As other states have moved toward legalizing recreational marijuana, Texas remains a holdout. But is the Lone Star State as careful as it ought to be when it comes to other cannabis products?
Take delta-8, for example. It’s a psychoactive substance produced by cannabis plants, most commonly found in the form of gummies and vape cartridges. It can produce a similar high to marijuana, or delta-9.
Delta-8 products began appearing across the state in 2019. Getting your hands on it is often as easy as walking into your local gas station. However, the Food and Drug Administration has never evaluated delta-8 for safe use. What do we really know about its health effects?
Brett Ginsburg, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at UT Health San Antonio who studies the pharmacology of cannabinoids and other substances, joined the Standard to share more.
This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity:
Texas Standard: What’s the current legal status of delta-8 in Texas?
Brett Ginsburg: Delta-8 is in a somewhat gray area, because it is created as a product of cannabidiol, which is now legal due to the Farm Bill of 2018. It is a derivative of a legal substance, but as a psychoactive cannabinoid, it still could be considered a schedule one drug, depending on who you ask.
I think it remains a gray area in general. As far as I’m aware, this is not something that the state has been pursuing at this time.
What’s currently known about the potential health risks associated with delta-8 products?
There’s two different angles here. One is the delta-8 molecule itself. The truth is, this hasn’t really been widely evaluated by any regulatory agency to date. In fact, in Canada, delta-8 has been prohibited nationwide because of a lack of safety information on the molecule itself.
That said, we do know a lot about cannabinoids. There are health risks to these molecules, but generally they’re fairly safe. It’s hard to overdose to the point where someone might suffer a death or long-term damage from the molecule.
The second angle is the way that these products are manufactured, which leads to serious concerns about the quality control. There have been numerous studies that have shown that some of the products contain all sorts of things that people would not want to be consuming, including heavy metals and solvents that are left behind from that conversion process when they create delta-8 THC from cannabidiol.
So, there’s really two aspects: One, it’s not clear what the safety of this molecule is, but what is perhaps more troubling is that there’s no quality control over the safety of the products themselves and what they’re dissolved in.
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Given that they are so available, what recommendations would you give to Texans who may be considering using delta-8 products in light of concerns about their safety?
The main thing I would say is buyer beware. You’re buying products that are unregulated and unwatched by any agency, so they don’t rise to the level of safety standards that you would expect from other products – including even alcohol, which is overseen by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
There’s no organization looking at these products, what’s in them or how they’re marketed. It’s also important to recognize that the reports of what’s in these are totally produced by the manufacturers themselves. There’s a lot of pressure on the manufacturers to provide information that would sell the product, maybe even if it’s not completely accurate to the product you’re buying at that moment.
So, the best recommendation I have right now is probably to stay away from them unless you can find a product that you can independently verify contains what it says is in it.
What do you think we can expect for the future of delta-8 in Texas?
It’s likely at some point this will attract the attention of lawmakers and law enforcement and there will be sanctions against it. It’s a little challenging to know what’s the future of delta-8, but I would say if it follows the pattern of what we’ve seen before, it’s likely to eventually fall under scrutiny and then be replaced again by some new product that now skirts the law enforcement or oversight of the government.