The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Federal Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency advisory yesterday — September 14 — regarding delta-8 THC.

The CDC advisory notes the increased availability of products containing delta-8 THC, including gummies, chocolates, vape pens, distillates, and “smokable hemp sprayed with delta-8 THC extract,” and warns these products may contain contaminants. The FDA reports 22 adverse events linked to ingestion of products containing delta-8 THC from December 2020 through July 2021.

Delta-8 THC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid in marijuana plants; however, it is not found in abundant amounts like another cannabinoid, delta-9 THC, which is the primary active cannabinoid in marijuana. Like delta-9 THC, delta-8 can induce psychoactive effects, but those effects are reportedly 55 to 75 percent less potent than the effects of delta-9. Because the legality of delta-8 is perceived as falling into a gray area in many states, it’s being sold as an alternative when delta-9 THC products are not available, or when consumers want a “less intense” high.

In order to produce enough delta-8 THC to create intoxicating effects, manufacturers utilize additional chemicals to convert other cannabinoids in hemp into delta-8. This synthetic conversion process could include the use of household chemicals and could take place in an uncontrolled and unsanitary setting. Delta-8 THC products could contain heavy metals, solvents, and/or pesticides.

So, what does all of this mean in Arizona, where clear answers about the drug and its sales have been hard to come by?

As far as the legality of the synthesized cannabinoid, Steve Elliott, communications director for the Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS), says the department has been referring businesses with questions about delta-8 to the Arizona Revised Statues and suggests they consult their legal counsel for additional guidance.

“We recommend that people who experience concerning health effects after consuming THC or CBD products should call Poison Control unless it’s an emergency, in which case they should call 911,” Elliott says. “These products should be kept out of reach of children.”

The list of potential adverse effects from consuming delta-8 THC in the CDC advisory includes lethargy, “decreased psychomotor activity,” slurred speech, increased heart rate progressing to slowed heart rate, low blood pressure, difficulty breathing, sedation, and coma. Of the 660 exposure cases of delta-8 THC products reported by the FDA between January 2021 and July 31, 2021, 18 percent required hospitalizations, including children who were admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). Of the total exposures, 41 percent were unintentional. This is largely because of mislabeling on products, says Dr. Frank LoVecchio, an emergency physician, medical toxicologist, and addictionologist who works at Valleywise Health and Arizona State University, among other institutions.

“There is the potential that consumers have adverse effects due to insufficient labeling of products. The consumer would think they are consuming CBD, which doesn’t generally cause a ‘high,’ but in reality, it contains delta-8 THC, which is not as intoxicating as delta-9 THC, but is unexpected,” LoVecchio says. “Patients and consumers would be subject to similar effects as delta-9 THC and those effects would be unexpected.”

“In other words, the labeling suggests minimal or no psychoactive effect, but actually does have an effect. These unexpected effects could lead to alteration in thinking, perception, sedation, and even coma,” he continues. “Although death would be unexpected directly from the drug, inadvertent trauma, health care evaluation, and unexpected consequences may occur.”

The Federal Drug Administration notes in its consumer update that the organization “is aware of media reports of delta-8 THC products getting consumers ‘high,’” and expressed concern that such products “likely expose consumers to much higher levels of the substance than are naturally occurring in hemp cannabis raw extracts. Thus, historical use of cannabis cannot be relied upon in establishing a level of safety for these products in humans.”

If someone is concerned about exposure to delta-8 THC or adverse side effects from the substance, the FDA recommends calling 911 or going to a local emergency room.

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