The fastest-growing trend in the United States’ cannabis industry has nothing to do with the hundreds of adult-use marijuana dispensaries popping up across the country. Instead, it’s CBD stores and even gas stations, corner stores and mini marts carrying the products with the latest way to get high.
Hemp-based Delta-8 THC has skyrocketed in popularity during the past year because of its similarity to Delta-9 THC, the main marijuana compound that gives users a psychedelic lift. Known as ‘marijuana-lite’ or ‘diet weed,’ Delta-8 provides slightly milder versions of the typical weed buzz – which can include feelings of energy, euphoria, relaxation, sleepiness and even pain relief.
Nearly all Delta-8 products are extracted synthetically from CBD, which comes from hemp. And U.S. authorities perhaps unknowingly opened the door for Delta-8 when it passed the 2018 Farm Bill in December of that year. The landmark bill allowed Americans to grow and sell hemp, as long as the hemp plants contained less than 0.3 percent Delta-9.
The law never said anything about Delta-8, though.
“It’s being interpreted as a loophole in federal legislation” said Dr. Jane Ishmael, a pharmacology professor at Oregon State University. “Delta-8 and Delta-9 are incredibly alike in the sense that they bind directly to cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body. Only the latter is banned and the former apparently wasn’t a priority until recently.”
Pre-Farm Bill U.S. laws are crystal-clear in how they interpret both compounds. The 1986 Federal Analogue Act calls for a chemical analog of a controlled substance to “be treated, for the purposes of any Federal law as a controlled substance in Schedule I.” That means the 1970 Controlled Substances Act making Delta-9 THC a Schedule I substance would also apply to Delta-8. Most obviously, the DEA’s official list of Controlled Substances specifically lists Delta-8 THC as a banned Schedule I compound.
Nonetheless, as only 17 states allow adult-use marijuana (Delta-9 THC), a growing number of residents in the other 33 states are now looking to Delta-8 to satisfy their desire to get high. Hemp and CBD extraction companies have responded by ramping up Delta-8 production to meet demand and shipping the products all over the country. Estimates from CBD vendors in Tennessee, Illinois and Florida suggest sales of Delta-8 products — including tablets, tinctures, gummies and vapes — have more than doubled from the start of 2020 to this month.
“Every time we’ve restocked in the past three months, we’ve sold out in a matter of days,” said Derrick Marshall, owner of Space Coast CBD in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “Demand for Delta-8 is higher for us than it’s ever been.”
Alas, Delta-8 might not be here to stay. The feds have remained relatively quiet on the issue, offering only that “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule I controlled substances” back in August. But over a dozen states and counting have outlawed the compound in recent months, contending it violates the Farm Bill’s intent to relax restrictions on hemp.
Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Kentucky, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island and Utah have all banned Delta-8, according to the U.S. Hemp Authority. Pending bills in Alabama, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Washington could also shut the door on the compound in those states.
“The amount of hemp needed to extract that much THC is quite large,” explained Erica Stark, executive director of the National Hemp Association. “But the wholesale price of hemp is significantly cheaper than marijuana, so companies can keep the products at low prices and still turn a profit.”
The increasing number of Delta-8 bans suggest this isn’t ‘goodbye’ for the synthetic CBD extract, but rather ‘see you later.’ As the feds slowly come around to end cannabis prohibition, Delta-8 (and Delta-9) will be more commercially available in the near future.