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A Concerning Trend: Delta-8 & Psychosis

A Concerning Trend: Delta-8 & Psychosis

“Despite being legally available, Delta-8’s safety profile remains uncertain, with emerging evidence suggesting potential risks associated with its use.”


by Rob Jordon Psy-M | April 3, 2024

My Introduction to Delta-8


As someone naturally inquisitive and unsatisfied with the status quo on any given subject, I had questions regarding marijuana, its effects, uses, and medicinal qualities. Growing up, alcohol use, drugs, and illicit behavior were so taboo that I didn’t approach these topics until well into adulthood. In 2018, a law was passed allowing the production and use of hemp, and CBD began flooding the market as a proposed cure-all. This non-high inducing derivative seemed to have a plethora of health advantages and none of the taboo effects associated with marijuana. Having used and tried CBD, I have found that it does indeed help with many things from pain to anxiety. However, my problem with it was the price. As a new player on the field, the allure of pseudo-marijuana and popularity drove CBD prices so high that the dosage needed for my personal anxiety issues was too great. I pursued this route before seeking medical intervention from my doctor, afraid of the pharmaceuticals that had a reputation for addiction. In 2023, I was introduced to a new, more potent, and better alternative to CBD, Delta-8 THC. I did my research on it, and on the surface level, it seemed like a great, LEGAL way to manage my anxiety “naturally” as it is being marketed.


However, I was wrong.


Exploring options such as vapes or edibles, candies or chocolates containing Delta-8, I soon found out that while it was legal, it was not safe. After using a conservative amount for about a week straight, I found myself slipping into paranoia and what I would describe as a psychotic episode. This was not what I signed up for. I immediately destroyed any remaining Delta-8 I had left. Not too long afterward, I began working in the mental health field. As a recent Psych grad and a Mental Health Specialist, I have the opportunity to work at an acute care psychiatric hospital where patients present with symptoms and behaviors related to traditional mental health illnesses, but also as a result of substance use and abuse. My primary role is to work with adolescents, though I have had experience working with adults in the most acute units as well. Within weeks of working with these kids, a disturbing trend started to emerge. Otherwise healthy and good kids were being admitted with psychosis due to exposure to Delta-8, a legal alternative to marijuana available in gas stations next to the energy drinks and candy bars at the checkout. While some states have banned Delta-8, the majority of states continue to allow its sales, though many limit sales to those 18+ or 21+, state by state. What was even more shocking to me is the number of adolescents being admitted with Delta-8 induced psychosis due to parents or guardians purchasing it for them or giving it to them as a sleep aid. Again, the reality set in that just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s good or safe, a lie that we tend to believe.


The History of Delta-8


The legalization of marijuana for recreational use has been steadily expanding across the United States since 2012, when Colorado and Washington pioneered this controversial legislation. Ohio, Minnesota, and Delaware are the latest states to join the 21 others that have embraced this shift in policy. Despite marijuana’s continued federal prohibition, nearly half of US states have chosen to diverge from federal regulations, reflecting evolving societal attitudes toward cannabis (Meko & Blanco, 2023).


In 2018, the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill marked a significant milestone in cannabis regulation by lifting restrictions on the production of hemp and other low THC cannabis derivatives, redefining their identification in relation to marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act. This legislation stipulates that plants grown and harvested cannot contain more than 0.3% THC in their dried weight form. Consequently, there has been a surge in the availability of products and services utilizing CBD, the non-psychoactive cannabinoid, as a natural alternative to pharmaceuticals for various ailments such as anxiety and pain. The FDA’s approval of a CBD-containing drug for treating seizures in 2018 further legitimized its use, leading to its incorporation into a wide range of consumer products, including smoothies, candies, ointments, and even pet products, positioning CBD as a new panacea for health and wellness needs.


However, alongside the burgeoning popularity of CBD, a novel derivative has emerged to cater to the demand for alternative cannabis products: Delta-8 THC (Abernethy, 2019). Unlike CBD, Delta-8 is psychoactive and shares similarities with Delta-9 THC, the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana. Despite its legal status, Delta-8 presents regulatory challenges and safety concerns due to its synthesis process and lack of oversight. Derived predominantly from CBD through chemical processes involving solvents and acids, Delta-8 lacks the natural occurrence and potency of its counterpart, Delta-9. Moreover, the unregulated nature of its production raises alarms regarding potential risks to consumer health and safety, particularly in the absence of standardized quality control measures (Schmidt, 2023).


Although advocates of Delta-8 argue against state bans, citing insufficient knowledge and biased surveys, recent years have witnessed a growing body of evidence revealing adverse effects associated with its consumption, contradicting initial perceptions of safety and efficacy (Kruger & Kruger, 2022). As public awareness of Delta-8’s risks continues to evolve, the need for comprehensive research and stringent regulation becomes increasingly evident, underscoring the complexities inherent in navigating the landscape of cannabis derivatives and the imperative of ensuring consumer safety in their use.


The Dangers of Delta-8


The issue of public health risks stemming from the lack of oversight in the production and sales of Delta-8, as witnessed firsthand, has garnered significant attention from regulatory bodies like the FDA. While the FDA received 104 reports over a 14-month period, with 55% requiring medical intervention, the numbers from National Poison Control Centers paint a more alarming picture. With 2,362 cases related to Delta-8 exposure, 70% necessitating medical intervention, and 41% involving patients under 18, there’s a clear indication of the potential harm posed by Delta-8 consumption, particularly among vulnerable populations (FDA, n.d.).


Furthermore, the dangers associated with Delta-8 extend beyond its psychoactive components to the process of its derivation from legal sources like hemp. Unlike traditional marijuana, which relies on heat to activate THC, the production of Delta-8 involves exposure to various chemicals and compounds, often in unregulated environments. This increases the risk of exposure to harmful substances and contaminants, exacerbating the health hazards associated with its consumption (FDA, n.d.).


The correlation between Delta-8 and psychosis, as highlighted in recent research articles, underscores the urgent need for further investigation into its effects. Studies in Psychiatry Research Case Reports and Frontiers in Psychiatry have provided solid evidence linking Delta-8 to psychotic disorders, prompting calls for deeper scrutiny into its impact on mental health (Johnson et al., 2023; Miller et al., 2023). Moreover, the publication in the journal of the American Society for Experimental Neuro Therapeutics emphasizes the association between cannabis exposure, including Delta-8, and the increased risk of psychotic disorders, particularly among vulnerable individuals (Manseau & Goff, 2015).


Despite self-reported data indicating widespread use among high school seniors, particularly in the South and Midwest, the true extent of Delta-8 consumption remains unclear. Hospital reports of Delta-8-induced psychosis highlight the urgent need for enhanced awareness and education, especially among healthcare professionals working with adolescents (Nida, 2024). In Middle Tennessee, efforts are underway to address the rising incidence of Delta-8-related mental health issues, emphasizing the importance of proactive measures to mitigate the potential harms associated with its use. However, the lack of comprehensive data underscores the need for further research and collaboration to fully understand and address the public health implications of Delta-8 consumption.


My Conclusion


Cannabis has long been lauded for its potential therapeutic benefits and as a natural alternative to conventional pharmaceuticals. Over the years, substantial evidence has emerged supporting its efficacy in treating a wide range of medical conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, epilepsy, and nausea. Patients and healthcare professionals alike have embraced cannabis as a promising option for managing symptoms and improving quality of life.


However, the recent emergence of Delta-8 THC, a legal cannabinoid derived from hemp, has introduced a new dimension to the conversation. Despite its legal status and structural similarity to Delta-9 THC, the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis, Delta-8 poses unique challenges and concerns. While some users may not experience adverse reactions, a significant proportion reports experiencing undesirable effects, including anxiety, paranoia, and cognitive impairment.


This discrepancy in user experiences underscores the inherent complexity of navigating the landscape of cannabis derivatives. Despite being legally available, Delta-8’s safety profile remains uncertain, with emerging evidence suggesting potential risks associated with its use. This raises important questions about the adequacy of current regulatory frameworks in ensuring consumer safety and efficacy.


In light of these concerns, there is a pressing need for thorough research and robust regulation to evaluate the potential benefits and risks of alternative substances like Delta-8. Comprehensive studies are needed to better understand its pharmacological effects, mechanisms of action, and long-term impacts on health. Additionally, stringent regulatory measures are necessary to establish quality standards, dosage guidelines, and product labeling requirements, thereby safeguarding public health and promoting informed decision-making among consumers.


Ultimately, while cannabis and its derivatives hold promise as therapeutic agents, it is imperative to approach their use with caution and informed judgment. By prioritizing research and regulation, we can ensure that patients have access to safe, effective, and evidence-based treatment options, while mitigating potential risks associated with novel compounds like Delta-8.



 

References:

Abernethy, A. (2019, July 25). Hemp production and the 2018 farm bill. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/news-events/congressional-testimony/hemp-production-and-2018-farm-bill-07252019


FDA. (n.d.). 5 things to know about delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol – delta-8 THC. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/5-things-know-about-delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol-delta-8-thc


Johnson, M. J., Swenson, C., Fishkin, I., & Malanga, A. (2023, August 20). Now I know my cbds; cases of psychiatric admissions after delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (delta-8-THC, Δ8-THC) product usage. Psychiatry Research Case Reports. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2773021223000640?dgcid=rss_sd_all


Jordon, Rob. “A Concerning Trend: Delta-8 & Psychosis.” Edited with assistance from OpenAI GPT-3, Version 3.5, April 3, 2024.


Kruger, J. S., & Kruger, D. J. (2022, January 4). Delta-8-THC: Delta-9-THC’s nicer younger sibling? – journal of cannabis research. BioMed Central. https://jcannabisresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42238-021-00115-8


Manseau, M. W., & Goff, D. C. (2015). Cannabinoids and Schizophrenia: Risks and Therapeutic Potential. Neurotherapeutics : the journal of the American Society for Experimental Neuro Therapeutics, 12(4), 816–824. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13311-015-0382-6


Meko, T., & Blanco, A. (2023, November 8). Tracking where weed is legal by state. Democracy Dies in Darkness. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/legal-weed-states-map/


Miller, C. R., Burk, B. G., Fargason, R. E., & Birur, B. (2023, February 19). Delta-8-THC association with psychosis: A case report with literature review. Frontiers in Psychiatry. https://www.frontiersin.org/journals/psychiatry/articles/10.3389/fpsyt.2023.1103123/full


NIDA. 2024, March 12. Delta-8-THC use reported by 11% of 12th graders in 2023. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/2024/03/delta-8-thc-use-reported-by-11-of-12th-graders-in-2023


Schmidt, E. (2023, January 25). Comparing exotic cannabinoids: Delta-9 THC vs. delta-8, delta-10, HHC, HHCP, THC-O (thcoa), & THCP. Certified Testing Labs: Cannabis, Hemp, CBD, Kratom & Mushrooms. https://www.acslab.com/cannabinoids/comparing-exotic-cannabinoids


 

Rob Jordon is a graduate with a Master’s degree in Psychology from Grand Canyon University (GCU), specializing in Industrial-Organizational Psychology. Additionally, he earned a Bachelor’s degree from Calvary University in Kansas City, Missouri, with dual concentrations in Bible Theology and Biblical Counseling. Currently, he is pursuing a second Master’s in Clinical Counseling from GCU.

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