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Marijuana is illegal in Indiana, but the rules around delta-8 are more hazy

Across Indiana, CBD dispensaries are selling a legal form of THC that produces a legitimate high. As government regulators reiterate concerns, here's what to know.

INDIANAPOLIS — Laws regarding marijuana possession are hardly lax in the state of Indiana. If you are caught with some in your pocket today, that can mean a $5,000 fine depending on how much you have. Possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana is a class A misdemeanor with a penalty of up to one year imprisonment, while penalties for concentrates are even steeper. 

Yet, along these same streets where getting stopped with mere milligrams of weed potentially wracks up 180 days in prison, one type of THC is available for purchase. 

It's called delta-8-THC, a relative newcomer to the cannabis world and an increasingly popular alternative for consumers looking for a legal way to consume weed. 

Jim DeCamp owns Owlsee CBD in Fountain Square, and didn't see much local interest in delta-8 until a post on Reddit tipped people off to its existence. 

"People didn't know about it. Then it became a thing on Reddit where everybody was talking about it. And so it probably took until March of this year to actually see a spike in the sales of the 8," DeCamp said. "I would say with the delta-8, the demographic is younger. I think that's true, just because of the research internet and their familiarity with Reddit."

By that point, it was so popular, businesses started marketing delta-8 hard to draw in new potential clients.

RELATED: Delta-8 debate: Is it legal? Depends who you ask

"It is a traffic builder for your other products," DeCamp said. 

But last week, the FDA and CDC both released warnings concerning delta-8, specifically advising consumers that just because the product is hemp, doesn't mean it's non-psychoactive.

"The FDA is also concerned that delta-8 THC products likely expose consumers to much higher levels of the substance than are naturally occurring in hemp cannabis raw extracts," the organization said in a report. 

In short, despite it's availability, delta-8 is a potent compound that can get you high. 

As the conversation around the regulation, legality and health effectiveness of delta-8 ramps up, here are some quick facts to know. 

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Cannabis contains two main compound, THC and CBD.

What is delta-8?

Delta-8 is a cannabinoid that is extracted from cannabis plants. Delta-8 products often offered to consumers in the form of tinctures, gummies, inhalables or vaporizers. 

Delta-8-THC products are often sold alongside CBD products. 

What's the difference between delta-8, CBD, and regular weed?

When we talk about THC, we're normally talking about delta-9. That's one of many hundreds of cannabinoid molecules, but it's known as the main ingredient that causes people to feel high.  

Scientifically, delta-8 and delta-9 are similar. Delta-9 has a double bond on the ninth carbon atom, while delta-8 has one of those double bonds on it’s eighth carbon atom. That's how we get the names, and also what makes delta-9 more potent than delta-8.  

Where delta-9 offers an intense high, delta-8 is generally considered to be mildly euphoric.  

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Hemp products are limited to 0.3% THC, while marijuana products range from 15% to 20%

A 1973 Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics study actually found delta-8 is half as potent as delta-9-THC, but, as studies on delta-8 remain scant, scientists don't yet know why. 

Delta-8 is also commonly sold alongside CBD products, which has some people confusing or equating delta-8 products with CBD ones, which have no psychoactive effects. 

That's because CBD binds to our brain differently than THC, which binds with the cannabinoid 1 receptors in our brain. Those receptors produce the sense of high. 

CBD does not bind at all to those receptors, or loosely in the most extreme cases, so they don't make us high. 

That, the FDA warns, could be dangerous for people seeking out the therapeutic effects of CBD, then get hit with an unanticipated high. 

Will delta-8 get me as high as regular weed? 

Delta-8 contains THC, so it can indeed produce a mild high. What constitutes a "mild high" depends on the person though. 

If you are sensitive to THC, those psychoactive effects found in delta-8 may be more pronounced. 

If you consume weed more consistently, you may feel moderate or little effects from delta-8. 

What are some health risks or benefits?

Some advocates of delta-8 say it can offer pain relief, anxiety and improved sleep. While DeCamp sells it as his stores, and has seen clients who said they experienced benefits, he's not ready yet to tout delta-8 as the end-all, be all of medical cures. 

It's simply there for his clients if they need it. 

"There are no incidences of the overdosing on this with side effects, long lasting side effects, but it's still in its infancy. The government will probably change the Farm Bill, regardless of whether it's delta-8, delta-10, delta-9 or, you know... they're coming up with all kinds of different THC derivatives from the hemp plant," he said. 

The FDA and CDC are not the only entities raising concern over delta-8 products. 

In a report released earlier this summer, the U.S. Cannabis Council said "the fact that it is being sold outside of the regulated marketplace with no oversight or testing and is readily available to children is alarming, and it presents a public health risk of potentially wider impact than the vape crisis." 

Between December 2020 and January 2021 alone, the FDA received reports of 22 people who’d consumed delta-8 products, including 14 people who’d ended up in the hospital or emergency room. 

Nationally, poison control centers received more than 600 calls involving delta-8 exposure since January of this year. Of those calls, 39% involved kids under the age of 18.

So, how is delta-8 legal? 

In 2018, President Donald Trump passed the Farm Bill, a piece of legislation which legalized hemp-derived compounds. 

That legislation legalized hemp, which is defined as a cannabis plant that contains 0.3 percent delta-9 THC or less — levels considered too low to have a psychoactive effect. 

The 2018 Farm Bill set the framework for wider hemp cultivation across the country, but there were loopholes. 

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Not all hemp products are created equally. CBD is non-psychoactive, while THC is.

The bill did not address delta-8 THC levels, which opened up vendors to sell it as edibles, vape cartridges and tinctures, with no oversight.

At least fifteen states have moved to regulate delta-8, but the Indiana State Legislature has not taken any steps to prohibit the sale or use of delta-8. 

However, according to Indiana law firm Banks & Brower LLC, some black market products purporting to be delta-8 could exceed that .3% THC threshold, making it a Schedule 1 drug in Indiana. 

For now, it is still legal to purchase in Indiana. 

Buyer beware though, delta-8 can still trigger positive results for a marijuana field test. And it is still against the law to operate a vehicle while under the influence, a definition which extends to alcohol and drugs. 

Taking delta-8 in any form then operating a vehicle could lead to an Operating a Vehicle While Intoxicated charge. 

If you think you are having a serious side effect that is an immediate danger to your health, call 911 or go to your local emergency room. You can also: 

For more information about Delta-8 THC:  CDC HEALTH ALERT NETWORK (HAN)

   


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