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Are Delta-8 THC Products Actually Dangerous?

Delta-8 THC products may contain contaminants as well as unknown cannabis isomers that could pose health problems.
PHOTO Joanna Wnuk


Are Delta-8 THC Products Actually Dangerous?

Delta-8 THC products may contain contaminants as well as unknown cannabis isomers that could pose health problems, the Society of Cannabis Clinicians recently warned.

Last Tuesday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration published a warning to the public “regarding the potential health risks of using Delta-8 THC products.”

Part of their reasoning for putting out a statement was due to “an uptick in adverse event reports to the FDA and the nation’s poison control centers.”

Questionable Side Effects

Cannabis isn’t supposed to give you a hangover. But that’s exactly what the Delta-8 THC gummies—purchased from a gas station, copped at a smoke shop, or ordered online —did to one of Greg Gerdeman’s friends.

“They took one and felt totally hung over the next day,” recounted Gerdeman, a biochemist and researcher and member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians. “They were like, ‘What was that?’”

Investigating that question is what interests Gerdeman. As a “lesser known” cannabinoid, known to science for decades, Delta-8 THC—now famous and in vogue in the past year, since it can be derived from hemp, and thus federally legal—is safe and therapeutic. So that wasn’t the problem.

The culprit, Gerdeman suspects, was whatever else was in the gummy: Impurities, possibly, like residual solvents from the chemical synthesis process in which CBD isolate is converted to Delta-8 THC.

Or something else entirely different, like one of the still-unknown isomers created during that process.

As for exactly what that was, and what it could do to the human body? Nobody knows. And that, along with a high probability for contamination with toxic solvents, is the problem with Delta-8 THC products. According to Gerdeman and his SCC colleagues these dangerous unknowns are an enormous potential liability for the burgeoning hemp industry, for which Delta-8 THC products are of vital importance.

Consensus For Concern

Since former President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Farm Bill into law, legalizing hemp cultivation and production in the U.S., the hemp industry has grown by leaps and bounds, but has largely failed to find profitable traction. In late 2019, with hemp companies overproducing and extraction companies sitting on mounds of unsold CBD isolate, a savior appeared in the guise of Delta-8 THC.

Molecularly very similar to Delta-9 THC found in adult-use cannabis (and banned by the federal Controlled Substances Act), Delta-8 THC acts on the brain and body in a similar fashion. And conveniently, can be derived from CBD isolate via a relatively simple chemical process.

But the cannabis industry has moved faster than either regulatory agencies or researchers. Late last month, the SCC—which includes other respected cannabis researchers such as Dr. Ethan Russo—released a “consensus” paper on Delta-8 THC products.

Untrained Chemists, Unknown Compounds

According to the SCC, the “untrained garage chemists” that are making Delta-8 THC products—which, with few exceptions, are not regulated by states and are not marketed or sold with any assurance of potency or quality control—may be selling products contaminated with solvents like the “light hydrocarbons” used in the extraction process.

More troubling, perhaps, is the science experiment Delta-8 THC product users are conducting on themselves—knowingly or not. According to the SCC, the conversion process creates “a number of molecular isomers that do not exist in nature” and that have yet to be fully identified in lab analyses.

And “we have no knowledge” how these “unidentifiable… isomers behave in the body,” according to the SCC’s consensus statement. Do they cause hangovers? Will they interact poorly with other drugs? How much of them are in Delta-8 products made from CBD isolate with 80 percent purity? These are questions consumers should ask, but product makers themselves likely have no idea.

“What’s most often underappreciated and completely glossed over in all of the sort of bubblegum ‘What is Delta 8’ stories out there, are the impurities that are created by the synthetic process,” Gerdeman said. “The fact that it can be done so cheaply and with a lot of side products that are completely unknown to nature… that’s what I am mostly concerned with.”

“I’m not concerned about Delta 8 as a molecule,” he added. “We know very well cannabinoids are remarkably safe and therapeutic molecules.”

“What I am most concerned about is, chemists are cooking together products and they’re able to sell their work in the public marketplace when it’s only met internal controls,” Gerdeman said.

Hemp Industry Aware

While Delta-8 product makers claim their wares are safe and pass muster, hemp advocates are aware of the issues raised by the SCC.

“Truly it’s something that has never been in the food or supplement supply chain, and that’s a problem from a regulatory standpoint,” said Bob Hoban, a Denver-based attorney who specializes in the hemp industry and has advocated for hemp legalization. “These new isomers are not found in trace quantities in hemp seed oil, or hemp seed, or anything that was previously allowed under federal law.”

“That’s concerning to the public, and it should be,” Hoban added.

Though there are examples in medical literature of dangerous and potentially deadly interactions with CBD products, there are no such examples yet of a Delta-8 product causing health problems. This could partially be because Delta-8 is still so new.

For years the federal government has pondered product-safety standards for products containing hemp derived CBD. The federal Food and Drug Administration may add Delta-8 products to regulations and may issue regulations Delta-8 product makers don’t like if Delta-8 product makers fail to self-regulate.

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