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  • Writer's pictureDr. Dan Jin

Δ8-THC: Legal Status, Behavioral Pharmacology, Safety Concerns, and Potential Therapeutic Efficacy 

Δ8-THC is an isomer of Δ9-THC with similar chemical structures and naturally occurs at very low levels in cannabis plants. However, Δ8-THC can be chemically synthesized and converted from other cannabinoids, such CBD and THC. One review paper has been published recently to discuss the legal status, behavioral pharmacology, safety concerns, and potential therapeutic efficacy of Δ8-THC due to the current widespread availability of Δ8-THC products across the US with questionable legal status.  


  • Legal Status 

Currently, Δ8-THC is widely available in the form of gummies, edibles, oils, and vapes across the US due to unregulated sales. These products are marketed as legal hemp products by purposely misinterpreting the 2018 Farm Bill, where non-Δ9-THC cannabinoids were legalized to allow farmers to produce industrial hemp as the initial intent. The legal status of these Δ8-THC products is questionable as Δ8-THC is currently listed as a Schedule I drug under the category “tetrahydrocannabinols” (THC) in the Controlled Substance Schedules by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). In addition, to clarify the 2018 Farm Bill, the DEA issued a new rule entitled “Implementation of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018” in August 2020, which clearly states that “all synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain Schedule I controlled substances”, where Δ8-THC is listed. To close the perceived legal loophole, several states have listed Δ8-THC as a controlled substance to ban on the production and sale of Δ8-THC (e.g., Michigan, Hawaii, and Oklahoma). 


  • Behavioral Pharmacology  

Currently, there is only one randomized double-blind study conducted in 1972 examined the abuse potential and physiological effects of Δ8-THC. In this study, the effects of oral doses of Δ8-THC (20mg, 40mg) and Δ9-THC (20mg) in a small sample size (n=6) were compared. The results showed that Δ8-THC and Δ9-THC produced a similar profile of typical cannabinoid agonist effects, including euphoria, dry mouth, reddened eyes, dizziness, blurred vision, relaxation, and small increases in heart rate. The study concluded that Δ8-THC is slightly less potent than Δ9-THC but a formal potency analysis was not conducted. Although anecdote use reports and marketing materials claim that Δ8-THC is less psychotropic than Δ9-THC, more research on this topic is necessary for a robust conclusion.  


  • Safety Concerns  

Due to the lack of regulation and restrictions, currently there are no mandatory laboratory tests required to assure purity, safety, and label accuracy of Δ8-THC products. As physiological and toxicological effects of Δ8-THC are similar to Δ9-THC, high-dose exposure of Δ8-THC (e.g., consuming a full bag of Δ8-THC gummies) has resulted in reports of medical emergencies, including calls to poison control centers and presentations to emergency departments. 


  • Potential Therapeutic Efficacy 

It has been reported that Δ8-THC prevented vomiting completely when administered before anti-neoplastic therapy in cancer patients, and caused negligible side effects. At low doses, Δ8-THC (0.001 mg/kg po) is capable of inducing appetite stimulation without psychotropic effects such as alterations in cognitive function.  


  • Conclusion 

The authors suggested several approaches to address the public health challenges and widespread availability of Δ8-THC products due to the legal loopholes in the current legislation:  


  • Provide a clear guidance on plant material composition (e.g., <0.3% of any form of THC, including Δ8- and Δ9-THC and all other Schedule I cannabinoids). 

  • Address all synthetic cannabinoids, including the high concentrations of Δ8-THC used to adulterate legal products. 

  • Regulate for content, purity, and label to warn of the side effects and potential for toxicity/overdose if high dose Δ8-THC products are permitted to sell. 

  • Allow researchers to access and study the actual products being used in the community to provide controlled data for physicians and to better inform public health. 

 

References: 

  1. Babalonis, S., Raup-Konsavage, W. M., Akpunonu, P. D., Balla, A. & Vrana, K. E. Δ8-THC: Legal Status, Widespread Availability, and Safety Concerns. Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research (2021) doi:10.1089/can.2021.0097. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34662224/ 

  2. Controlled Substance Schedules. https://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/

  3. Valiveti, S., Hammell, D. C., Earles, D. C. & Stinchcomb, A. L. In vitro/in vivo correlation studies for transdermal Δ8-THC development. Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 93, 1154–1164 (2004). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15067692/ 

  4. Upton, R. et al. Cannabis inflorescence: cannabis spp.; standards of identity, analysis, and quality control. (American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, 2014). https://herbal-ahp.org/online-ordering-cannabis-inflorescence-qc-monograph/ 

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