You may have seen some delta-8 cannabis products—often in the form of gummies or vape cartridges—and wondered what they’re all about. Well, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would like you to know that delta-8 products are largely unregulated and may come with some adverse effects, including symptoms similar to those seen after a too-large dose of cannabis.
Both the FDA and CDC released alerts this week warning consumers about the unknowns and potential dangers of consuming delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) products. Usually, when talking about THC in cannabis, people are referring to delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol. Delta-8 is another compound found naturally in cannabis that’s generally believed to cause a less potent high than delta-9 THC but isn’t well understood.
Despite the proliferation of these products over the last few years, there is very little research around the potential health effects of delta-8. And the products have been implicated in emergency room visits and calls to poison control centers. Between December 2020 and January 2021 alone, the FDA received reports of 22 people who’d consumed delta-8 products, including 14 people who’d ended up in the hospital or emergency room. Nationally, poison control centers received more than 600 calls involving delta-8 exposure since January of this year. Of those calls, 39% involved kids under the age of 18.
If someone ingests a large amount of delta-8, they might experience lethargy, slurred speech, changes in heart rate, uncoordinated movements, sedation, and even coma, the CDC says.
Depending on a state’s specific regulations, companies can sell delta-8 products legally in cannabis products or in the hemp market (similar to CBD products), the CDC explains. (They may have a particular appeal in states where it’s not legal to consume cannabis.)
But labeling on those products isn’t always clear—they might be labeled as simply “hemp”—so people may not realize that they’re taking delta-8 or that this compound can actually cause noticeable psychoactive effects. The FDA hasn’t evaluated or approved any products containing delta-8 THC, and because people often equate “hemp” with “non-psychoactive,” it’s concerned that the products may be marketed in a way that puts people at risk. It’s also particularly concerned about how appealing delta-8 products—including delicious-looking gummies—may be to kids who don’t realize that the products can cause a high.
The manufacturing process for delta-8 products may be different from the processes for other cannabis products and can include the use of certain chemicals that can be harmful. “The natural amount of delta-8 THC in hemp is very low, and additional chemicals are needed to convert other cannabinoids in hemp, like CBD, into delta-8 THC,” the FDA explains. “The final delta-8 THC product may have potentially harmful by-products (contaminants) due to the chemicals used in the process.”
Consumers should be aware that delta-8 is out there and, despite marketing suggesting it only provides a mild high, it can have real psychoactive effects, the CDC says. It might also be in THC- and CBD-containing products that aren’t well labeled, so people may consume delta-8 (and, therefore, take a higher amount of psychoactive compounds than they expected) without realizing it. Parents of young children should be especially cautious about the potential effects of delta-8 products and take care to keep them out of reach of kids because they could be mistaken for candy.