KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In Tennessee, Delta-8 is legal. Some people said it produces a similar effect to marijuana, and a bill that would have banned it in the state has been changed to regulate it, instead.
The federal legalization of hemp through the 2018 Farm Bill removed restrictions on a wide range of molecules produced by the cannabis plant —including, a new court ruling says, the psychoactive cannabinoid Delta-8 THC.
A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit wrote in an opinion published Thursday that products containing Delta-8 THC are generally legal because federal law defines hemp as “any part of” the cannabis plant, including “all derivatives, extracts, [and] cannabinoids,” that contains less than 0.3% Delta-9 THC.
Delta-9 THC, one of the psychoactive substances in marijuana, is the most abundant naturally occurring psychoactive cannabinoid and remains federally illegal in doses higher than .3%.
It’s classified as a Schedule I controlled substance. By contrast, Delta-8 THC typically occurs in only trace amounts in the cannabis plant. Delta-8 products typically extract and concentrate the chemical, effectively giving people a chance to get high without breaking the law.
In Tennessee, Delta-8 products are legal and people who sell them in Knoxville say the effects are not that different from simply smoking marijuana.
Delta-8 retailer Hayden Johnson has worked in the cannabis industry for a while, operating stores in states where recreational marijuana sales are legal. He said that the effects of Delta-8 products are comparable to using marijuana products, but may not be entirely identical.
"It's not really anything different than a regular cannabis edible, it's just not the entire experience," he said.
Selling Delta-8 products in Knoxville is big business. There are at least 12 stores in the city dedicated to selling Delta-8 products, and Johson called it a "Delta-8 Craze.”
Hemp House, located in West Hills, is one of those stores. Andy Chesney owns the store and said more people are coming in to purchase Delta-8 products to help them manage pain.
"It's industry innovation,” he said. "I invested my savings into this business and it's a big part of my life."
Chesney said he makes sure to research the products he sells and said he thinks Delta-8 products should be regulated.
Researchers like Allyn Howlett from the Center for Research on Substance Use and Addiction at Wake Forest say that both substances are pretty similar.
"Both Delta-9 THC and Delta-8 THC work at that same receptor. The only difference is that the Delta-9 is a little bit more potent. That means you need to take less of that drug than you would take a Delta 8 to get exactly the same response,” she said.
She also said Delta-8 and Delta-9 are not even like comparing apples and oranges. It's more like comparing a red apple to a green one. In fact, when inspecting the molecular makeup of Delta-8 and Delta-9, most people notice some similarities.
"You would see a double bond going in one direction, and Delta-8 has the double bond going in another direction, but the rest of the molecule is absolutely identical," Howlett said.
"With less TCH content it is not an intoxicant,” said Representative John Regen said (R - Oak Ridge).
In April, lawmakers decided that instead of banning Delta-8 products, the state would charge a 5% tax which will be used to regulate the sales of hemp products. The amendment also bans anyone under 21 years old from buying Delta-8 products.
“When those rules come before us, you can rest assured that I and my colleagues on that committee will scrub them very thoroughly,” Regen said.
Right now, it would appear the only real difference between Delta-8 products and marijuana is that one is for sale legally in Tennessee and the other could land people in jail.
The FDA has not approved Delta-8 products for completely safe use. There have been reports of hallucinations, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, dizziness, confusion and even passing out.
Government officials also warned it’s important to keep any THC products out of the reach of children and pets.