CDC Issues First Health Advisory on Delta-8 THC, Citing Rise in Adverse Events

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday issued its first Health Advisory regarding delta-8 THC, a compound derived from cannabis plants, which has risen in popularity over the past year.

The advisory focused on the increasing availability of delta-8 THC and related products, and on the related rise in reported adverse events, due in part to “insufficient labeling.” It was aimed at “public health departments, healthcare professionals, first responders, poison control centers, laboratories, and the public.” Also on Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration published its first “consumer update” regarding delta-8. 

This year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers began to code delta-8-specific adverse events, of which there were 660 between January and July. Of these, 18% involved hospitalization, 39% involved individuals under the age of 18, and 73% took place in “primarily … Southern states that have not passed state laws to allow non- adult cannabis use.” The CDC notes that the first delta-8-related adverse events likely took place last September.

The path was paved for delta-8 with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized cannabis plants with .3% THC or less, also known as hemp. In short, when the federal government singled out delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol in defining hemp as the legal form of cannabis, everything else that comes from the cannabis plant, such as CBD or delta-8, also became legal, albeit unregulated. Hemp-derived CBD, which does not cause a high, has been on shelves for years, while delta-8, which does cause a high, is a much more recent trend.

Delta-8 THC, which is not as psychoactive as delta-9 THC, is also not as abundant in cannabis plants. The delta-8 THC on shelves, therefore, is most often “synthetically converted” from CBD, the CDC notes, using “a solvent, acid, and heat,” which “may create harmful by-products that presently are not well-characterized.” 

As Cannabis Wire reported in March, delta-8 THC came up at a Substance Abuse and Services Administration (SAMHSA) Drug Testing Advisory Board (DTAB) meeting, during which Ron Flegel, the chair of the Board, flagged “as an emerging issue, the delta-8-THC or other THC isomers.” Flegel added that “the delta-8 is an impairing substance, and it is being marketed on the internet dramatically as we speak.”

But generally, federal agencies have left states to fend for themselves on the issue of delta-8, and states’ approaches have ranged from bans to the creation of new regulations. 

The CDC issued recommendations in its advisory, aimed at consumers, public health officials, healthcare providers, and, notably, considering that the federal government’s ongoing prohibition on cannabis is at odds with legal state programs, “retailers selling cannabis products.” 

For retailers selling cannabis products, the CDC recommended that they “should provide information to consumers about the psychoactive qualities of delta-8 THC,” and “should report total THC content on product labeling, including ingredients like delta-8 THC that may be synthetically produced to create a psychoactive effect.”

The CDC’s consumer recommendations focused on awareness around insufficient testing and labeling practices, as well as on emerging “cannabis-derived products of potential concern,” like “delta-10 THC and THC-O acetate” because “more research is needed to understand the health effects of products containing these compounds.”

More CDC Issues First Health Advisory on Delta-8 THC, Citing Rise in Adverse Events