Why One Cannabis Lab is No Longer Testing Delta-8 THC
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THC has had a bit of a rebrand this year. Delta-9 THC (as it’s formerly known) is out of style; delta-8 THC is in. The latter is said to produce milder highs than its better-known cousin. And, unlike delta-9 THC, delta-8 is promoted across the US as being federally legal.
How? Well, delta-8 products can be synthesized from CBD using certain solvents and acids. As the 2018 farm bill federally legalized hemp, some have argued that any delta-8 products produced from hemp-derived CBD must be federally legal, too.
Whether actually legal or not, this notion has helped propel the once little-known variant of THC to popularity across the country. Delta-8 gummies, lollipops and oils are now sold in both licensed cannabis dispensaries and unlicensed corner shops and gas stations all over the US, sometimes with no age restrictions required for purchase.
Many in the legal cannabis sector have already cashed in on the craze, but not everyone. Some cannabis chemists are concerned that these new products don’t meet the safety standards required for legal marijuana products and could pose a health risk to consumers, especially minors.
For these reasons and more, one cannabis lab in Massachusetts has stopped testing delta-8 products all together. Analytical Cannabis caught up with its founder to find out more.
A delta wave
“I live in a very small town, and I found delta-8 products in multiple stores that they say you have to be 21 to purchase. But I’ve also seen children buying them,” Christopher Hudalla tells Analytical Cannabis.
“There’s no regulatory control. And so we know children are consuming these products without any indication about how safe they are. That’s hugely irresponsible in my opinion.”
Hudalla is the founder and chief scientific officer at ProVerde Labs, a cannabis testing company in Milford, Massachusetts. Up until recently, the company had been receiving and testing products high in delta-8 and delta-10 THC (another THC variant) that clients sent in. But after struggling to identify many of the other compounds also present in the delta-8 products, Hudalla and his team became concerned that the items could pose a risk to the health of consumers.
“What they’re selling on the market, there is some delta-8 in it,” he says. “Oftentimes, it’s high in delta-8; it might be 89 percent delta-8. But what nobody’s asking is what’s the other 11 percent? Is that other 11 percent toxic? And that’s where the problem is.”
To begin with, when Hudalla and his team came across such a product, they would approve it but acknowledge that around 10 percent of the product was unknown.
“If I had got a delta-8 product, let’s say a vape oil, I would just put on the certificate that it’s 90 percent delta-8 without any other commentary about the other peaks [peak readings from a mass spectrometer test], because I didn’t know what they were at the time.”
But Hudalla soon found out.
“We saw one of them had one percent pentene. They have residual toluene [an industrial solvent] in them. They have heavy metals in them,” Hudalla says.
Shocked by his findings, Hudalla and his team stopped their delta-8 testing services and started rejecting samples. But they seem to be one of the only cannabis labs to have taken such a strong moral stance.
“Normally when I talk to a producer and I tell them how contaminated their sample is, they’re horrified,” Hudalla tells Analytical Cannabis. “Their second reaction is [that] they’re incredibly grateful that I alerted them to the contamination, because they would never want to sell a product that would hurt anybody.”
“And then I tell them that we no longer provide testing for this type of sample, and they always end the conversation. ‘Well, do you know another lab that will test this for me?’ [they ask], because they’re not going to stop selling it; they’re just going to test with another lab.”
Despite the clear health risks these products could pose, the economic incentives of delta-8 THC gummies, oils and tinctures seem to be too strong for some companies to resist, according to Hudalla. After all, the cost of producing the products from CBD is almost negligible.
“It’s very easy to do in your garage,” Hudalla explains. “CBD is almost free. There’s so much oversupply of CBD that it’s very, very inexpensive. It used to be something like 12 cents a milligram. Now I can buy it for probably 0.1 cents a milligram.”
“And you can take that and, in your garage, convert it into delta-8. So there’s very good margins in it.”
But it seems delta-8 THC’s profits aren’t enough to sway some state regulators. As of August 1, 17 US states have either heavily regulated, restricted, or prohibited the sale of delta-8 THC. Four more states are currently reviewing the compound’s legality and Michigan plans to ban the products come October.
Despite this growing wall of prohibition, the majority of US states, including key cannabis regions like California, Nevada and Massachusetts, still don’t currently enforce any regulations on delta-8 THC. Naturally, then, sales of delta-8 products within these states continue to surge. In California, the THC variant has become the fastest-growing chemical on the hemp market for the last year or so, according to the data analytics company Hemp Benchmarks.
But these soaring sales come with serious health risks, says Hudalla. And only when all state regulators put the health of consumers first will the delta-8 craze come to an end. After that, hopefully some more federal CBD regulations will be forthcoming, as those, according to Hudalla, should help divert investment away from delta-8 products.
“The hemp industry is blaming the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] for this phenomenon,” Hudalla says. “The argument – which is full of baloney – is that the FDA was supposed to step in and regulate CBD and hopefully approve it as a food supplement. And because the FDA did not do this, that means that all these people who invested huge amounts of money into CBD under the assumption that someday it would be considered a food additive, all of a sudden, risk losing their investment.”
“And this delta-8 pathway is a means to salvage their investment until the time when the FDA steps in and approves CBD as a nutritional supplement or food additive. And so they see delta-8 as a financial salvation for their investment. And […] that investment is being salvaged by risking the health and safety of consumers. You’re literally betting that the product you’re making is not going to kill people or harm people. And I don’t think it should be on unsuspecting consumers to bail out bad investments.”
This article originally appeared in Analytical Cannabis' Advances in Cannabis Testing eBook in September 2021.