After delta-8 THC makes students sick, classmates spur ban on intoxicating hemp

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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.

Students in a Youth For Justice program at a high school in Cody pushed for adoption of the bill, Senate File 32 (SF 32), recently signed by Gov. Mark Gordon. The ban goes into effect July 1.

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 delta-8 THC, a synthetic substitute for delta-9 THC, the most common form of THC found in high concentration in marijuana.

Wyoming and many other states are fighting the gray market for intoxicating products containing high concentrations of delta-8 THC and other psychoactive substances, synthetic compounds that can be made in the lab by putting hemp-derived CBD through a chemical process.

‘Profusely vomiting’

The products, often referred to as “diet weed” or “marijuana light,” quickly emerged after the 2018 Farm Bill legalized industrial hemp and its downstream products across the U.S. But the federal law created a loophole by not accounting for synthetically produced psychoactive products that can be made from CBD present in hemp flowers. The products are often packaged to mimic popular brand-name snacks, making them attractive to youth.

“They’ll come into the nurse’s office, or we’re having to go to classrooms where students are profusely vomiting, they can’t breathe, they’re ashen gray, they’re lethargic or incoherent,” Beth Blatt, the CHS vice principal, told Cowboy State Daily. “To the point where we have recommended that parents take them to the emergency room immediately or have called the ambulance to transport them.”

The proposed law narrows the definitions of “hemp” and “hemp products” to “all parts, seeds and varieties of the plant cannabis sativa l., whether growing or not, or a product, derivative, extract, cannabinoid, isomer, acid, salt or salt of isomer made from that plant with no synthetic substance. . . .”

Producers may not “add, alter, insert or otherwise include any synthetic substance into hemp or hemp products produced, processed or sold,” according to the law.

The new law calls for state officials to conduct inspections of stores that sell hemp to test products to ensure they are legal.

‘Real-life results’

Twenty-five students from the high school went to the state capitol in January to make legislators aware of the problem and lobby for change.

“They see a problem, they research to see if any other states have a solution,” said Deb White, sponsor of the Youth For Justice program. “They gather data, they create media, they work on public speaking. They track how every single person is going to vote. It’s real life, and then they get a result at the end.”

Loretta Howieson Kallas, the prosecutor in Uinta County who also represents the Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney’s Association, said her office has had to deal with “truckloads” of questionable products sold under the guise of legal hemp.

CBD: The Continuing Crisis

“Across the state of Wyoming, we have various businesses that are intentionally targeting individuals to facilitate the distribution of what they’re calling legal marijuana,” Kallas said.

“They’re here in Evanston. We have Wild Cannabis, it is a business that advertises and provides for the fact that they are selling legal marijuana, and that is specifically through the delta-8 derivative,” she added.

Stakeholders pledge to fight

Some stakeholders say they will fight back against the bill in court. They say they are not against regulations for the hemp industry but fear SF 32 will also criminalize processed hemp products that are under the 0.3% limit for all forms of THC.

Sam Watt, the owner Platte Hemp Co., which has five stores across the state that sell hemp edibles, vapes, pens and flowers containing intoxicating compounds such as delta-8 and delta-10, said if the law is interpreted to include all food additives, that would wipe out most of the products he sells. He said other hemp shop owners have encouraged him to lead them in a legal challenge to the new law.

Key provisions in the Wyoming law:

  • The act prohibits the addition of synthetic substances or other additives to hemp and hemp products that are produced, processed or sold.
  • It also prohibits the sale of hemp products that contain more than 0.3% THC or other psychoactive substances. The prohibition also applies to psychoactive analogs and isomers of THC.
  • The act specifies that naturally occurring THC substances contained in the cannabis plant and delta-8 THC are listed as Schedule I substances under the Controlled Substances Act.
  • A person who violates the prohibitions on adding synthetic substances to hemp or sells hemp with more than 0.3% THC is ineligible for a license to produce or process hemp.
  • A person who violates the prohibitions concerning the addition of synthetic substances or the sale of hemp with more than 0.3% THC is guilty of a misdemeanor.
  • The act requires the Department of Agriculture and the Commissioner of Drugs and Substances Control to set rules to implement this new law.

Popular in high schools

According to a report from researchers at the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California, more than 11% of high school seniors who took part in a national survey last spring said they had used delta-8 THC in the past year.

The study, carried out last spring, was published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Gummies, vapes and other products containing delta-8 are available online and in gas stations and convenience stores, often marketed as a federally legal substitute for marijuana — and often without solid measures for age verification, the researchers noted.

“We don’t know enough about these drugs, but we see that they are already extremely accessible to teens,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which helped fund the research. “Cannabis use in general has been associated with negative impacts on the adolescent brain.”

‘Alarm bells’

Some high schoolers reported they had used delta-8 THC in the previous year, and more than a third said they had done so 10 or more times during that period. The study also found that in states where marijuana use is illegal for adults, 14% of high school seniors said they had used delta-8 in the last year. In states where marijuana was legal for adults, 8% of high school seniors said they used delta-8 in the previous year.

It’s unclear if delta-8 affects teens differently than other forms of THC, but “even if it’s the same as other forms, we’re not in favor of 13-, 14- and 15-year-olds using cannabis,” said  Wilson M. Compton, NIDA’s deputy director.

“The alarm bells go off for me that these products are being marketed with claims of being a completely legal substitute for marijuana and they seem to be proliferating in areas where there’s really no regulation,” said study leader Alyssa Harlow, a USC epidemiologist who teaches in the school’s Institute for Addiction Science. That lack of oversight can mean no required testing for potential contaminants, she said.

Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of marijuana advocacy group NORML, said when it comes to intoxicating hemp products, state laws are flouted and enforcement is “practically nonexistent.” The result is “an enormous amount of delta-8 available by internet and convenience stores,” he said.

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