Delta-8, an unregulated form of THC, is popular among high school students

Edible products advertised as containing delta-8 THC. Teens can overdo it with products like these, health officials warn.

Gene Johnson/AP


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Gene Johnson/AP


Edible products advertised as containing delta-8 THC. Teens can overdo it with products like these, health officials warn.

Gene Johnson/AP

A national survey of more than 2,000 high school seniors nationwide found that more than 11% used a drug called delta-8 THC in the past year.

The psychoactive compound is derived from hemp and is often called "diet herb" or "light herb." It is milder than its cousin, delta-9 THC, the main intoxicant in marijuana, but has similar effects on the brain and body.

The percentage of adolescents who use the drug is higher in the 19 states that do not have regulations on the compound and in states where marijuana has not been legalized.

Findings are published In a study published this week in JAMA. The data comes from Monitoring the future, which analyzes the behaviors of adolescents. This is the first time that this survey has asked adolescents about this medication.

"It's a growing concern," he says. Rene Johnson, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Johnson was not involved in the new study, but wrote a accompanying editorial about public health concerns over the largely unregulated sale of delta-8 THC products.

Products containing delta-8 began to be marketed after the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (commonly known as the Farm Bill) included a provision legalizing the sale of hemp-derived cannabis products, which contain less than 0.3% delta-9 THC. “This led to the “de facto legalization” of hemp-derived delta-8 psychoactive products,” Johnson writes.

But the problem is the lack of oversight of delta-8 products (often sold as edibles or vaporizers) in many states, Johnson says.

"What is sold is not regulated," he says. "In most states we do not know the power [of the drug]".

Delta-8 products are made by processing hemp-derived CBD, which can concentrate the drug, he adds. "We're getting higher concentrations than we would have ever gotten in a real cannabis plant."

Preliminary studies show users reporting adverse health effectsincluding "coughing, rapid heart rate, paranoia, anxiety, breathing problems, and seizures," Johnson says.

And adolescents in particular are at higher risk for these symptoms. "They're new to drugs, so they're not very good at taking them or understanding how long it takes to feel the effects, when to stop," Johnson says.

Johnson is especially concerned about teens consuming edibles containing delta-8 THC.

"Most people probably don't have a clear idea of ​​how long it takes for an edible to arrive," he explains. "So it takes 30 to 40 minutes. So they might wait 20 minutes. Beyond that, they take another one and then they've overeaten."

That carries a "real risk of people going to hospital due to excessive cannabis ingestion."

Most states also don't have laws requiring labeling of products containing delta-8, he adds. "When there is labeling, studies show that the labels are incorrect. There are no standards for how this product is made."

Public health officials have taken note of the drug's risks. In 2022, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about potential risks, noting that the agency has not evaluated or approved delta-8 THC for safe use. It noted that poison control centers received more than 2,300 cases of delta-8 exposure between January 1, 2021 and February 28, 2022.

As of January 2023, delta-8 had been banned in 15 states and is regulated in some way in eight others, according to Johnson's editorial.

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