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Most Tested Delta-8 THC Products Are Over Legal Limit, Study Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Nov 01, 2021   
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A new investigation into delta-8 THC products by CBD Oracle, working with FESA Labs, has uncovered concerning levels of product mislabeling and poor testing practices within the delta-8 THC industry. The investigation also turned up concerns relating to lab report falsification and poor age verification controls on these products.

CBD Oracle says its report reflects an industry where the few reputable companies are being dragged down by those who cut corners and do not carry out proper consumer safety checks. Worried consumers are advised to shop at established cannabis industry name brands and consider contacting testing laboratories directly to confirm the authenticity of products with accompanying certificates of analysis (COAs).

Cannabinoid content is frequently mislabeled

CBD Oracle’s investigation looked at 51 unique delta-8 THC products from 44 brands, purchased predominantly online from shops across 11 states. A sample from each product was given to FESA Labs for cannabinoid potency analysis.

Of the 51 random delta-8 THC products selected for testing by CBD Oracle, 76 percent were found to have greater levels of delta-9 THC than the federal legal limit (0.3 percent). One product, the Blueberry Muffin disposable vape pen from Dope, was found to contain a massive 23.17 percent delta-9 THC – more than 77 times the legal federal limit. Across all 51 products, the average delta-9 THC content detected was around 22 times over the limit, at 6.6 percent. Vape products and cannabis concentrates had the highest average delta-9 THC values, while edible products were almost entirely below the legal limit.

Of the 41 products that stated a measurable quantity of delta-8 THC on its product packaging or on an accompanying COA, 77 percent contained less delta-8 THC than advertised. On average, delta-8 THC levels were 15 percent lower than claimed. This supports the findings of a smaller investigation carried out by Leafreport earlier this year, which found 26 of its 38 delta-8 THC product samples to be inaccurately labeled by more than a 10 percent margin. Similarly, the Leafreport investigation found illicit amounts of delta-9 THC in more than half of the samples tested.

“The only chemical difference between the molecular structures of delta-8 and delta-9 THC is the position of the carbon-carbon double-bond,” Dr Jayneil Kamdar of InfiniteCAL Labs explained to CBD Oracle. “Such a small difference in their structures can lead to similar retention times and UV profiles, making it a challenge to distinguish the two compounds.”

“In addition, there are unfortunately a concerning number of labs that may intentionally ignore the delta-9 THC signal and choose to report only delta-8 THC.”

Many delta-8 THC products are not being extensively tested

Inaccuracies in product labeling are only half the story. Of the 51 products included in this analysis, just 43 provided publicly available laboratory testing information on their websites. Furthermore, it was found that 34 products had only been tested for potency analysis – meaning that the majority of products had not been screened for potentially dangerous contaminants, such as heavy metals or residual solvents.

“What they’re selling on the market, there is some delta-8 in it,” Christopher Hudalla told Analytical Cannabis last month. “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.”

Hudalla is the founder and chief scientific officer at ProVerde Labs, a cannabis testing company based in Milford, Massachusetts. The lab recently announced its intention to stop offering delta-8 THC testing after initially struggling to identify many of the unknown compounds being detected in these tests. When it was discovered that one of these unknowns was pentane – a dangerous solvent – with other residual solvents like toluene also present, the laboratory staff made the decision to begin turning away delta-8 samples.

“Normally when I talk to a producer and I tell them how contaminated their sample is, they’re horrified,” Hudalla said. “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.”

While the analysis from FESA Labs did not indicate the presence of any dangerous impurities or contaminants in the samples obtained by CBD Oracle, the fact that these products are not widely being tested is a concern for the industry. But perhaps more concerning is the suggestion that some of these companies could be altering the COAs that they do obtain.

For their investigation, CBD Oracle interviewed eight laboratories and cross-referenced 20 company versions of COAs obtained, finding inaccuracies in two of the COAs. One COA included an altered report, while the other could not be verified due to a missing QR code and differences from the laboratory records. Notably, both products corresponding to these altered COAs contained above 11 percent delta-9 THC, well in excess of the legal limit.

“I’ve had a few customers call me to verify lab reports and found out that the company has changed the results on their site so there’s some manipulation of COAs unfortunately, and it’s frustrating to see,” Eric Wendt of Green Leaf Lab told CBD Oracle.

Products lack suitable warning labels and age verification checks

Proponents of delta-8 THC products generally paint the drug as a sort of “cannabis-lite,” claiming it comes with a more mellow high and less risk of anxiety or paranoia. Recently, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued joint statements warning that such delta-8 THC products “may provide consumers with a false sense of safety,” reminding consumers that such products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use.

While delta-8 THC products have been prohibited in several states, for the most part the drug remains in an unregulated legal gray area. And unfortunately, this lack of regulation is clear to see.

In the CBD Oracle investigation, products sourced at gas stations and in smoke shops frequently did not offer accompanying COAs, and if they did, these COAs were typically difficult to find or hard to read. Around half of the products included in the study sample also did not make use of any appropriate warning labels on their products.

Many of the companies selling these products also did not perform adequate age verification checks before purchase. Just 6 of the 44 product brands had a suitable age verification system in place, such as an online form requiring the upload of a valid government ID or an age verification check upon delivery. CBD Oracle also claims that no proof of age check was carried out in some smoke shops that were visited for in-person purchases.

“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,” Hudalla recalled, speaking to Analytical Cannabis last month.

“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.”

In light of these findings, consumers wishing to use delta-8 THC products are advised to buy directly from credible brands with good standing in the cannabis industry – as opposed to buying from lesser-known brands or from displays in gas stations. Consumers should also check the related COA for the product that they are buying, ideally from the website of the laboratory that tested it. As a final precaution, consumers are welcome to contact the testing laboratory directly to verify the information provided on COAs provided by the product brand.


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