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Delta-8 Flourishes in Pennsylvania's Tangled Marijuana Market.

By Hunter Dublin | June 13, 2022

According to Pennsylvania politicians and legal cannabis activists, inequitable access to marijuana has driven users toward a readily available — but unregulated — psychotropic substance whose specific components are sometimes hard to determine.

A state lawmaker is now pressing for laws to keep it available while also assuring its safety.

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), often known as delta-8, is a hemp-derived cannabinoid. Its characteristics are similar to those of delta-9, the primary cannabinoid in marijuana responsible for the high. However, many claim that delta-8 has a gentler impact.

When Congress enacted a federal agriculture bill authorizing hemp farming in 2018, it unwittingly sanctioned the sale of delta-8. It is now readily available as consumables, vape pens, oils, and food items sold in head shops, petrol stations, and online.

In Pennsylvania, some consumers have resorted to it because of its alleged milder side effects, as well as the state's convoluted cannabis landscape: accessing medicinal marijuana may be time-consuming and expensive, while recreational cannabis remains illegal.

Despite this, delta-8 is not subject to any regulations or mandated testing, and its packaging is not obliged to mention serving size or any negative effects.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, consuming delta-8 could result in "serious health risks." National poison control centers received 2,362 calls related to delta-8 between January 2021 and March 2022, with 40% of those calls involving "unintentional exposure," and 82 percent of those exposures involving "pediatric patients.”

The possibility of youngsters consuming delta-8 is one of the reasons state Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) intends to file legislation to regulate the substance. Schwank stated that she was called by a parent whose middle schooler purchased a vaporizer containing delta-8.

"My initial worry stemmed from the idea that there may be youngsters who are utilizing this product as an alternative to recreational marijuana to get high and may unknowingly be poisoning themselves with other drugs that are within," Schwank added.

There’s no secret recipe.

Delta-8 looked like a godsend to folks who didn't want to buy cannabis illegally or couldn't access Pennsylvania's medicinal marijuana program when it first debuted on store shelves. Access to the program, according to advocates, is limited owing to expense, red tape, and a lack of public awareness.

Delta-8′s gentler effects are popular among those who are new to marijuana, according to Jonathan John, a Pennsylvania-based scientist who makes and distributes delta-8 products via his firm Circus Cannabis. People who have previously tried delta-9 items and found them too potent prefer delta-8's reduced potency.

"Some elderly folks like that," John pointed out.

In Pennsylvania, medicinal marijuana must be tested for lead, mercury, butane, ethanol, and E. coli, as well as a slew of other toxins and pesticides. There is no such need for delta-8.

This has raised worries about the toxicity and potential pollutants in the items.

Delta-8 is typically produced through a sequence of chemical processes from hemp-derived cannabidiol (CBD).

"The process of making these goods uses highly hazardous substances, organic solvents like toluene, hexane, powerful acids, and heavy metal catalysts," said Chris Hudalla, a scientist and chief scientific officer of ProVerde Laboratories, a cannabis testing business located in Massachusetts.

Chemists that synthesize medical or recreational marijuana in jurisdictions where it is permitted test their goods to ensure that reactions proceeded as planned and remove any leftover solvents.

However, according to Pennsylvania cannabis doctor Lauren Vrabel, these testing are optional for delta-8 producers.

"Certainly, not having an extra step in your process is less expensive." "This would need additional equipment and time," Vrabel explained. "We don't know whether or not firms are doing this."

When ProVerde Laboratories tested 16 delta-8 products for the US Cannabis Council — a trade group that advocates for cannabis producers — four contained lead and seven had potentially harmful levels of nickel, copper, and chromium.

"I am a firm supporter of delta-8 as a possible medicinal and recreational substance," Hudalla stated. "I am just not in favor of employing customers as test subjects for novel chemical substances that have not yet been studied."

He claims that containments can be removed to make a safe product, but that it "takes an extra step, more time, and costs a little more to produce."

Concerns about solvents contaminating delta-8 goods, according to John, are exaggerated. To make delta-8 edibles correctly, a chemist must remove practically all of the solvent, according to John, otherwise the distillation process would fail.

"Many people are saying, 'Oh, there may be solvents, there could be solvents,'" John explained. "In reality, there's probably not much of a possibility.”

Delta-8 products may include trace levels of delta-9 THC.

Berks County District Attorney John Adams recently purchased a random mix of vapes and candies containing delta-8 and delta-10 — another type of THC generated from hemp — and delivered them to Pennsylvania State Police for testing. Every product examined contained prohibited quantities of delta-9, according to the lab.

Adams' discovery is not an outlier. According to studies, delta-8 items frequently contain more delta-9 than is permissible and, on occasion, less delta-8 than the package states.

The procedure for producing delta-8 always yields delta-9, according to John, but the absence of consistency in manufacturing techniques can make it difficult for chemists to remove the delta-9.

"This is something new. "And there's no fixed recipe for a lot of these guys who are making delta-8," John explained. "They're tinkering."

There's another layer of ambiguity. John mentioned that testing delta-8 products for delta-9 levels is challenging and that it might be tough to determine whether laboratories are trustworthy.

"Some laboratories will claim it doesn't have delta-9 in it, while others will say it does, and it's the same sample," John explained. "You may shop around since we don't have to send it to a certain lab in Pennsylvania."


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