Delta-8 THC is not what I was led to believe — and I’m positive it’s not what you think it is either.
My career as a cannabis advocate and writer has morphed over the years. In the early days, after witnessing the miraculous difference it made for my husband and me, I was your typical, biased cannabis advocate. I thought cannabis was the savior for mankind. — “Why the hell aren’t we putting CBD in the water supply, rather than mind-numbing fluoride,” I often wondered. My blogs consisted of all the miraculous things cannabis can do, our successes, and all the things I was learning as a budtender and a part-time blogger.
I Stand Corrected: The Truth about Delta-8 THC
And then I became a journalist. The difference between blogger and journalist is that as a journalist, I had to explore both sides of the argument. I had to understand things, not just from the eyes of an advocate, but as a lawmaker, as a public health official, as a regulator… in other words, as the opposition. And over time, I started to develop a different perspective.
Interviewing scientists, researchers, and the people behind the scenes of the cannabis industry, I gained a new perspective. The more I learned, the more conservative I became in my stance, the more respect I gained for the pioneers who came before me, and the more I appreciated the freedoms I have in Colorado.
I learned how intricate and complex the cannabis industry really is, and most of all, I’ve learned that all cannabis is not created equal.
Call me a purist — but I like my plant medicine actually from a plant and not from a lab. This is why we started using cannabis instead of pharmaceuticals in the first place, and this is precisely why I’m publicly changing my stance on Delta-8 THC.
I Feel Betrayed by Commercial Delta-8 THC
As an ‘isomer’ of Delta-9 THC — meaning it has the same atoms, they are just arranged differently, Delta-8 is a naturally occurring cannabinoid in
tiny, minuscule quantities. So, since it technically does occur naturally, the marketers are calling it a natural substance. But what they don’t tell you is that not one single Delta-8 product on the market today is naturally extracted. None.
Yes, Delta-8 is a naturally occurring cannabinoid, but it is NOT a naturally extracted cannabinoid in the commercial market. ALL of it is produced in a lab. I asked Christopher Hudalla, Founder and CSO from ProVerde Labs, if it was even possible to extract Delta-8 naturally for commercial production. Here’s his response:
“Could Delta-8 THC be extracted & purified from hemp? Possible, yes. Economically feasible, no.
In the analysis of over 18,000 samples [of hemp], 98.5% had NO measurable concentrations of Delta-8-THC. Of the ones that did contain Delta-8, the average concentration was only about 0.0018%. CBD is easy to recover from hemp by extraction and recrystallization. THC cannot be isolated quite so easily. Ignoring the challenge and costs associated with recovering Delta-8, you would have to process approximately 55,000 kilos of hemp to produce 1 kilo of Delta-8-THC. Continuing to ignore the challenge with isolation and purification of the THC, if you assume that a kilo of hemp is around $400, then the cost of just the biomass to yield a kilo of Delta-8 THC would be somewhere around $22,000,000.
If you start to factor in the amount of work necessary and the cost associated with extraction and isolation of the Delta-8, I would estimate that a kilo of Delta-8-THC, extracted and purified from naturally sourced hemp, would be somewhere between $200,000,000 and $500,000,000. Maybe with some economy of scale, you could cut that price in half, maybe $100,000,000… Again, not economically very feasible…”
Sure, 90% of the product might be Delta-8, but what if the other 10% is something that could kill you?
Why the deceptiveness in marketing? Because the CBD market is tanking, and producers need to turn a profit. CBD is produced in mass quantities in hemp, and a little goes a long way, so the current market is drastically over-supplied. According to Julie Lerner at PanXchange, the entire industry only needs 59 acres to support the current CBD market.
So, producers are taking their hemp-derived CBD extract to a lab, where they use chemicals like acetic acid (and in many cases, bleach) to convert the CBD to Delta-9 THC and then to Delta-8. Because a product that promises to get consumers high legally — is flying off the shelves.
Terrifyingly, Josh Swider, CEO of Infinite CAL, a highly respected cannabis testing lab in California, told me that many producers making these products cannot carry a chemistry conversation. So, as the demand increases, amateur chemists are finding ways to make the product and do it as inexpensively as possible in the good name of capitalism.
Then, they shop around for the best lab report they can find — which might be some unaccredited lab in some dude’s basement. There is no federal regulation on testing protocols, which means test results will vary from lab to lab. Plus, for hemp, there are no federally mandated testing requirements. So, many producers are ‘cherry-picking’ the report that best supports their cause — profit.
In other words, the cannabinoid craze, combined with legalized hemp with little to no oversight did exactly what we feared — turned hemp producers into pharmaceutical salesmen who will say anything and sell anything as long as they can turn a dollar. Unfortunately, in these cases, profits often come ahead of consumer safety — the very thing that medical cannabis pioneers sought to avoid.
Now, Delta-8 THC isn’t the equivalent of K2 or Spice; those are lab-made, chemical substances that mimic cannabinoids. Delta-8 THC is an actual cannabinoid, but, calling commercial Delta-8 THC a “hemp-derived” or a “natural” product is the equivalent of calling codeine a “poppy-derived, natural” herbal supplement.
The Dirty, Bathtub Crank of Hemp
Some of the articles I’ve read about producing Delta-8 THC call it a simple process. But speaking with two of the biggest, most respected labs in the cannabis industry, as well as Ph.D. chemists, I can tell you it is anything but. Improperly done, the chemical conversion can spell catastrophe for consumers.
Infinite CAL tested more than 2000 samples of Delta-8 products last year. Of those samples, only six were compliant with the legal limits of Delta-9 THC, and just two were actually pure Delta-8 THC extract. It is impossible not to create Delta-9 during the conversion process, and isolating and separating the two cannabinoids is difficult, even for the best labs.
Unfortunately, excess Delta-9 is the least of my worries with these products. In testing, many of them showed much more than consumers bargain for with numerous unidentified components found in the test results. In fact, Swider told me in an interview that “some of them looked like a rain forest on the chromatogram.”
But why stop with just one lab? Speaking with Hudalla from ProVerde, about Delta-8 THC through a conversation on LinkedIn, he sent me this chromatogram. Understand that every visible peak on this is some type of substance — then take note of how many of them are unidentified.
As Swider said, “Sure, 90% of the product might be Delta-8, but what if the other 10% is something that could kill you?”
What if one of those peaks is bleach? Many California-born products in the early days were made with bleach. Bleach is a carcinogen. Would you want to inhale bleach in any quantity?
Like the vape crisis of 2019, it’s only going to take one distracted chemist to cause a national uproar over these products. The question is, why do we have to wait for someone to get sick when test results clearly show that many of these products are questionable?
What Makes Cannabis Any Better?
While I frequently remind people that cannabis and hemp are the same plant, grown in different ways, with different genetic variations. The two industries are light years apart.
Legal cannabis is regulated at a state-level. This doesn’t mean the regulations are ‘less-stringent’ — remember there are no federal regulations about cannabis cultivation because it’s still illegal in the fed’s eyes. State regulations are very strict, and violations are severe. Every single thing that goes into the cultivation of those plants is monitored, tested, regulated, and controlled.
In today’s world of legal cannabis, consumers know exactly what they are consuming. Numerous companies have been shut down for contaminated products, improper dosing, and blatantly ignoring regulations. Ingredient labels spell out every nutrient that was used during cultivation.
Unfortunately, the same is not true for the hemp industry. There are no mandated testing requirements, there are no labeling requirements, and enforcement of shady marketing practices is nearly impossible. In fact, some of these companies are labeling their products “THC-free” — despite the fact that Delta-8 is, itself, a form of THC.
Delta-8 Is NOT Legal
Delta-8 producers are banking on semantics in the game of legality. As I stated earlier, they claim because Delta-8 THC is a naturally occurring cannabinoid and the process starts with CBD extracted from hemp (and not just chemically produced) that Delta-8 THC is not technically “synthesized,” instead it’s “converted” using laboratory processes.
In other words, they claim “synthesized” means made entirely in a lab, whereas “conversion” is the chemical alteration of one natural substance to another natural substance. Tomayto/Tomahto — it’s made in a lab.
You want to know the irony of this… in Colorado (and 10 other states) — Delta-8 THC is explicitly illegal by state law. A cannabis and hemp-loving state has banned the sale of Delta-8 THC. Several states ban Delta-8-THC in their state laws. These states include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Rhode Island, and Utah. Why? Because they know it is a man-made cannabinoid. Why is this bad?
The USDA Final Ruling states explicitly that ALL synthetic forms of tetrahydrocannabinols are federally controlled substances. Why do they want to do this? Because they prefer pharmaceutical-grade chemists to create synthetics for specific medical use. Not a junior lab technician in a lab that opened six months ago, and definitely not “Joe Hemp Farmer” in his Morton building, who watched a YouTube video about how to do it.
Be Patient, The Real Deal is Coming
As Lerner stated in her year-end report on the hemp market, when the pandemic hit, cannabis was deemed essential, ultimately causing the industry to boom. Unfortunately, the opposite was true of the CBD market. She said, “Why have a non-fat, decaf, sugar-free latte when you can have the real deal?”
Look, I get it — people want to get high, especially those who live in non-legal states. But is it worth stomping on the legacy of an industry and bastardizing the natural plant to chase it? Legal cannabis is coming, people… find patience.
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