Pennsylvania lawmakers and activists are pushing for regulation of a substance similar to cannabis called delta-8 that has seen increasing popularity for residents due to bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining a medical cannabis license and its accessibility as part of a burgeoning informal economy in the state.
Despite its availability for purchase, delta-8 is unregulated when it comes to testing for harmful materials like lead, mercury, and more, with the Food and Drug Administration noting that it poses “serious health risks” due to a lack of quality control.
National poison control centers received 2,362 calls relating to delta-8 over the span of January 2021 to March 2022, with the majority of 40 percent of calls being about “unintentional exposure” involving pediatric patients.
The intent behind Senator Judy Schwank’s plans to introduce legislation, which seeks to regulate instead of ban delta-8, was motivated by children and teens accessing these products.
“My concern initially came from the fact that there may be youth that are using this product as an alternative to recreational marijuana to get high,” said Schwank, noting that they “may inadvertently be poisoning themselves with other products that are inside.”
Delta-8 is a cannabinoid derived from hemp, and produces milder effects than delta-9, the main proponent in traditional cannabis which produces psychoactive effects. This lower entry point makes delta-8 more popular with older residents and people newer to cannabis, though it places an unknown health risk onto those consumers.
Delta-8 was first unintentionally licensed for sale in 2018 under a bill from congress legalizing hemp production, with lawmakers not anticipating that other cannabinoid derivatives were being sought after for sale.
Chemists producing medical or recreational cannabis in legal states are subject to testing processes that make sure additional solvents are removed and reactions are safe. But for delta-8 manufacturers, these tests are optional, creating a difficult situation where it may be safer for consumers’ health to purchase cannabis illegally than to turn to delta-8 from a store.
“Certainly it’s cheaper to not have an added step in your process. This would require extra equipment and time,” noted Lauren Vrabel, a cannabis pharmacist, “we don’t know if companies are doing this or not.”
“I am a big advocate of delta-8 as a potential therapeutic and recreational product,” said Chris Hudalla, a chemist working for a Massachusetts-based cannabis testing company. “I am just not an advocate for using consumers as guinea pigs for novel chemical compounds that have not yet been tested.”
The legality of delta-8 is not fully agreed upon, with some contending that the federal law doesn’t allow for legal sale. Still, that hasn’t stopped the widespread sale of the product in the state everywhere from gas stations to campus delivery services.
Under Pennsylvania state law, delta-8, whether extracted from hemp or not, is considered a Schedule 1 controlled substance. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association noted, “while possessing, selling, manufacturing, or possessing with the intent to sell or manufacture delta-8 may not constitute a violation of federal law, it unambiguously constitutes a violation of Pennsylvania law.
But the association also noted that as far as they’re aware, there have been no arrests made for the possession of delta-8, though some counties are attempting to remove sale of the product.