What is delta-8? What to know about the marijuana alternative
Delta-8 has been making its way to Kentucky store shelves since 2019. But what is the substance and is it safe?
As the nationwide debate about legalizing marijuana continues to grow, delta-8 THC products, products derived from hemp that can cause a „high” similar to, but apparently milder than marijuana, are becoming increasingly popular and easier to buy across the commonwealth.
Because of minimal state and federal regulations on the manufacture of these products, which can be legally purchased in Kentucky, some are skeptical about the safety of delta-8. Currently, delta-8 products are not FDA-approved.
„Delta-8 THC is one of over 100 cannabinoids produced naturally by the cannabis plant but is not found in significant amounts in the cannabis plant. As a result, concentrated amounts of delta-8 THC are typically manufactured from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD),” according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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Delta-8 is legal because the 2018 farm bill, which was supported by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., federally legalized hemp and a wide range of its derivatives, including CBD and other cannabinoids.
And while delta-8 is a naturally occurring substance, there is a manufacturing element used to produce enough of the cannabinoid to create various products, which include things such as gummies, seltzers and vapes. As a result, these products can contain things such as residual solvents, heavy metals and mycotoxins, all things that can be potentially harmful for people to consume.
„I think one of the things the public may not understand is that the delta-8 … in these products is synthetic,” said Dr. Richard Sams, the scientific director at KCA Labs, a third-party analytical laboratory in Nicholasville. „It’s not isolated from plants; it’s produced by an acid-catalyzed conversion of CBD that’s been isolated from hemp.”
Michael Lemmons, a military veteran who lives in Louisville, has been using delta-8 products for years and said they have helped him to stop relying on prescription medications he felt were negatively impacting his physical and mental health.
„I have no safety concerns regarding delta-8,” said Lemmons, who specified he gets products only from 502 Hemp Wellness Center in Louisville.
But others aren’t as confident in the unregulated but legal delta-8 market. At CBD Pure Hemp Oil in Prospect, store owner Daniel Barhorst takes a more cautious approach.
„I actually think there should be more regulation of the products of delta-8 that are being distributed out there,” Barhorst said. „I think some of the products … should definitely be FDA approved, so the FDA can actually qualify them.”
With minimal state and federal regulations of delta-8, consumers may have a hard time determining if the product they want to consume is safe or not. Here are five things to know about the health and safety of delta-8 products:
Purchase delta-8 from a hemp dispensary or health-related business
Delta-8 can be sold anywhere from a hemp dispensary to a CBD shop to a gas station. When looking for quality and purity standards, many shop owners say it is vital to purchase products from a reputable business where employees can discuss concerns or answer questions about the products.
„As with all food-based supplements, caution is needed when purchasing delta-8. Most of us would not purchase our vitamins at a gas station, and an easy way to avoid safety issues is to simply purchase from a legitimate hemp dispensary or other health-related business,” said Nancy Roberts, co-founder of One Love Hemp Dispensary, which sells a variety of CBD, delta-8 and delta-9 products.
What to look for on delta-8 package labeling
In November, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear filed an executive order that partially deals with the labeling and packaging of cannabinoid products. These products must adhere to 902 KAR 45:190, which includes packaging and labeling requirements for hemp-derived products.
Package labeling is required to be in size six font or larger and include: a statement of identity or common product name; the total quantity of units in the package; the ingredients of hemp-derived products; the manufacturer name; the total amount of cannabinoids per serving; suggested use instructions; expiration date; and a statement saying the product is within the federal legal limit of 0.3% delta-9 THC.
Oftentimes, delta-9 THC — the chemical primarily responsible for the mental „high” marijuana causes — is present in delta-8 products.
If you’re planning to consume a CBD or delta-8 product, „look at the labeling, see if it’s compliant,” Barhorst said. „If it doesn’t have a label on it, I wouldn’t [consume] it, would you?”
Ask for lab testing results on delta-8 THC products
Delta-8 THC products are not required to be tested by a laboratory for toxins, pesticides or other hazardous materials at any stage of production before products end up on shelves. Despite this, many companies such as DazeD8, a company that uses Kentucky hemp, voluntarily submit samples to labs, such as KCA Labs, to have products tested for quality and purity.
„Companies should have certificates of analysis available to verify the product is indeed what the package states,” One Love’s Roberts told The Courier Journal.
A certificate of analysis, or COA, is a lab report that shows consumers information such as the date the sample was received and tested, a batch number that can be matched to products in store, total cannabinoids, delta-8 THC percentage, foreign matter and more.
However, Sams with KCA Labs advises consumers to still be skeptical of those COAs. Testing is not standardized nor regulated, so companies can pick and choose testing that will make their products appear safe to consumers on a those reports.
„We test only for what the client requests us to test for,” Sams said. „If the client requests the tests for the cannabinoids and wants us to verify the amount of delta-8, for example, and doesn’t request other tests, then we wouldn’t be testing for residual solvents and heavy metals and those kinds of things.”
Ryan Bellone, chief commercial officer of KCA Labs, said there is a greater need for testing regulation to help put higher-purity products on the market.
„There are some companies that are working toward trying to achieve the highest purity delta-8 with the lowest amount of byproducts or even the lowest amount of delta-9 THC present in the product, while other companies will make a lower purity product and be willing to put that out to market to make a buck,” Bellone said.
What are some red flags for a delta-8 certificate of analysis?
Many COAs come with QR codes so consumers can verify product contents on their phone. However, Bellone said if the QR codes are missing, that’s a red flag a COA may have been tampered with.
Other red flags include if the company information of the original submitter of the sample is removed, if coloring and font differentiate from other parts of the COA, and if batch number information is missing.
„There are some companies that will go out there and they’ll get one test and it’ll be for a certain batch of material,” Bellone said. „They may even leave the batch number off the submission to us and then they’ll basically extrapolate those results to other batches that actually have not been tested.”
But it’s not all bad. As the lack of testing on delta-8 products continues to be largely unregulated, Sams notes KCA Labs is now seeing higher-purity products coming through the labs.
„We’re beginning to see more of the better” products, Sams said. “A year ago, we never saw compliant material.”
Check dosage amounts on delta-8 THC products
All delta-8 products should list the suggested dosage instructions as part of the labeling requirements. When consuming a delta-8 product, it is important to understand how much of the cannabinoid is being consumed and consider how that might impact you.
At One Love Hemp Dispensary, Roberts and her team offer THC serving-size information cards to customers. Roberts said the goal is to help educate people about best practices and how to avoid overconsumption.
„The No. 1 danger of delta-8 is uneducated and inexperienced consumers who do not respect responsible consumption,” Roberts said.
Barhorst said it’s important to discuss dosage when talking to customers.
„We always tell people to go under the suggested dosing,” Barhorst said. „For instance, when we have a gummy, that is 25 milligrams, we suggest just taking half. I always tell people to go under the dosing to see how your body reacts to it.”
Contact reporter Olivia Evans at email@example.com or on Twitter at @oliviamevans_