stores for inexpensive prices. However, the synthesis, marketing, and sale (e.g. minimum purchase age) of delta-8 THC products are not federally regulated and minimal state regulations exist.

"Delta-8 THC products are widely available online and, in most states, in retail stores for inexpensive prices."

"Use of delta-8 THC and related negative consequences appear to be increasing, particularly among adolescents and young adults. Future human subjects research is needed to more clearly understand potential benefits and consequences of delta-8 THC use. There is no systematic surveillance of delta-8 THC use, so prevalence of use is largely unknown. Moreover, prevalence of use may change rapidly as new brands and products emerge and as related state and federal laws change.

"Laws need to be enhanced to reduce access and use by children. Previous research indicates that laws regulating the synthesis, retail and use of delta-9 THC help to reduce access to those aged under 21, as products are sold only in licensed and regulated dispensaries that use consistent age verification procedures.

A man exhales a large cloud of vapor.
Delta-8 laws are evolving quickly.

"The CDC and FDA recommend implementing age restrictions, requiring child-safe packaging, reducing youth-oriented marketing, consistent contaminant and safety testing, product labeling requirements, reporting the total THC content on cannabis products and mentioning the potential for psychoactivity. Future research should be conducted to examine the comparative psychoactive effects and potency between delta-8 and delta-9 THC.

"Because of the similarities between delta-8 THC and delta-9 THC use, existing delta-9 THC laws could be applied to delta-8 THC. However, additional safety standards may be needed to mitigate harms related to the synthetic derivation of THC products. It is important to note that banning only one type of THC (e.g. delta-8) may result in other psychoactive products becoming more popular [e.g. delta-10 THC, hexahydrocannabinol (HHC), THC-O-acetate], which are generally less studied than delta-8 THC.

"It is important to consider all the different types of psychoactive substances in the Cannabis plant when developing future laws."

"Thus, it is important to consider all the different types of psychoactive substances in the Cannabis plant when developing future laws. One limitation of the present review is the exclusive focus upon delta-8-THC and no other hemp-derived cannabinoids. Although most of the published literature focuses upon delta-8 THC, future work should synthesize information related to the other THC variants.

"Furthermore, future research should focus upon increased surveillance of delta-8 THC and other synthetic cannabis products as well as related factors, using nationally representative samples. Global research on delta-8 THC is also important, as these US laws may influence the marketplace globally."

View the original study.

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