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[Study] Exposures to Delta-8 and Delta-10 THC are Increasing – An Argument for Improved Awareness

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There is a lot of controversy around the production and sale of intoxicating THC products that technically meet the legal definition of hemp. While we’re not doing a deep dive into that today, we will get there! Today, we’re looking at a study that found increased exposure to delta-8 THC, delta-10-THC, and THC-O acetate, what’s behind that increase, and what you can do to help keep those numbers down.

Center of Injury Research and Policy Study Found Increased Exposure to THC Among All Ages

With all the talk of restricting the sale of intoxicating hemp products happening in Congress, this new study couldn’t have been more properly timed. Though prohibitionists will try to use it as ammunition to ban these cannabinoids entirely, advocates can use it as another piece of evidence to refer to in our call for safer regulation and putting more effort towards education and awareness.

Since legal hemp products like delta-8 and delta-10 came on the market a few years ago, they have quickly grown in popularity, especially in states where cannabis remains illegal, as it’s viewed as safer than buying the “real thing” from someone on the streets. However, calls to U.S. poison centers regarding delta-8 and similar legal hemp products increased by 88% from 2021 to 2022.

The study found that most cases were:

  • Single substance ingestions (94%)
  • Occurred in a residence (96%)
  • 40% were aged 20-59 years
  • 25% were aged 6-19 years
  • 30% were children 6 years old
  • 40% said it was unintentional ingestion
  • Roughly half of those admitted to the hospital were children

Increased Likelihood of Reporting Exposures After Legalization

One thing that I’ve noted previously about increases in cannabis-related reporting is that after legalization started to take hold in the U.S., people had less to fear by self-reporting their cannabis use. This not only means in health-related surveys and questionnaires but also in a willingness to call into poison control hotlines and visit the ER for accidental ingestion or over-intoxication.

I like to place this reminder in these sorts of pieces so that we can keep in mind that these numbers were bound to increase post-legalization – so it’s nothing to be afraid of! If anything, we should ironically be glad to see at least a slight increase, as that means more people are willing to seek help when and if needed.

Study Notes Products Sold as Legal Hemp, Not Recreational or Medicinal Cannabis

You should also note that while this study did cite an increase in exposure to cannabis products among all ages (youth, adults, and elderly), it is specifically referring to products containing delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC, and THC-O acetate – meaning those sold as legal hemp, not state-legal medical or recreational cannabis.

State Legal Dispensaries Offer a Safer and More Regulated Product Selection

Since state-licensed dispensaries are tightly restricted from seed to sale, they are always going to be the safest place you can buy legal cannabis products. For those who don’t have legal dispensaries available (yet!), be careful and be picky about the legal hemp products you choose to consume. Check reviews and brand websites, and look for lab results (usually a QR code) that show you exactly which cannabinoids, terpenes, and anything else you’ll be ingesting.

Is Legal Hemp and Cannabis to Blame, or Is It Lack of Safety Education and Awareness?

Again, prohibitionists will see those numbers above and jump straight into their plans to ban delta-8, delta-10, and any other THC analog they can think of, probably. But is legal hemp really the one to blame here? Anyone who knows anything about cannabis plants knows there is little difference between intoxicating marijuana and industrial hemp outside their cannabinoid and terpene profiles.

If you ask me, it was only a matter of time before the hemp plants' genetics were manipulated for increased potency of other THC analogs the way breeders did with delta-9 THC in medical marijuana over the last few decades.

The problem is, it’s not just more potent plants. In many cases, especially in the largely unregulated landscape of legal hemp products, manufacturers are using chemicals to convert cannabinoids like CBD that exist naturally in higher quantities, into these more intoxicating cannabinoids like delta-8. Whether these processes are safe or not is still up for debate, making it the safer option to purchase from a state regulated dispensary whenever possible.

But is legal hemp to blame? Or is lack of education about intoxicating cannabinoids the real problem here?

People are introduced to delta-8 as a milder version of medical grade delta-9-THC, so they often don’t expect hemp products to be as strong as they are. Better educating consumers is necessary for any substance use situation; look at alcohol, tobacco, and any prescription drug – they all have consumer education campaigns, and cannabis consumption should be no different.

More importantly, people need to realize there may be less difference than they expect between medical marijuana, recreational cannabis, and intoxicating delta-8 hemp products.

How Can You Prevent Accidental or Excessive Exposure to Intoxicating THC

These numbers don’t have to be as alarming as they seem. Yes, 88% is a pretty steep increase – but these legal hemp products haven’t been around long, and people are still working up their willingness to trust when it comes to disclosing their use (or their child's accidental ingestion).

Regardless, just like any other substance we don’t want children getting their hands on, there are things we can do to prevent unintentional ingestion of intoxicating hemp products by children and adults.

  • Store products at the back of the top shelf of a cupboard
  • Keep them in a locked medicine cabinet with other prescriptions
  • Properly label any edibles that have been removed from their original packaging
  • Keep cannabis-infused edibles separated from other food in your pantry, fridge, or freezer as much as possible
  • Keep original childproof packaging, or keep it in a child-safe/locked container

It’s on us to prevent accidental and unwanted cannabis exposure, just the same as it is with alcohol, tobacco, OTC and prescription medicines, or even household cleaners. Pair this constant reminder with education about the potency of different cannabis products, and we’ll start seeing more responsible consumption and less frantic calls to poison control in time.

Julia Granowicz-Johnson is a founder, copywriter, and journalism blogger with a passion for the cannabis plant and its uses in personal wellness and medicine. She advocates for the reform of cannabis laws around the globe through her writing and aims to bring attention to the negative impacts that prohibition has left in its wake.