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Over 11% of 12th Graders Used Delta-8 in 2023

Over 11% of high school seniors used delta-8-THC in 2023 — a mostly unregulated cannabis product that is easily accessible in many states — and experts say it’s a potential public health concern.

Studies have shown that cannabis products can negatively impact the adolescent brain, and public health experts are particularly concerned about delta-8 use among adolescents — a psychoactive cannabinoid that has no federal minimum age requirement and is easily accessible in much of the country.

Researchers published an analysis of the 2023 Monitoring the Future survey, funded by the National Institutes of Health, in JAMA Network Wednesday, looking specifically at Delta-8 use for the very first time. Among the 2,186 respondents, the report found that 11.4% of 12th graders used the psychoactive substance, of which 91% also reported marijuana use. Approximately 30% of all 12th graders also reported marijuana use in the past year.

Delta-8 is a psychoactive substance that comes from hemp, which is a variety of the cannabis sativa plant. The substance’s effects are similar to delta-9-THC, which is the primary THC component that causes the “high” many people get from cannabis. Delta-8 is one of over 100 cannabinoids in the cannabis sativa plant.

The substance is often sold in gummies, flavored vaping devices, and other cannabis products that have become increasingly accessible due to a legal loophole that allows them to be sold online or in gas stations and convenience stores, even in states where cannabis has not been legalized. The report found that delta-8 use was more common in the south and midwest regions and in states without cannabis legalization or delta-8 regulations.

FDA delta-8 concerns

In 2022, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a consumer update warning of the health risks associated with delta-8. The FDA said it is concerned about the process needed to convert other cannabinoids in hemp, like CBD, into delta-8, as the natural amount of delta-8 THC in hemp is naturally very low.

This may expose users to potentially unsafe chemicals used to make delta-8 through this chemical synthesis process, the FDA said, as well as additional chemicals that may be used to change the color of the final product.

“The FDA is also concerned that delta-8 products likely expose consumers to much higher levels of the substance than are naturally occurring in hemp cannabis raw extracts,” the agency said. “Thus, historical use of cannabis cannot be relied upon in establishing a level of safety for these products in humans.”

The FDA received 104 reports of adverse events in patients who consumed delta-8 products between December 1, 2020, and February 28, 2022. Of these 104 adverse event reports, 77% involved adults, 8% involved pediatric patients less than 18 years of age, and 15% did not report age. A total of 55% required medical intervention or hospital admission, and 66% described adverse events after ingestion of delta-8 THC-containing food products (e.g., brownies, gummies). The reported adverse events included but were not limited to, hallucinations, vomiting, tremor, anxiety, dizziness, confusion, and loss of consciousness.

National poison control centers also received 2,362 exposure cases of delta-8 products between January 1, 2021 — the date that the delta-8 THC product code was added to the database — and February 28, 2022.

In a statement, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nora Volkow, M.D., said, “Cannabis use in general has been associated with negative impacts on the adolescent brain, so we must pay attention to the kinds of cannabis products teens are using, educate young people about potential risks, and ensure that treatment for cannabis use disorder and adequate mental health care is provided to those who need it.”

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