Arizona lawmakers this year are debating how the state might handle the booming market in “delta-8” marijuana products. Here’s what to know about the substance:
What is delta-8?
Delta-8 is a chemical analog of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. Delta-9 THC is the primary psychoactive substance in common marijuana that gives users a feeling of intoxication.
Delta-8 is found in low doses in marijuana plants. But the more common cannabidiol, or nonintoxicating CBD, can convert to delta-8 through a chemical process.
Is delta-8 really intoxicating?
Yes, though the vast majority of users report that it is less so than regular marijuana, depending on how much is ingested. Some users have described it as “diet weed.”
Last year researchers published a scientific survey of delta-8 users, with most saying they experienced relaxation, pain relief and euphoria, with low levels of anxiety and paranoia commonly associated with regular marijuana use.
Respondents on average reported that delta-9 was “somewhat” more intense than delta-8, but some respondents reported delta-8 as more intense. There was no control for the dosage. This is important because many of the edible delta-8 products available contain double the dosage of that chemical than is commonly found in regular marijuana with delta-9 THC. Some contain substantially more, according to their labels.
Why are we hearing about delta-8 and other products?
The 2018 Farm Bill allowed for the processing of hemp, which is essentially just marijuana with extremely low potency. It is defined as marijuana with less than 0.3% delta-9 THC.
After the Farm Bill, many farmers turned to hemp to produce nonintoxicating CBD. But some businesses seized a lucrative niche by converting nonintoxicating CBD into intoxicating delta-8 to make products that are smoked, vaped or eaten as chocolates, honey, gummies, sodas and other snacks.
Delta-8 is popular in states without legal marijuana, but it also has proliferated in places like Arizona because, thanks to the Farm Bill, it can be produced without an expensive license to grow and sell marijuana with high levels of delta-9 THC.
While delta-8 is currently the most popular, there are other intoxicating substances that can come from hemp, including delta-10, THC-O and HHC.
Marijuana is legal in Arizona, so why care about delta-8 and other substances manufactured from hemp?
While it’s true Arizona voters approved marijuana use for adults 21 and older in 2020, that ballot measure limited the number of locations statewide that could sell marijuana. There are about 170 licenses in the state to grow and sell marijuana, and those licenses are worth millions of dollars.
So the companies that control those licenses aren’t thrilled to see smoke shops and other unlicensed retailers selling delta-8 without all the restrictions on potency, labeling and age verification that they face.
Local poison control officials also have lobbied against the hemp industry, though they have not presented data on how many of the hundreds of Arizona calls to poison control are caused by delta-8 products compared with regular marijuana.
The hemp industry realizes that some form of legislation is coming. They are advocating for light regulation that treats their products separately from regular marijuana. The hemp industry supports a bill in Arizona that would require the Department of Agriculture to set rules for delta-8 and other hemp-derived products. That is Senate Bill 1271.
Reach reporter Ryan Randazzo at [email protected] or 602-444-4331. Follow him on Twitter @UtilityReporter.