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An unregulated hemp derivative gets users 'high' and the cannabis industry wants federal guidance

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Jul 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-06 06:45:27-04

CLEVELAND — The cannabis industry is a quickly-growing market across the nation and in Ohio, allowing its growth to highlight the lack of action from the federal government and its agencies.

Each state is left to its own devices to regulate cannabis. Some states, like Ohio, have created strictly-medical marijuana programs while neighbors like Michigan legalized recreational use. Hemp products were legalized across the county in the 2018 Farm Bill, but since hemp comes from cannabis, groups like the FDA still don’t inspect or test hemp products.

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Even though Delta 8 is a derivative of hemp, it still will make users fail a drug test.

When products like Delta 8 THC come along, the confusion compounds.

Both marijuana and hemp come from the cannabis plant. The difference is the amount of the compound THC that is in marijuana and hemp. THC is the compound that gives marijuana users the psychoactive effect, or gets them “high.” Hemp has less then .3 percent THC, which isn’t enough to have those effects.

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Delta 8 products are easy to find all over Ohio but experts say the quality differs, meaning where those products come from matters.

Delta 8 THC is a derivative of hemp, leading producers and vendors to assert that it’s legal under the 2018 Farm Bill. But, Delta 8 has a similar but diminished psychoactive effect compared to Delta 9 THC, it’s much more common cousin.

“As a mother and a busy woman, I feel like I live in the moment more when I use cannabis or Delta 8,” said Amanda Luckay, who finds a lot of relief in the product that we still don’t know a whole lot about. “It just kind of balances you.”

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Luckay says she uses Delta 8 THC because it's more powerful than CBD but not as powerful as Delta 9 THC.

Cannabis has been around for centuries but Delta 8 THC is a form of it that only really hit the market in the last year. Luckay buys much of her Delta 8 from Larry Shor’s Cleveland Botanical Destination, where he says Delta 8 quickly became a top-seller, accounting for almost half the money he makes.

“I was not surprised that this would take off, but I was surprised at how it replaced a lot of the users in the CBD space,” said Shor.

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Shor's research into the companies making the Delta 8 THC products he stocks is the only thing standing between his customers and unsafe products.

Shor said customers like Luckay use Delta 8 for quasi-medical reasons but also largely just to feel good and relax in the same way other people might have a beer, whiskey or glass of wine at the end of the day.

The difference is that since Delta 8 is made from cannabis, the federal agencies that make sure what we put in our bodies is safe are not testing Delta 8 or any other cannabis products.

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Despite being on the market for less than a year, Delta 8 THC is available in various forms and flavors.

Shor said that’s why he did a lot of research into the companies that he gets his products from to make sure they have reliable supply chains and that the products are safe.

That’s especially important because the U.S. Cannabis Council (USCC) is finding that elsewhere, that is a problem.

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Since the FDA doesn't test cannabis products, it can be hard to know which products are labeled correctly and made properly.

“Delta 8 is unregulated, there is evidence that it is contaminated in many respects,” said U.S. Cannabis Council Executive Director Steve Hawkins.

The USCC recently tested Delta 8 products being sold around the county and found that some of those samples had heavy metals and too much Delta 9 THC, making it illegal in states like Ohio that haven’t allowed recreational adult marijuana use.

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Hawkins is calling on the federal government to make uniform cannabis laws or for federal agencies to step in and create guidelines for cannabis companies to follow when making Delta 8 THC products.

“The federal government needs to get off the sidelines and participate and be the referee and the umpire,” said Hawkins.

He said federal laws from Congress or rules from the FDA would bring the testing that makes sure every other product we put in our bodies is safe. Shor agrees because right now his research is the only thing standing between his customers and a product that could hurt them.

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One of the only restrictions on cannabis products is in the labeling. Products aren't allowed to make medical claims.

“The reason why Delta 8 needs to be regulated is A, consumer safety and B, you need to be able to rely on dosing that is precise,” said Shor.

At the same time, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said he’s considering his options too.

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Attorney General Dave Yost tells News 5 he's exploring the possibility that Delta 8 THC shouldn't be sold in Ohio at all.

“I’m not sure I buy into the vendors, the people who are selling Delta 8, their legal analysis,” said Yost.

The attorney general wouldn’t say much more, but referenced the Federal Analog Statute, which appears to make substances similar to illegal substances also illegal.

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Hemp plants dry in a barn near an experimental field of hemp in Ohio.

So far, there haven’t been any legal challenges to selling Delta 8 in Ohio, but Luckay points out that banning Delta 8 would not keep it out of Ohio.

“People would just end up finding it on the black market or going to Michigan where it’s recreationally legal there,” said Luckay.

Democrat Tim Ryan says marijuana should be legal across US

DALY CITY, CA - APRIL 18: A bowl of medicinal marijuana is displayed in a booth at The International Cannabis and Hemp Expo April 18, 2010 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California. The two day Cannabis and Hemp Expo features speakers, retailers selling medical marijuana smoking paraphernalia and a special tent available for medical marijuana card holders to smoke their medicine. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Since the federal agencies and government haven’t weighed in on cannabis beyond the 2018 Farm Bill, laws regulating cannabis can differ a lot from one state to another. That sparked Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to criticize the federal government’s split approach to the substance, which bans marijuana at the federal level while allowing states to permit it.

Advocates hope that will inspire Congress to move on one of the bills currently working through the law-making process to create consistent law in all 50 states.

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