How Many Hemp-Derived Cannabinoids Does It Take To Screw in a Lightbulb?

Donald Trump, in all his orange wisdom, inadvertently legalized commercial “hemp” production with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. God only knew at that point in time the chaotic and untimely snowball effect Trump’s silly little orange signature would generate, and the name of the beast was Delta-8.

Things have taken a very strange turn in the saga of the cannabis plant, as if anyone needed an extra dose of weirdness added to the mix. A loophole in the Farm Bill passed in 2018 has inadvertently created a huge money grab for hemp producers: hemp-derived cannabinoids which are isolated, concentrated and put into gummies, vapes, sprays and any number of other consumables able to be sold all across America and overseas.

This fun little segment of American hemp history has turned into a smorgasbord of strange new compounds designated with odd combinations of numbers and letters which can be daunting to almost any American consumer such as Delta-8 THC, THC-O, HHC, CBGA etc. I too have found myself “sketched out” as the kids say by smoke shop remedies for a good long while. Not because they’re all bad. The kratom conversation is insufferable to say the least but it does manage to, very occasionally, help people get off opiates, so I don’t want to detract from the value of allowing products that exist because of convenient loopholes to be sold. However, I do want to use all of my powers and skills to disseminate information that may help consumers be safer when trying diet highs and wavy supplements from their local Cheaper Cigarettes store. Harm reduction is the name of the game!

I reached out to some players in the hemp-derived cannabinoid space, which for timeliness sake will henceforth be referred to as “HDC’s” because I find mundane tasks reprehensible. I spoke to two gentlemen on the record and one off, all of whom are owners and/or operators of some of the largest if not the largest companies in the HDC space, so to speak and I have been enlightened to the ways of the weird weed chemicals.

I shouldn’t even call them that. Let’s back up. To begin with, we need to understand the difference between “hemp” and “marijuana.” Scientifically, biologically and logically speaking, there is absolutely no distinction other than the legal designations they have received. They are the same plant from the same family and the only difference is hemp plants have been bred to have low THC, making them legal under the current limit of .3% THC, and commercial cannabis has been bred to have high THC. 

“It’s all cannabis, regardless of the concentration of one arbitrary chemical constituent,” said Matthew Guenther, President of the American Cannabinoid Association. “What the passing of the Farm Bill has proven is that 0.3% Delta-9 THC was always an arbitrary limit.

The ancestral lineages/locations of origin of hemp vs what people generally consider to be marijuana are probably different, sure, but everything has been so hybridized over the years that making a distinction at this stage in the game is pointless. This is why the Indica/Sativa classifications are somewhat controversial, because they are misnomers at best (WEIRDOS has covered all of this if you want to follow these nice juicy looking hyperlinks). 

As such, when the laws classifying hemp and marijuana were written they were written based on Delta-9 THC percentage, meaning anything above .3% Delta-9 THC was illegal and known as “marijuana” and anything below that threshold is considered hemp. So when the 2018 Farm Bill legalized “hemp,” it opened up the floodgates for, by one industry executive’s count, 42 newly isolated compounds from the cannabis/hemp plant.

“They all start with hemp, not all of them are necessarily extracted directly out of the hemp plant. Most minor cannabinoids such as CBN, THCv, Delta-8 THC, Hemp Derived Delta-9 THC, THCp, CBGa isolate, CBDa isolate, you have to make through an isomerization process, hydrogenation, pressure reaction, or through other semi synthetic processes.” said Bret Worley, CEO of MC Nutraceuticals. “In order to make a Delta-8 molecule, you take CBD, through a ring closure reaction you create Delta-8 THC catalyzed by acidic conditions in heptane. After the ring closure reaction you neutralize the solution, remove the solvent and distill.”

The effects of these compounds are hard to generalize as there are, at the risk of being redundant, kind of a lot of them now but from what I’ve pieced together from in person testimonies it’s almost like if a traditional cannabis experience was a big pie, each minor cannabinoid is a tiny piece of that pie. You’re not going to get the whole experience but you’ll get a piece of it. 

“I have a high tolerance so I didn’t expect much but I did feel something. I wouldn’t really call it a high though, it honestly felt more like benzos,” a friend of mine relayed to me regarding his experience with Delta-8 gummies. Another told me it felt the exact same as weed to her and that she bought it in a smoke shop semi-unknowingly.

“It’s still psychoactive, obviously, but I see it more as like a soccer mom weed,” Worley said, referring to Delta-8 THC.

Some of these compounds, like CBN, seem to be good for sleep. Some of them seem to be good for digestion, and some of them may have the potential to help fight cancer, etc. etc. The problem is we don’t really know enough yet to be able to firmly say those things or speak to their safety. That said, no one I talked to who had money on the line seemed worried about the possibility of long-term repercussions, they seemed excited to find out more.

“That’s why it’s important that federal regulations are put in place to regulate what is essentially an entire new class of consumer product,” Guenther said. “What we’re fighting for is for the federal government to get involved and actively regulate the products we know are currently safe and effective, so that people don’t start producing and keep producing unknown untested compounds.”

Guenther referenced the Spice and K2 epidemic, which for those who don’t remember had some VERY strange and unwanted effects on its users. That’s not what HDC’s are. Spice and K2 are synthetic cannabinoids, which the National Institute on Drug Abuse has the following definition of:

“Synthetic cannabinoids are human-made mind-altering chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material so they can be smoked or sold as liquids to be vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices. These products are also known as herbal or liquid incense. These chemicals are called cannabinoids because they are similar to chemicals found in the marijuana plant. Because of this similarity, synthetic cannabinoids are sometimes misleadingly called synthetic marijuana (or fake weed), and they are often marketed as safe, legal alternatives to that drug.”

These differ from HDC’s because HDC’s are ultimately derived from the cannabis/hemp plant itself whereas synthetic cannabinoids are not.

One very interesting and unexpected result of this whole confusing mad scientist clusterfuck is apparently: weed is legal?

If you’ve noticed any “THCA flower” in your local smoke shop, that’s (probably) not hemp flower sprayed with weird chemicals, it’s just weed that was processed and tested a certain way so that the “THCA” in the flower does not decarboxylate and convert to “Delta 9-THC.” In certain states, they don’t have laws about “total THC limit” they have laws about Delta 9-THC because that’s the one that has traditionally been associated with the “high.” Thus, Donald Trump sorta kinda made it legal to ship, sell, and consume weed in a lot of states that have some of the strictest “marijuana” laws. Do you see where I’m going with this? 

It doesn’t stop there. There is technically regular ol’ Delta-9 THC in “hemp” plants. Since the plant itself tested under .3% THC, any Delta-9 THC extracted from it is perfectly legal.

“They’re absolutely identical. It is the exact same chemical as Delta-9 THC. It’s just a much more effective way of getting there,” Guenther said.

Wheels are in motion on the federal level regarding HDC’s and no one is quite sure which way things are going to go. The DEA and FDA appear to be working on regulations and rules but their official commentary has been limited. The DEA considers Delta-8 to be a controlled substance and DEA Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section Chief Terrence Boos said in February that Delta-8 THCO and Delta-9 THCO are illegal because they can only be produced synthetically. The FDA is also supposed to release rules about Delta-8 and other minor cannabinoids sometime soon, not to mention the long anticipated federal movements on cannabis legalization or re/descheduling.

In other words, nobody knows what the hell is going on! We basically have two markets right now, the legal hemp market where they can kind of sell weed (to the tune of a huge profit) but consumers don’t really know what it is and then the individual state cannabis markets where operators are getting creamed, over-regulated and over-taxed but consumers know what they’re buying. Eventually those two markets have to merge, and the way that plays out depends on what the feds do. Don’t change that channel folks, the next episode of marijuana madness will begin shortly after a brief period of utter confusion.

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