A study has revealed one of the first snapshots of Americans’ use of hemp-derived cannabinoids: Just over a fifth of adults reported using cannabidiol (CBD).
According to new findings published in REST25.2% of adults reported using any new cannabinoid, including delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), in the past year. Meanwhile, 21% of adults reported using CBD. The researchers warned that the products are not regulated and that patients may be at risk of adverse effects from unknown contaminants.
The rate of use of other hemp products was lower, with 11.9% of respondents reporting delta-8 THC, 5.2% reporting cannabigerol (CBG), and 4.4% reporting cannabinol (CBN).
The 2018 Farm Bill legalized the cultivation and sale of hemp, leading to a line of hemp-based products sold online and in smoke shops, gas stations and other retail stores. The US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate hemp products; therefore, there are no federal standards for testing ingredient safety or verifying ingredients listed on the label.
“If someone is applying for one of these products for medical use and it ends up with heavy metals and pesticides and it doesn’t even have an active ingredient, that’s not good,” said Kevin F. Boehnke, PhD. assistant professor, Department of Anesthesiology and Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
More than 1,100 adults were surveyed as part of the National Opinion Research Center AmeriSpeak panel in June 2023.
Participants reported using CBD, CBG, and CBN, which do not contain psychoactive components and are commonly marketed to help with sleep, anxiety, and pain problems. Delta-8 THC, also included in the study, produces psychotropic effects.
Among emerging cannabinoids, delta-8 THC is of particular concern to Boehnke. The substance has been linked to psychiatric problems such as delusions and paranoia, painful breathing and choking sensations, gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting, and unintentional overdose.
Where medical cannabis is legal, residents were 56% less likely to use delta-8 THC, while in states where recreational marijuana is legal, residents were 55% less likely to use delta-8 THC than those surveyed in states without legalization .
The findings suggest that “cannabis prohibition may inadvertently promote the use of delta-8-THC,” Boehnke and colleagues write.
Delta-8 products are often sold in the form of vape cartridges, chewing gum and chocolates in retail stores such as supermarkets.
In a 2020 advisory, the FDA said it tests cannabinoid products, “and many were found not to contain the claimed levels of CBD. We are also investigating reports of CBD that may contain dangerous contaminants.”
Alice Kuo, MD, PhD, a pediatrician and professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said she has seen a large number of patients who say they use non-psychotropic cannabinoid products. He said many consider the products “natural.”
“My official response to patients who ask me for my opinion is that I don’t have enough scientific background to make a statement: If you think it helps you and you don’t have side effects, I’m not going to tell you to stop,” Kuo said.
He hasn’t heard from any patients using delta 8-THC, but Kuo is concerned about the mental and emotional effects of psychotropic cannabinoids.
Patients are generally reluctant to admit to using delta-8 THC or other psychoactive substances such as marijuana, and “I’ve had to be very nonjudgmental and very careful when asking patients because if I have an opinion about judgment, I will be punished by my patients,” Kuo said.
Several study authors reported receiving grants from communities, including the Michigan State Veterans Marijuana Research Program; New York State Office of Addiction Services and Support; Medical Cannabis Research Advocacy Alliance; Good Samaritan Foundation of Legacy Health; National Institutes of Arthritis, Musculoskeletal and Dermatology; and Tryp Therapeutics.
The research was supported in part by the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health.
Brittany Vargas is a medical, mental health and wellness reporter.
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