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Delta 8 THC: Relief from pain and anxiety or a legal way to get high?

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Products ranging from tinctures to gummy bears containing a hemp byproduct with euphoric THC effects are legal and for sale all around Indiana, where the purchase and use of traditional marijuana violates the law.

Delta 8 THC products abound, available at CBD stores, smoking supply shops and even gas stations. While some states regulate or ban the sale of delta 8 tetrahydrocannabinol, Indiana is one of 30, from Maine to Wyoming, that has no limitations on the hemp-derived compound.

A federal law that prohibits what's called delta 9 THC leaves the less-potent delta 8 unregulated. The 2018 American Farm Bill that legalized hemp defines it as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3% or less delta-9 THC. It doesn't mention delta 8, which is less potent.

Some claim delta 8 THC helps relieve pain, reduces anxiety and can bring a calming euphoria. Others, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, urge caution when considering the use of products containing THC, even minute amounts. 

Back in September, FDA and the Centers for Disease Control issued delta 8 warnings. The FDA said delta 8 THC products haven't been evaluated or approved for safe use. The warning cited concerns about delta 8 marketing and the safety of some processes used to convert it from cannabinoids.

Local store meets demand

Jared Bell opened Bell Family Dispensary, one of the area's first CBD-based stores, in Ellettsville in 2018. The next year, the store moved to its current site in Bloomington. In May 2020, he opened a second store in Destin, Florida, where medical marijuana is legal.

The business sold regular CBD products at first, but in the fall of 2020 started offering legal delta 8 products to meet consumer demand.

Delta 8 sold well in Florida, where Bell said customers in their 80s and 90s seek its pain relief and calming effects but don't want the "high" associated with marijuana and delta 9 products. Some call delta 8 "THC light."

Back at his Bloomington store, delta 8 products now are his best sellers.

"We do a pretty good business with that," he said.

"Some people like delta 8 because while CBD reduces inflammation, the delta 8 helps pain too. And some people use it for anxiety."

Delta 8 sales have surpassed the popular Grandma's Hemp full-spectrum CBD products the store stocks. Bell said he uses CBD oil for back pain himself, and doesn't use delta 8, which is about 70% as potent as the THC in marijuana.

"As people age, they are looking for something to address the pain in their bodies without resorting to prescription pain killers and their side effects," he noted.

He said this client base is mixed, "but we sell a lot more delta 8 to older people than younger ones."

Bell said delta 8 hit the local market big in August 2020. "It was out there before then, but that's when customers started asking and when stores started stocking it. Before, it was an unknown area and a lot of people didn't know much about it."

Bell said the delta 8 products he sells are produced in Colorado and distributed through an Indianapolis-based company. He said they are lab tested; results are available online, traced by a batch number on the packaging.

For instance, Bell Family Dispensary sells a jar of 30 750mg vegan and gluten-free delta 8 Berry Blast Gummies for $34.99. They are tested and certified by an independent lab, and a consumer can use a code on the package to view the analysis.

"We are very picky about what we carry," Bell said.

"There are a lot of delta 8 products on the market, but we don't carry anything unless we know what's in it."

He said people should be cautious when trying delta 8.
 
"We advise our customers to start slow, maybe eat half a gummy bear and wait an hour to see the effect. Don't grab a handful of gummies and start that way. With delta 8, you'll want to see how the small amount of THC will affect your body."

Not all CBD is created equal:Four dangers of unregulated products

What does the FDA say about Delta 8?

The FDA's  2021 advisory answers the question: What is Delta-8 THC?

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol is a psychoactive substance found in the Cannabis sativa plant, of which marijuana and hemp are two varieties. Delta-8 THC is one of more than 100 cannabinoids the plant produces, but is not found in significant amounts in the cannabis plant. Instead, concentrated amounts of delta-8 THC are made from hemp-derived cannabidiol, known as CBD. 

The FDA warning includes "5 Things to Know about Delta 8"

Delta 8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use and may be marketed in ways that put the public health at risk. Concerns include variability in product formulation and product labeling, other cannabinoid and terpene content and variable delta 8 THC concentrations. The FDA has received adverse event reports involving delta-8 THC-containing products. (Also, from January through July 2021, national poison control centers received 660 exposure cases of delta-8 THC. Thirty-nine percent involved people younger than 18.) Delta-8 THC has psychoactive and intoxicating effects that are less potent but similar to delta-9 THC, the component responsible for the high felt from using cannabis. There is concern that delta-8 THC products likely expose consumers to much higher levels of the substance than naturally occurs in hemp cannabis raw extracts. Delta-8 THC products often involve use of potentially harmful chemicals to create the concentrations of delta-8 THC claimed on the label. The natural amount of delta-8 THC in hemp is so low that additional chemicals are added to convert other cannabinoids in hemp, like CBD, into delta-8 THC. The FDA has concerns about the synthetic conversion process, including potential use of unsafe household chemicals.  Manufacturing of delta-8 THC products sometimes occurs in uncontrolled and unregulated settings. Delta-8 THC products should be kept out of the reach of children and pets. Manufacturers package and label their products in ways that may appeal to children - gummies, chocolates, cookies and candies. 
"The FDA is actively working with federal and state partners to further address the concerns related to these products and monitoring the market for product complaints, adverse events, and other emerging cannabis-derived products of potential concern," the 2021 advisory said.  
 
"It is important for consumers to be aware that delta-8 THC products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use in any context."
 
 
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