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How a Legal Loophole Got Us This Coveted — and Unregulated — Strain of Weed

Is delta-8 THC a fraudulent fad that needs to be stopped, or the future of specialized marijuana? The truth is somewhere in between.

At first glance, the little jar of delta-8 THC concentrate in my hand doesn’t look any different from other kinds of marijuana wax I’ve dabbed before. Inside the jar is a gram-sized puddle of golden resin and crystalline gems, designed for vaporizing with a water pipe or pen. I use a stainless steel scoop to drop a glob of it onto the hot nail of my bubbler, inhaling the pale white vapor in one steady breath. 

After a few seconds, I exhale and feel the first wave of the high swelling in my senses. It’s not like the blinding blast to the face that taking a big dab of conventional concentrate tends to create. Instead, the delta-8 high just keeps coming in gentle swells. After a few minutes, I’m pleasantly stoned but surprisingly clear-headed, without any traces of paranoia or a racing mind. 

Is this just the mark of some excellent pot, or something unique to delta-8, the new “legal weed” that’s taking the nation by storm? 

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There’s been much ado in the last few years about this unique cannabinoid, which is chemically similar to its better-known sibling, delta-9 THC. The latter is usually just referred to as “THC,” or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the compound found in pot that gives it a psychoactive “high.” Obviously, that’s a bit of a misnomer — there are multiple kinds of THC, and more than 100 documented cannabinoids overall, including now-familiar names like CBD and others that are just starting to be researched, such as CBG

Despite its overall effects being similar to the “regular” THC we know and love, delta-8 is unique because it isn’t absorbed as readily by the brain, effectively making it less “potent.” It’s also quite rare compared to delta-9, as there’s much less delta-8 in the marijuana plant itself, proportionally speaking. 

But why is it the talk of the pot industry? Perhaps the main factor is the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which legalized the sale of extracts and other products made with industrial hemp, marijuana’s sobered-up cousin. The law mandated that any extracts have less than 0.3 percent delta-9 THC, seemingly shutting down any potential for psychoactive use. Instead, clever manufacturers interpreted this as a loophole, giving rise to legal hemp CBD and now the delta-8 boom. 

Ironically, experts suggest most legal delta-8 products on sale aren’t even made from hemp, but rather synthetically derived from CBD and marijuana. Odds are, the FDA and DEA will crack down on this “loophole,” which only exists because the government defined THC too narrowly. But demand is hot at the moment, and a marketplace of delta-8 products is exploding both online and in head shops, gas stations and corner stores, with very little oversight and a whole lot of fraudulent labeling

On paper, delta-8 seems like an interesting addition into a weed market that has room for every kind of niche and strain. I decided that vaping a dab of the purest product I could find would be a good experiment, and the hybrid “Lemon Cookies” concentrate I purchased, from the well-respected brand Guild Extracts, was just that — lab-tested, delicious and potent. It compared favorably to conventional marijuana extracts I had tasted from Guild before, with a similar duration to the come up and high (around 90 minutes). What was clearly different to me was the lack of the faded, couch-locked feel that a hybrid strain can sometimes bring. 

The jury is still out on the exact difference in sensation with delta-8, and as with most drugs, the impact seems to differ from person to person. One YouTube reviewer suggests that it’s better for post-work and nighttime relief, while others suggest that they notice a distinctly calmer high that allows for daytime productivity without jitters or paranoia.

The problem right now is that, due to rapid commercialization, many people are currently shilling delta-8 products of questionable origin, with fake testing and little transparency around the manufacturing process. As one expert puts it, the lingering questions are less about the delta-8, and more around the byproducts from its extraction. “Delta-8, delta-9 and even delta-10 don’t seem to have any ill effects on people that we know of at this point. … I’m less concerned with traditional THC isomers than I am of the ubiquitous unknowns,” concludes Michael Coffin, chief scientist at Elevation Distro, a California-based cannabis firm, in an interview with Chemical & Engineering News

The extraction issue recalls the cases of people getting sick from counterfeit vape cartridges that were tainted with pesticides and Vitamin E, and it’s especially concerning that minors have easy access to delta-8 due to its murky legal status. (Though hilariously, there are concerns that delta-8 products are contaminated with… regular delta-9 THC.) 

In one sense, the boom around delta-8, especially in states that don’t have legalized marijuana, is a case study of what happens when innovation meets the last throes of marijuana prohibition in America. But the chaos around whether these products are safe and legitimate is also clearly the result of a system with too many contradictions. 

There’s more legal weed in the U.S. than ever before in modern history, with high-quality bud flowing from legalized states like California and Colorado into prohibited markets across the country. The profits are staggering, and it’s obvious the nation is trending toward a full embrace of recreational weed in the next decade. But the schisms in drug policy today mean people are constantly finding loopholes to exploit, with little care for integrity. 

In a perfect world, everyone would have the same access to the clean, citrusy delta-8 wax that I’m learning to love. Maybe if marijuana was legal on the federal level, we would stop dancing with a fraudulent gray market and just learn more about the cannabinoid itself. 

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