‘Adverse’ reports on intoxicating hemp products cut across all age groups

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Nearly 8,000 people reported adverse effects after consuming products containing delta-8 THC or other intoxicating hemp compounds between 2021-2023, according to America’s network of poison control centers.

More than half of the reports to the National Poison Data System (NPDS) came from those under 19 years of age, and as many as 2,300 involved children under the age of six, according to Highly Legal, a cooperative journalistic effort among Alabama-based AL.com, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, PennLive and USA TODAY that reports on new cannabis products.

Consumers reported uncomfortable highs, and in some cases, panic attacks, psychosis, and hospitalization after consuming the synthetic, psychoactive compounds in edible products variously known as “diet weed,” “marijuana light,” or “gas station pot,” according to the reporting initiative.

Marketing hooks

In addition to being widely available in convenience stores, bodegas, CBD shops and other common retail outlets, online ads are also pushing the products, offered as gummies and other edibles that are marketed as “all-natural” or “made in the U.S.” Consumption is also fueled by online forums and social media, where some users suggest the hemp products help ease PTSD and chronic pain, according to the report.

Most of the compounds are produced synthetically by putting hemp-derived CBD through a process in the lab. In addition to delta-8 THC – the most popular of the substances – producers are also making synthetic delta-10 THC, THC-O-acetate, and THCP. The products are sold as an alternative to marijuana, which contains the psychoactive compound delta-9 THC.

In a recent survey by the National Institutes of Health of more than 2,000 high school students, 11% said they had used delta-8 in the last 12 months.

Anecdotal reports

A group of Wyoming high school students successfully lobbied for a law banning intoxicating hemp products after several of their classmates suffered health problems from delta-8 THC. The legislation was prompted by reports that six teenagers from Cody High School (CHS) were taken to the emergency room after consuming a product laced with the compound.

In 2022, a group of Minnesota 14-year-olds who consumed high doses of delta-8 in gummies said they experienced delayed speech, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, tremors, and other difficulties, according to a report filed with the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Some of the students were crying, anxious and upset. They said they “felt like they were dying,” according to the report.

Later that year, the state’s pharmaceutical board filed a civil suit against Northland Vapors, the company behind that product, for selling products containing more than 50 times the state’s legal limit for THC. The company settled the lawsuit in January, agreeing to pay the Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Health $105,000 in fines.

Also in 2022, a Virginia boy’s death was attributed to over-ingestion of delta-8 from eating gummies, leading to felony murder and felony child neglect charges against his mother. The death was officially ruled an accident attributable to “delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol toxicity” by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Central District of Virginia, although some cannabis experts have cast doubt on that conclusion.

The FDA has repeatedly warned producers over what it considers to be the illegal sale of products containing the intoxicating hemp compounds.

Zombie substances

Laboratories that test cannabis say they have found many undesirable byproducts in the intoxicating hemp products. “We typically see somewhere between seven and 30 different chemical compounds that do not exist in nature,” Chris Hudalla, president and chief scientific officer of ProVerde Laboratories in Massachusetts, told Highly Legal. “These are novel chemical compounds that are made accidentally during the process of synthesis”

Hudalla said the long-term effects of consuming these synthetic compounds remain unknown.

“If they cause cancer, we don’t know. If they cause birth defects [we don’t know.] These have not been studied in rats or mice. We don’t have names for them,” he said

In addition to unknown contaminants in some products, many also contain up to 10 times more of the intoxicating hemp compounds than what the package claims, a testing lab at Virginia Commonwealth University found.

“That’s extremely common because the unregulated market doesn’t really know how much of their active ingredient they should put into their product,” said Adie Rae Wilson Poe, a neuroscientist at Legacy Research Institute in Oregon, who is studying the role of cannabinoids in pain relief. “And so what do they do? They make them strong.”

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