What experts say you need to know about ‘diet weed’

Nicknamed “diet weed” by those who use it, Delta-8 THC looks and smells like the real thing, except without psychoactive side effects — but it has experts worried. Here's why. (Photo: Getty Images)
Nicknamed “diet weed” by those who use it, Delta-8 THC looks and smells like the real thing, except without certain psychoactive side effects — but it has experts worried. (Photo: Getty Images)

Legal in 17 states, but still considered illegal at the federal level, marijuana is going through a complicated rebirth. For those living in the states where partaking in the drug comes with the risk of a fine or imprisonment, CBD is typically the only safe option. That is, until recently. A number of pot lovers have found another way to legally buy and sell a less-potent version of marijuana using a legal loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill, which inadvertently legalized a potent and popular cannabinoid known as Delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC can be bought in gas stations, smoke shops and recreational marijuana shops in all but 15 states, and is lovingly referred to as “diet weed” by those who use it. It looks and smells like the real thing, except without certain psychoactive side effects like paranoia. So what exactly is Delta-8 THC, where is it sold and how did it slip through America’s draconian cannabis laws? Here’s what you need to know.

How is it different from regular marijuana?

In the simplest of terms, Delta-8 THC is a psychoactive cannabinoid synthesized from hemp.

Joe Bayern, CEO of Curaleaf, a major cannabis company that operates in 23 states, says that "diet weed" is comparable to the real thing. "Out of the 113 cannabinoids found in cannabis, the scientific community have discovered that Delta-8 THC and Delta-9 THC compounds have similar chemical structures, hence their scientific names,” says Bayern. “[They] may produce similar effects when ingested — however, it has been suggested that Delta-8 THC is less potent than your run-of-the-mill Delta-9 THC.”

What are the risks of using it?

Bayern believes unregulated products like Delta-8 THC represent a major consumer safety issue. Most recently, the Michigan Poison Center at Wayne University issued a Delta-8 warning notice after “two cases of severe adverse reactions were reported in children who...developed sedation, slowed breathing.”

He's not the only one worried. “The legal murkiness of Delta-8 concerns me,” says Austin Stevenson, Chief Innovation Officer at Vertosa — a company specializing in the development of custom emulsion systems to infuse a range of products with cannabinoids. “Many extractors have to perform a chemical conversion from CBD to D8; which raises questions/concerns about authenticity and traceability.”

Stevenson believes this is not only risky for consumers but unfair to the marijuana providers operating within the limits of the state-by-state marijuana laws. “Additionally, it does have a psychoactive effect, and certain hemp Delta-8 providers are taking advantage of this legal gray area, offering these products without the typical license to sell controlled substances, which are required for Delta 9 THC products," says Stevenson.

What is the 2018 Farm Bill and why did it make this legal?

Without the 2018 Farm Bill — which addresses, along with hemp, funding for Sheep Production and access to a web-based decision tool for dairy farmers — Delta-8 wouldn’t be legal. The bill essentially creates and upholds a distinction between hemp and marijuana, taking the wind out of the sails of the extremely damaging Controlled Substances Act and transferring the power to the Department of Agriculture.

“Within the farm bill, under section 12619, any cannabinoid derived from hemp is considered legal,” says Stevenson. “In addition, the 2018 Farm Bill made all derivatives and isomers in hemp legal, as long as the final product contains less than 0.3 percent Delta-9 THC.”

Where is sold and in what forms?

The loophole in the Farm Bill is why companies like MOONWLKR and Delta Effex can sell psychoactive Delta-8 edibles, flowers, cartridges, pods, and tinctures to consumers while brands like LOKI and D8 Seltzer have already begun producing Delta-8-infused seltzer. With Delta-8 as easy to work with as Delta-9, consumers can buy just as many diet weed products as its more powerful cousin.

But if you were to do a quick Google search of “Delta-8 products near me” you’d find, along with a number of online suppliers, plenty of stories centered around the unfolding controversy of Delta-8. New York just banned it and more states are following suit.

What do users say about its effects?

So, how does it actually feel as compared to the real stuff? Often described as the “sweet spot” between CBD and Delta-9; the Diet Coke to a can of original Coca-Cola. Similar, but definitely different.

“Most people would say it doesn’t cause the paranoia or anxiety that they may experience with Delta-9 THC,” says Richie Batista, Brand Strategist at MOONWLKR.

As for the future of Delta-8? It remains uncertain. CBD received the same mixed welcome when it first hit the scene, but with more purported psychoactive qualities in a joint of CBD, Delta-8 has the potential to be an under-the-radar essential for those who like getting high, but don’t enjoy those overly heady couch-lock moments.

“We recommend Delta-8 to those looking for a middle-ground between CBD and Delta-9, continues Batista. “We have consumers that are avid Delta-9 users and those that don’t smoke [or] consume marijuana at all. What we’ve found is that a lot of people take CBD, but are let down because they expected to really feel something. CBD is an amazing cannabinoid, but there is that group that is looking for something that is a little stronger, offers that psychoactive experience, but on a lower level than Delta-9 does.”

Those curious about trying Delta-8 firsthand should be cautious. Remember that not everyone metabolizes marijuana the same way, so what feels like diet weed to you may feel like someone else’s XXXL super-sized weed.

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