CLEVELAND — A new product in stores all over Ohio, Delta 8 THC, is blurring the line between hemp and marijuana and making casual cannabis users relearn the rules for what’s legal and what is not.
Delta 8 is available at CBD stores, convenience stores, gas stations, and through online sales without any kind of prescription, recommendation from a doctor, or medical marijuana patient card even though it has similar psychoactive effects as marijuana.
The difference is that Delta 8 THC is made from hemp. Both hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant. The difference is that marijuana has higher levels of Delta 9 THC, the compound that gets users “high.” Hemp has less than .3% Delta 9 THC, meaning it won’t give users the psychoactive effects.
Since Delta 8 THC is made from hemp, legal experts tell News 5 it is legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, which “removed hemp, defined as cannabis (Cannabis sativa L.) and derivatives of cannabis with extremely low concentrations of the psychoactive compound delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) (no more than 0.3% THC on a dry weight basis), from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act (CSA),” according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Sold out of a storefront
The sign with big, bold lettering reading “Delta 8 THC” in front of Becky Reynolds’ Your CBD Store in Lakewood has been turning a lot of heads.
“The letters that stick out to people are THC,” said Reynolds. “It really started to drive people in. Whether it was just asking questions: what is Delta 8? Is it legal? Do I need a prescription for it?”
Reynolds says she hasn’t seen people coming in looking to exploit Delta 8 for the “high” it provides and that customers usually end up buying it to help with relaxation or in concert with other CBD products they use, achieving what’s called an entourage effect.
Still, she warns people to be careful how much Delta 8 they use, especially at first.
“It might affect you differently than it affects me. I’m not [an avid THC user,] so it affects me,” said Reynolds. “If you are not familiar with Delta 8, you want to start with very low increments and you want to take it at home.”
Sitting on the sidelines
Much of the hesitancy and uncertainty comes from the contradictory state and federal laws around many cannabis products. Marijuana remains illegal on the federal level while some states have robust recreational and medical marijuana programs that are now decades old.
“What’s created a lot of the confusion here is the lack of guidance from the federal government as it relates to the hemp program at the federal level,” said Haren. “You can trace all of these questions and all of these problems back to prohibition [of cannabis.]”
Instead of legalizing cannabis across the board, Haren says lawmakers have opted for a piecemeal approach: legalizing or decriminalizing narrow classifications of the cannabis plant one at a time.
“So now you have this framework where the same plant is regulated different ways, by different agencies, in different states, the federal government and state government,” said Haren. “That’s a recipe for confusion.”
Despite the fact that California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, The Drug Enforcement Administration tells News 5 it supports the cannabis research happening now but, “…as DEA is currently undergoing the rulemaking process regarding the implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 – which includes the scope of regulatory controls over marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinols, and other marijuana-related constituents – we would be unable to comment on an any impact in legality of tetrahydrocannabinols, Delta 8 included, until the process is complete. We are in the process of reviewing thousands of comments and do not speculate on what could happen as a result.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had a similar statement:
Generally, FDA cannot comment on regulations that may be pending before the Agency. The most up-to-date information from FDA related to cannabis and cannabis-derived products can be found on this webpage.
As a result, none of the agencies we trust to make sure the products we put into our bodies is safe are testing hemp or Delta 8 products in the same way they test food or medicine.
That uncertainly initially led the Avon-based Hemp processor and CBD business Clean Remedies to stay out of the Delta 8 market. They make a long line of CBD products like tinctures, gummies, topicals and other options that don’t have enough THC to give users psychoactive effects and are USDA Certified Organic.
“We’re a very conservative company so we sat back on the sidelines, we watched what happened, we watched legislation,” said Clean Remedies owner Meredith Farrow.
But Farrow and her husband, Darrin, saw that while they waited, customers were looking for Delta 8, searching the company’s website and calling their office for it.
“We decided: let’s do this, but let’s do this on a much lower milligram level than some of these other companies and take a more medicinal approach,” said Meredith.
She says that means making gummies or tinctures with a small amount of Delta 8 without enough THC for anyone to easily get really “high.” Instead, they’re intended to help achieve an entourage effect with other CBD products.
Other processors are making different decisions.
Maeve’s All Natural is another Cleveland-area processor that was also intrigued by what Delta 8 has to offer in the right context.
“To me, it doesn’t really have a lot of medicinal properties right now unless it is used in conjunction with CBD,” said May.
But the same legal uncertainty that led Clean Remedies to pause before moving ahead with their Delta 8 products has convinced May to wait.
“We have a line of products formulated and ready to go,” said May. “Once I give that go ahead, we’re ready to produce and sell it but unless I am more certain that it is not so much in the legal gray area, I wouldn’t release it.”
The fear is that new rules from the DEA or FDA might eventually make businesses like Clean Remedies or Your CBD Store suddenly stop selling Delta 8 products if they conflict with a rule that doesn’t exist yet.
It Delta 8 a loophole?
“My joke is always: What some people call loopholes, I call compliant businesses,” said Haren. “Because it’s compliant with the rule, it’s not a loophole.”
But, it does appear to be a way for some users to get “high” without having to get Delta 9 illegally, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which oversees the state’s hemp program, tells News 5 there are no age requirements to buy hemp products.
Where government agencies haven’t yet made policy, individual stores are left to their own devices.
Reynolds’ three Your CBD Stores in Ohio all have a rule that they won’t sell CBD products to anyone younger than 18 years old. They reserve vape and Delta 8 products to customers 21 years old. Clean Remedies tells News 5 they only sell to people 21 years and older. Products made and sold by both companies also have third-party testing results available through QR codes on their packaging showing what's actually in the containers.
In an unexpected twist, many hemp businesses tell News 5 they’d welcome additional oversight from the federal or state governments, with the hope that it would push bad actors out and make the rules more uniform.
“Until we have an honest conversation about prohibition, it’s going to constantly be a game of whack-a-mole from a regulatory standpoint,” said Haren.
That’s because there are hundreds of compounds, like Delta 8, Delta 9, CBD, and others in the cannabis plant that scientists still haven’t found yet. Without a standard way to evaluate and regulate new discoveries, there is very little settled law in cannabis.
“So what’s going to be the next one,” asked Darrin. “Delta 10? And when we figure out how to isolate another 100 cannabinoids and we don’t know what they do or how they affect us, it’s a losing proposition.”
Still, Haren points out Delta 8 could have an impact on the illicit market.
“If someone can purchase a Delta 8 product from a legal store, it also reduces the reliance on the black market for Delta 9 products potentially, so I think you could also say that’s actually a benefit in the long run,” said Haren.
Darrin Farrow says his safety concerns are based in where products come from and what they might be laced with.
“If you’re a high school student, you don’t have any trouble getting marijuana anywhere,” said Darrin. “I would rather have my child experiment with Delta 8 than marijuana where you don’t know where it came from, if it’s harmful, what’s in it.”
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