The state-legal marijuana industry has been wondering aloud for quite some time on the position the DEA might take concerning synthetic cannabinoids. Industry experts have been thinking specifically about delta-8 and delta-10 THC derived from CBD. We may now have an answer thanks to a letter written by the agency in early February 2023.
In response to an inquiry from an attorney, the DEA made clear its position on delta-8 THC-O and delta-9 THC-O. The two synthetic cannabinoids are derived from standard delta-8 and delta-9 THC. But according to the DEA, they do not fit the definition of legal substances derived from industrial hemp.
Hemp Made Legal in 2018
Hemp was made legal in the U.S. in 2018. Legalization opened the door to domestic producers growing and selling industrial hemp rather than relying on imports from other countries. It also led to an emerging CBD market, as CBD is a legal hemp extract.
Delta-8 and delta-9 THC-O come into play because both synthetic cannabinoids are derived in a lab using extracts from legal hemp. The DEA argues that the cannabinoids themselves are not naturally occurring. Therefore, they do not qualify as legal hemp substances.
Questionable Production Methods
Adding fuel to the fire are questionable production methods among manufacturers. In theory, both delta-8 and delta-9 THC-O could be derived from naturally occurring delta-8 and delta-9 THC. But here’s the problem: a typical hemp plant doesn’t produce enough of either cannabinoid to make extraction worthwhile.
Delta-8 is a naturally occurring cannabinoid that plants produce very little of. That’s why manufacturers tend to produce delta-8 by synthesizing in from CBD. As for delta-9 THC, hemp plants must contain no more than 0.3% by volume to still fall under the classification of legal hemp. Any plants with more than 0.3% are classified as marijuana, which is illegal under federal law.
All of that being the case, there are questions about where delta-8 and delta-9 THC-O actually come from. Are manufacturers starting by synthesizing delta-8 and delta-9 THC from CBD, and then creating the THC-O derivatives from there? Doing so could be a violation of federal law.
No Budging on THC-O
While the status of standard delta-8 THC remains in limbo for the time being, the DEA appears unwilling to budge on delta-8 and delta-9 THC-O. Neither cannabinoid is naturally occurring. Therefore, neither one fits the definition of legal hemp or a legal hemp product. The DEA policy could have implications on future action taken against delta-8 and delta-10 THC derived from CBD.
It may never come to federal action, though. Individual states are already crafting rules to address synthetic cannabinoids derived in labs as a way to get around delta-9 THC restrictions. A small number of states have already outlawed delta-8 THC.
They Are Unknown Substances
So what’s the problem here? The medical cannabis experts at Utah Marijuana say the big problem is that these synthetic cannabinoids are largely unknown substances. We don’t know as much as we need to about naturally occurring cannabinoids. Throwing synthesized cannabinoids into the mix create additional problems.
No one should be surprised that the DEA has taken an official stand against delta-8 and delta-9 THC-O. Given that it was only a matter of time before manufacturers figured out how to synthesize psychotropic cannabinoids from legal CBD, it was also only a matter of time before the DEA got involved.
Now that they are involved, the agency could move to take action against delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, and a number of other synthetic cannabinoids that have so far escaped federal scrutiny.