Author Dario Sabaghi
Since the United States legalised hemp production and cannabis derivatives containing a THC level below 0.3% at the federal level through the 2018 Farm Bill, the cannabidiol (CBD) industry has grown significantly.
But along with the extraction of CBD, a non-intoxicating ingredient of the hemp plant, a new category of intoxicating cannabinoids popped up in the U.S. market.
Companies exploited a loophole in the 2018 Farm bill to sell intoxicating cannabinoid products with similar effects to delta-9 THC (also known as THC), contained in adult-use cannabis products.
One of the most sold products in this category is delta-8 THC.
This compound shares almost the same molecular structure as THC. It is made by converting CBD extracted from hemp to delta-8 THC with chemicals but has milder effects than THC.
A new cannabinoid that has yet to become mainstream is THC-O acetate, made by adding acetic anhydride (a chemical compound used for making fibres, plastics, pharmaceuticals, dyes, and explosives) to the delta-8 THC.
Another cannabinoid that is gaining popularity is hexahydrocannabinol, also known as HHC.
This compound is commercially made by adding hydrogen molecules to the hemp plant's THC, which is converted into HHC and has similar intoxicating effects to delta-8 THC although its potency is still debated.
These newly marketed intoxicating cannabinoids have flown off the shelves in the U.S., creating a grey market.
They are sold as oils or vape cartridges, but their safety is still unknown.
In fact, little is known about the effects of these products on the human body, as most scientific research on cannabis has been focused on THC and CBD in recent years.
If you wonder why people consume these new cannabinoids rather than traditional cannabis products containing THC, you have to look at the legality of adult-use cannabis in the U.S.
Although more than 19 U.S. states have legalized recreational cannabis, it is still illegal at the federal level.
Therefore, products containing delta-8 THC, HHC, and THC-O acetate are consumed as an alternative to traditional cannabis-based products, particularly in those U.S. states (and recently also in Europe) where adult-use cannabis is still criminalized, as suggested by a scientific report published in 2022.