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Delta-8 Danger: The Hidden Risks of Today's Trendy Cannabis Substitute

Delta-8 THC is currently a hot topic in the cannabis industry, but concerns are growing due to warnings from the FDA and CDC, and alarming user experiences. Despite being marketed as a legal high with potential medical benefits, a US Cannabis Council investigation revealed that many products on the market contain illegal concentrations of delta-9 THC. This raises the question: Is the situation as dire as it seems?

To delve deeper, we sourced 51 delta-8 products from both online and physical smoke shops and had FESA Labs independently test them. Our investigation aimed to answer three key questions: Do delta-8 products also contain delta-9 THC? Are the advertised amounts of delta-8 accurate? And are there any unwanted by-products from production in these products?

Regrettably, the findings are troubling. Consumers seeking a milder alternative to marijuana might be unwittingly exposed to high levels of delta-9 THC, exceeding legal limits and lacking safety tests for contaminants. This situation, though not as critical as the 2019 lung disease outbreak, poses a significant public health risk and threatens the credibility of the cannabis industry.

CBD Oracle engaged FESA Labs to evaluate 51 delta-8 THC products for cannabinoid content. We also tested a subset of 8 for impurities like heavy metals, solvents, mycotoxins, pesticides, microbial contamination, and vitamin E acetate. The product range included flowers, edibles, prerolls, tinctures, concentrates, vape cartridges, and pens, primarily procured online from various states. We also scrutinized the products' labeling, marketing, and age verification processes. FESA Labs' results indicated that the actual levels of delta-9 and delta-8 THC often differed from what was claimed. Moreover, few products had effective age verification, and most lacked testing for impurities. Key findings include:

Excessive Delta-9 THC: 76% of the products had delta-9 THC levels above the 0.3% threshold set by the 2018 Farm Bill, rendering them federally illegal. One item had over 23% delta-9 THC, an astonishing 7700% over the legal limit.

Higher Illegal Delta-9 Levels in Vapes and Concentrates: These products typically showed elevated delta-9 THC levels compared to flowers, tinctures, or edibles.

Delta-9 THC Levels Tend to Be Higher in Certain Outlets: Products from gas stations and nicotine vape shops frequently had elevated delta-9 THC levels, contrasting with those from more established companies, which generally had lower levels.

Discrepancy in Delta-8 THC Content: About 77% of the tested products contained less delta-8 THC than what was claimed, showing an average shortfall of 15% from the stated amount.

Impurities Less of a Concern: In our tests for impurities across 8 products, all passed, showing no traces of heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, mycotoxins, microbial contaminants, or vitamin E acetate.

Lack of Age Verification: Among the companies, only 14% (6 out of 44) enforced age verification for online purchases. One required a signature upon delivery, while five utilized an online platform where users uploaded a driver’s license image. Most others simply relied on a pop-up age query.

Testing for Impurities Is Not Widespread: Although 84% of companies provide some lab reports for their products, 67% do not test for impurities.

Instances of Fabricated Lab Tests: Investigations and discussions with laboratories indicate that some companies manipulate lab results to gain consumer trust unfairly. In our analysis, 2 out of 20 lab reports were found to be altered.

Inconsistent Usage of Warning Labels: Only 55% of the companies placed warning labels on their products.

Overall, this laboratory examination reveals an industry where a few reputable companies are overshadowed by many that fail to fulfill their promises to consumers, often selling federally illegal products and exposing consumers to risks. While customers can review lab results, the discrepancy between these results and those of actual product testing offers limited reassurance. The industry needs regulation, but until then, consumers should exercise caution or even consider avoiding these products.

Key Findings and Their Implications

Our investigation extensively covered critical areas, focusing on the delta-9 THC content, accuracy of product labeling, ease of access for minors, and impurity testing practices. We've organized the results under specific headings for clearer understanding and navigation.

Do Delta-8 THC Companies Conduct Adequate Product Testing?

The level of scrutiny we applied to delta-8 THC products should be a standard practice for companies, particularly given the varied delta-8 and delta-9 concentrations and the dangers contaminants like vitamin E acetate posed in 2019. Responsible companies must prioritize such testing.

In our lab study, which included 51 companies, 43 (84%) displayed their lab results online. Yet, only 34 out of these 51 products (67%) underwent potency testing, neglecting tests for heavy metals, pesticides, solvents, and mycotoxins. Although our analysis didn’t reveal issues with these contaminants, their absence in testing is worrying, especially considering the influx of new companies in the market.

Do Delta-8 THC Companies Manipulate Lab Reports?

A more alarming problem is the alteration of lab reports. As Molly Longman reports in Refinery29, Hempire Direct was caught displaying two falsified Certificates of Analysis (COAs) on their website. A lab director from Kaycha Labs Colorado revealed:

“They altered our COA, making it a falsification. The company name on the genuine COA I possess is different. All four sample names are different, and we found trace amounts of mercury and lead, whereas the altered COA showed ‘not detected.’”

CBD Oracle’s own discussions with labs corroborated such falsifications. In a comparison of 20 companies’ COAs against 8 labs’ records, we found discrepancies in 2 COAs. Boston Hempire’s Jack Herer and the Hemp Doctor’s GS Cookies, both vape cartridges, showed altered reports. They contained 11.4% and 14.7% delta-9 THC, respectively, contrary to their claims.

Lab representatives recognize the issue of report manipulation. Eric Wendt, Chief Science Officer at Green Leaf Lab, mentioned:

“I’ve had instances where customers verified lab reports with me and discovered that the company altered the results on their site, showing COA manipulation, which is quite disheartening.”

Similarly, a senior chemist at PharmLabs commented:

“This is the hemp black market. There’s widespread falsification of COAs. Some labs inflate delta-8 figures and conceal delta-9 levels. Government intervention and regulation are essential – it’s a disservice to consumers.”

This complexity greatly hinders consumers' ability to make well-informed choices when buying delta-8 products. Even diligent customers who check lab reports can be deceived. Our testing indicates that while not extremely frequent, there’s a significant risk involved, with 10% of the COAs we reviewed being altered.

Do Delta-8 Companies Implement Warning Labels?

In our lab analysis of 51 companies, about half (23 companies or 45%) don’t use warning labels on their products. Our research shows that there are approximately 160 companies selling delta-8 THC products online, offering over 4,200 unique items, including edibles, concentrates, vapes, flower, prerolls, tinctures, topicals, and beverages.

Does This Echo the 2019 Vitamin E Acetate Crisis?

The most concerning issue highlighted by this and other studies of delta-8 THC products is the significant, unreported presence of delta-9 THC. While this might not seem critical against the backdrop of legalization, the issue lies in the unexpected levels of delta-9 THC.

Delta-8 is popular because it's seen as a milder version of cannabis. It’s appealing for those who experience anxiety or paranoia with regular cannabis, as it promises THC's benefits with fewer risks. However, 80% of the products we tested had delta-9 levels exceeding the threshold set for CBD products, potentially affecting users seeking a milder experience.

This situation is reminiscent of the 2019 vaping illness outbreak, likely caused by illicit cannabis vape cartridges cut with vitamin E acetate. This additive, used to give an illusion of purity, resulted in severe lung issues and fatalities.

The inadvertent consumption of standard THC in products marketed as alternative THC options, though not as hazardous as high impurity levels, remains a serious concern. Customers should never be misled, especially when it involves psychoactive substances. The current evidence suggests that companies might be supplementing the lower-than-promised delta-8 levels with delta-9, thereby breaching both consumer trust and legal regulations.

This delta-8 issue can be more aptly compared to the early days of e-cigarettes, where supposedly nicotine-free vaping flavors were actually found to contain nicotine. This misled consumers who wanted to avoid nicotine, potentially leading to unintended addiction. Similar to the delta-8 scenario, this occurred when the e-cigarette industry was less regulated and some companies prioritized profit over consumer well-being. The more recent findings from Australia underline this concern.

However, the possibility of a crisis similar to the vitamin E acetate issue in the delta-8 industry cannot be ruled out. Currently, with minimal regulation, the industry faces the risk of what Dr. Matthew Curran, a chemist and hemp safety expert, calls “kitchen chemistry” in a Refinery29 interview. The simplicity of converting CBD into delta-8 and the lack of industry oversight could lead to unqualified individuals producing delta-8 products at home.

Young individuals are particularly vulnerable to the adverse psychological effects of cannabis, especially those predisposed to mental health issues. This is notably true for conditions like psychosis and schizophrenia. Doctors Robert Gabrys and Amy Porath of the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction highlight that early cannabis use, particularly before the age of 16 or 17, is a strong predictor of cognitive impairment.

They explain that while cannabis doesn't typically cause severe cognitive dysfunction in most people, which usually reverses after a period of abstinence, early use during the teen years can lead to more profound and lasting issues. Both cognitive and response inhibition are impacted by heavy cannabis use, with more severe effects noted in those who start at a younger age.

It's important to consider that these effects might also be bidirectional. For instance, individuals with existing inhibition issues might be more inclined to use cannabis, rather than cannabis use exacerbating these problems. Nonetheless, there's a clear correlation between cannabis use and these cognitive effects, based on current evidence.

Firstly, the production of delta-8 presents challenges that complicate ensuring its purity. Eric Wendt from Green Leaf Lab advises caution regarding delta-8 products due to the likelihood of higher delta-9 content, especially in concentrated forms. This is attributed to the extraction process of delta-8, which is more complex than extracting other cannabinoids like CBD, CBG, or CBN, thereby increasing the risk of delta-9 contamination.

Sara Bianacalana from Marin Analytics elaborates on another potential issue. She notes that certain lab testing methods, such as excessive heat application or prolonged solvent exposure, can inadvertently increase delta-9 levels. The variability in testing methods and solvents among different labs can lead to inconsistent and sometimes inaccurate results. This inconsistency is partly because delta-8 and delta-9, being isomers, have similar molecular structures, making them challenging to distinguish in tests.

Jayneil Kamdar, PhD from InifiteCAL Labs, underscores this point. He explains that the minute structural difference between delta-8 and delta-9 THC – a variation in the position of a double bond – can result in similar retention times and UV profiles during testing, complicating their differentiation. Accurate analytical separation requires advanced methods and experienced chemists. He also points out that some labs might intentionally overlook delta-9 THC in their reports, further complicating the issue.

In essence, since delta-8 and delta-9 have the same chemical formula but differ slightly in structure, accurately testing and distinguishing them in the lab is challenging. Testing methods, solvents, and interpretation errors can all contribute to inaccuracies.

Moreover, delta-8 is not a stable isomer, which adds another layer of complexity. A senior chemist at PharmLabs explains that delta-8 is unstable and can unpredictably convert to delta-9, affecting its levels over time. This instability is under scrutiny, with regulatory bodies considering new regulations to address these fluctuating levels. The possibility of delta-8 converting back to delta-9 through aging or storage conditions further complicates the matter. This uncertainty has led to ongoing research to understand the impact of aging on delta-8 products.

Overall, the relative novelty of delta-8 in the market means there's still much to learn about how it's stored, how it ages, and how these factors might inadvertently increase delta-9 levels in the products.

All products purchased underwent cannabinoid potency analysis using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). This method involves dissolving a sample (flowers, concentrates, topicals, edibles, tinctures, extracts, or liquids) in a solvent and analyzing it with HPLC. The test identifies and quantifies various cannabinoids including CBD, CBDA, delta-8 THC, delta-9 THC, THCA, CBN, CBC, CBDV, CBDQ, and CBG.

Additionally, 8 randomly selected products were tested for impurities. This included screening for heavy metals (arsenic, mercury, lead, cadmium), mycotoxins (aflatoxins B1, B2, G1, G2, ochratoxin), pesticides (using LC-MS/MS and GC-MS/MS), residual solvents (using HS-GC-FID/MS), and microbial pathogens (using qPCR). Also, 30% of samples were tested for vitamin E acetate.

The lab analysis was conducted by FESA Labs, an ISO 17025 accredited lab, ensuring consistency, reliability, and traceability of tests. Results for cannabinoids are reported as mass by percentage, mass per gram, or mass per unit, while most impurity results are in parts per million.

Delta-8 THC's legality is complex. It's often considered federally legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, provided the delta-9 THC content is below 0.3%. This is because the Bill defines "hemp" to include all cannabinoids, extracts, and isomers with low delta-9 THC levels. However, since most delta-8 is processed from hemp-derived CBD, its legality is debated. Counterarguments include the Federal Analogue Act, which might classify delta-8 as a controlled substance due to its similarity to delta-9, and the DEA's interim rule on synthetic THC, which could categorize delta-8 as a Schedule I substance regardless of delta-9 THC levels.

Regulation is a contentious issue. Delta-8's psychoactive nature argues for stricter regulations similar to delta-9 THC, while its hemp origin suggests lighter CBD-like regulations. Different states have varied approaches: New York restricts CBD-to-delta-8 conversion, while Michigan considers delta-8 regulation similar to delta-9.

In conclusion, delta-8 THC's rise in popularity, amid legal ambiguities and inadequate industry standards, poses challenges. The potential for misinformation, unverified contents, and the lack of age verification raise serious concerns. Our investigation calls for more regulation and transparency to ensure consumer trust and safety in the delta-8 industry.

THCannabis Marketing Staff


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