Delta-8 marijuana products can be dangerous, health officials warn

Cannabis buds and small jars of oil.
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U.S. health officials are warning about the potential dangers of "delta-8 THC," a compound derived from marijuana, after seeing an increase in hospitalizations tied to the substance.

On Tuesday (Sept. 14), both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alerted consumers of a recent rise in the availability of products containing delta-8 THC, as well as reports of adverse effects from the products.

Delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is one of more than 100 compounds known as "cannabinoids" found in the cannabis plant. It is similar to delta-9 THC, the psychoactive compound that's primarily responsible for the high people experience from marijuana. Delta-8 THC is estimated to be about 50% to 75% as psychoactive as delta-9 THC, but it's naturally produced in only very low levels in the cannabis plant, according to the CDC. 

For this reason, some manufacturers use chemicals to convert other, non-psychoactive cannabinoids, such as cannabidiol (CBD), into delta-8 THC. This process may create byproducts, or contaminants, that are harmful to people's health, according to the FDA.

Related: 25 odd facts about marijuana

In addition, products containing delta-8 THC are sometimes labeled simply as "hemp," a term that refers to the non-psychoactive parts of the cannabis plant and their derivatives. Such labeling may mislead consumers into thinking that they are taking a product without psychoactive effects, the FDA says. What's more, some products containing delta-8 THC may be labeled with only the delta-9 concentration, rather than total THC content, which would underestimate the dose of THC in the product.

Recently, the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) began monitoring adverse events tied to delta-8 THC and found that from Jan. 1 to July 31, 2021, there were 660 reports of delta-8 THC exposure, nearly 20% of which required hospitalization, according to the CDC. Nearly 40% of these cases involved children younger than 18. The FDA notes that manufacturers of delta-8 THC products often package and label the products in ways that appeal to children, including selling the products as gummies, chocolates, cookies or candies.

The FDA separately received 22 reports from December 2020 to July 2021 of people who experienced adverse reactions — including vomiting, hallucinations, trouble standing and loss of consciousness — after taking products with delta-8 THC.

Consumers should be aware that the FDA hasn't evaluated or approved delta-8 THC products for any use, and that companies may market or label the products in ways that put people's health at risk, the FDA says. People should also be aware that products labeled as hemp or CBD could contain delta-8 THC and cause psychoactive effects. Parents should keep products that contain THC or CBD away from children and pets, officials said.

People who experience serious effects from THC or CBD products should call poison control or seek immediate medical care, the CDC says. 

Originally published on Live Science.  

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.