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Delta-8, A New Cannabis-Derived Legal High (For Now)

by Rudy Sanchez on 05/06/2021 | 4 Minute Read

After decades of petitioning and campaigning, advocates of industrial hemp saw a significant victory in the US with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which among many other things, legalized cannabis with a non-active Delta-9 THC concentration of 0.03 percent. 

There are many practical and commercial uses of hemp, such as food, fuel fiber, and cannabinoid extraction. American farmers were missing out on profiting on the green cash crop thanks to the prohibition of the cannabis plant, irrespective of use or cannabinoid concentration under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. Proponents of hemp promised that low-THC strains of cannabis couldn’t be grown for use as a psychoactive substance, winning over the no-funs afraid someone might get the giggles or perhaps lost in ancient alien conspiracy theories. 

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That promise is now at stake, as the explosion in production and cannabinoid extraction has grown into an exploration of other uses of legally cultivated cannabis classified as hemp. Weed, it turns out, is a complex and somewhat mischievous plant, and bending it to legislative will can create some unintended consequences. In the 2018 Farm Bill’s case, the law explicitly calls out one molecule, Delta-9-THC, saying nothing about all the other cannabinoids, some your mom has heard of, like CBD, and deeper cuts like Delta-8-THC. Though hemp is low in Delta-8-THC, the industry is now large enough to produce a marketable quantity of Delta-8-THC, Delta-10-THC, CBN (cannabinol), terpenes, and other compounds found in legal hemp besides CBD. 

Innovation in the hemp space has lead to Delta-8-THC synthesized from legally derived CBD. While Delta-9-THC is the primary psychoactive cannabinoid, Delta-8 and Delta-10 slaps too, or at least that’s what users online are saying about it. And since the hemp law only calls out Delta-9, they’re also federally legal (for now).

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Delta-8, in particular, has been found to produce a high that's milder than its Delta-9 counterpart and has sprung up a new category of cannabis products promising a buzz. It often gets described as a mellower feeling that’s uplifting but not so potent as to produce anxiety, a common complaint of traditional cannabis. Plus, it hits on some of the wellness promises found in the CBD space, such as fighting anxiety, improving mood, and fighting pain. For those in states still prohibiting recreational cannabis, Delta-8-THC’s access accounts for some of the appeal. Like CBD, Delta-9-THC may or may not be under medical or recreational cannabis regulations on a state level, and federally, face the light-handed regulatory touch of nutritional supplements.

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The Delta-8 product category is in its early days, and branding and packaging feel mostly rushed and on a pretty tight budget, and definitely the kind of thing tucked away behind the counter at your local gas station. A few Delta-9 products, some from established hemp brands, stand out with better packaging, which in most cases, is unencumbered by strict medical/recreational cannabis regulations.

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Secret Nature offers Delta-8 cannabis products such as vapes, capsules, and concentrates in addition to CBD products, including flower. Effex’s logo and branding focus on a triangle, as in shape, shared by the greek letter for Delta, and a bit of a vaporware aesthetic combined with the cannabis leaf. Perl forgoes the pot leaf but uses 80s and 90s visual elements together for a chill vibe. Koi is another CBD brand with a Delta-8 offering via gummies, and its logo is a striking pond fish that gives off a wellness/spa feeling.

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Seltzers, however, might offer some of the more established-looking brands hitting the market. Loki, with its blissful gradients, hype-y logo, and black can, promises to leave you feeling "creative and inspired" and resembles the kind of Gen Z Hypebeast fuel for kids waiting in line for sneaker drops. On the other end of the spectrum, D8 Seltzer looks more like an energy-wellness beverage you'd find sitting next to Vitamin Water at the bodega. 

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Psychoactive hemp derivatives like Delta-8 sit in an odd sector of the cannabis landscape. Though federally legal, they certainly caught legislators by surprise, as they intended to allow non-intoxicating cannabis products like paper and CBD.

In legal markets, Delta-8 competes with the real deal, without the cannabis oversight. And some states have taken notice, preemptively banning Delta-8-THC products. Twelve states have already banned Delta-8, including Colorado, where recreational cannabis is legal, with other states also considering a ban. Since Delta-8 swims in the murky waters of hemp and nutritional supplements, they fall outside of the strict framework in place for adult-use cannabis in states like Colorado and Oregon, where efforts to ban the compound are underway. 

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For now, it seems, Delta-8 can be sold and purchased at head shops and gas stations across the country as a legal high on shaky ground. While there’s absolutely no way that cheap, unregulated, grey market, legal highs have ever had negative consequences (and surely this one will quickly be legislated out of the market), Delta-8 will always remain a curious and momentary loophole in the complicated effort to regulate cannabis.

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