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Is Delta 8 THC the “Moonshine” of Cannabis?

You may have seen Delta 8 tinctures or gummies on the shelves of your local head shop, convenience store, or even at the gas station. How can a product so close to delta 9 THC – which you can only buy from a licensed dispensary – be legal to sell at just any store? Are they even safe to consume? Here’s what you need to know about delta 8 THC and why it’s earned a reputation as the “moonshine” of cannabis.

What is Delta 8 THC?

Delta 8 THC is a type of THC that develops naturally in cannabis and hemp plants, but in very small amounts. This phytocannabinoid is typically the result of CBD and CBGA degradation due to heat or sunlight. Delta 8 THC offers a similar, but less intense, level of intoxication when compared to Delta 9 THC.

What are the effects of Delta 8 THC?

Delta 8 THC has gained a reputation as “weed light” for its reduced intoxication compared to its famous isomer delta 9 THC. According to Canyon Hopkins, PharmD at Ethos Pittsburgh and Ethos North Fayette, this can be appealing if you have a low tolerance for delta 9.

“For example, some people with anxiety find Delta 9 THC too powerful,” Hopkins said. Having Delta 8 THC could be really beneficial for that calming feeling without being overpowering mentally.” 

Delta 8 can also be helpful if you’re experiencing insomnia because of the decreased intoxicating feeling.

“It’s good if you have sleeping issues, and in combination with CBN [cannabinol] it can be really beneficial,” Hopkins said.

Is Delta 8 THC safe?

Delta 8 THC isn’t inherently unsafe, but how it is cultivated, extracted, processed, transported, and stored all can influence product safety. Hopkins warned that many delta 8 THC products on the market today are unlicensed, untested, and unregulated, with no guarantee as to what’s in them. That’s how delta 8 products have earned the “moonshine” label by some.

“You should know where you’re getting it and do your research to make sure the dose you think you’re taking is the dose you’re actually taking,” Hopkins said, noting that many delta 8 THC retailers provide unreliable labeling or unverified test results to consumers.

Because many retailers selling delta 8 THC products are unlicensed, they are not subject to the stringent testing requirements that the licensed cannabis products at Ethos dispensaries must undergo. And that testing matters: Lax regulatory standards allow merchants to misrepresent products, potentially putting consumer health at risk.

In one analysis conducted by CBD Oracle and FESA Labs, analysts determined that 76% of the 51 delta 8 THC samples tested contained over the legal limit of 0.3% delta 9 THC, a threshold put in place by the 2018 Farm Bill, reaching an average of 9.25% delta 9 THC per product. This could be a concern for consumers looking for that “weed light” experience often associated with delta 8 THC, finding instead a more intense intoxicating effect. One product analyzed in the study contained as much as 23% delta 9 THC – that’s as much as some flower found in the dispensary!

Additionally, 67% of the products analyzed in the study were not tested for impurities or contaminants such as residual solvents, heavy metals, or microbials like mold and mildew. Without this type of information available, there’s no way to be sure whether the delta 8 THC products are safe.

A similar study conducted by the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) analyzed 16 samples of delta 8 THC produced in April 2021 and sourced from California, Florida, Nevada, Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Indiana. That study found the following:

  • None of the tested samples were 2018 Farm Bill compliant, ranging from 1.3% – 5.3% delta 9 THC content.
  • Lead was detected in four of the 16 samples, but below legal limits for inhalation.
  • Seven of the 16 samples failed tests for Copper, Chromium, and/or Nickel.
  • Varying residual solvents, including ethanol and hexane, were found in many of the samples, but below the legal thresholds for inhalation.
  • Seven to 10 unknown compounds were present in each sample tested.

The bottom line is: There’s no telling what could be in the cannabis products you purchase from gas stations or corner stores, no matter what the label says or the salesperson claims. And until the legal loophole under which delta 8 products is addressed, it’s a good idea to be wary of a delta 8 product sold at the corner store.

Is Delta 8 THC legal?

Yes, delta 8 THC is technically federally legal. In reality, though, the answer is not so clear as a simple yes or no.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) clarified in a letter released in 2021 that “cannabinoids extracted from the cannabis plant that have a delta 9 THC concentration of not more than 0.3% on a dry weight basis meet the definition of ‘hemp’ and thus are not controlled under the CSA.” Delta 8 products found outside a dispensary fall under this category, as they’re derived from hemp. 

It is worth noting, however, that the DEA stated in the same letter that both synthetically manufactured delta 8 THC that is not derived from the hemp plant and delta 8 THC products derived from the hemp plant containing greater than 0.3% delta 9 THC are subject to the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).

Additionally, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has weighed in on the potential negative health effects of delta 8 THC due to improper labeling, but has not explicitly stated the cannabinoid is banned under federal regulations. Many states, including New York, Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan, and Delaware, have all banned delta 8 THC. Delta 8 THC remains legal for sale in states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Always choose licensed and tested cannabis products

When purchasing cannabis products of any kind, including delta 8 THC, only choose products that come from a licensed vendor like Ethos or another dispensary. Licensed products are subject to rigorous testing by independent analysis laboratories required by law to ensure product safety. Products must also be labeled properly and stored in accordance with clear standards that prevent contamination. None of these requirements apply to unlicensed delta 8 THC or other cannabis products.

If you’re looking for a cannabis product that can offer less intoxication than high delta 9 THC products but give you the same relief, speak with an Ethos associate or book a consultation with an Ethos pharmacist. They can help you identify a product that offers similar effects without shopping for unregulated and untested products. Don’t roll the dice with your medicine – opt for tested products with each purchase.

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