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Delta-8 THC and Teens

Young people are using cannabis regularly as a way to self-medicate and cope with mental health challenges. A form of THC known as delta-8 has become popular among U.S. teens. More than 1 in 10 high school seniors have used delta-8 THC in the past year.



Delta-8 is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant that produces a mild high. The drug is legal at the federal level, despite posing significant public health concerns. As a result, the number of teens using delta-8 has increased rapidly in recent years.


Delta-8 is chemically related to delta-9 THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive compound in marijuana. The difference between delta-8 and delta-9 is that delta-8 is synthesized from the hemp variety of the cannabis sativa plant, while delta-9 isn’t. (Hemp plants and marijuana plants belong to the same species. But marijuana refers to cannabis that contains more than .3 percent THC by dry weight. Hemp refers to cannabis that contains .03 percent or less.)


Delta-8 is often called “diet weed” or “weed lite” because its psychoactive and intoxicating effects are milder than delta-9’s. Even though delta-8 is less potent, it acts on the brain and the body in the same way as its chemical cousin. And it does so with fewer legal restrictions because, unlike marijuana, hemp is legal at the federal level. Hence, delta-8 products are legal in some states, banned or restricted in others, and regulated in a few states.


Since hemp was legalized in the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act, delta-8 products have exploded in popularity. Even though they’re not FDA-approved, they carry no federal minimum age requirement for purchase and are often marketed for therapeutic or medicinal purposes. Because most states don’t have laws requiring labeling of delta-8 products, and there are no manufacturing standards, the drug’s potency can vary from product to product.


Why Are Teens Using Delta-8?

One big reason delta-8 appeals to teens is that it’s easily accessible. Delta-8 products are increasingly available online and in convenience stores, tobacco shops, and gas stations. They include chocolate, cookies, sodas, smokable flowers, vapes, gummies, breakfast cereals, and other items. And these products are marketed in colorful and kid-friendly packaging.


Moreover, as with other drugs, some teens use delta-8 to self-medicate the symptoms of stress and depression, which continue to rise among youth. A CDC survey of almost 8,000 high school students found that sadness and hopelessness have increased among every teenage demographic nationwide since 2009.


School shootings, political unrest, climate change, and the alienating effects of technology can spur feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness among teens. Peer pressure and low self-esteem are other major drivers for drug use among young people, as they strive to fit in and feel a sense of belonging.


How Many Teens Are Using Delta-8?

A JAMA survey of more than 2,000 high school seniors found that 11.4% had used delta-8 THC in the last year. Of those who had, close to 79% used it at least three times. The number of teens using delta-8 at least 10 times was about 1 in 3. And nearly 17% had used it at least 40 times.


Interestingly, in states where recreational marijuana use is legal, the number of teens using delta-8 THC products is lower. This suggests that delta-8 is more popular among teens looking for an alternative marijuana option in those states where adult-use marijuana is still illegal.


What Delta-8 Does to Your Body?

No large medical studies exist demonstrating exactly how delta-8 affects the body, as consumed in emerging cannabis-derived products. In general, however, the health risks of controlled substances are greater when the person’s body and brain are still developing. Studies show that teen cannabis use is associated with changes in brain development. Because the adolescent brain is still forming, exposure to substances can interfere with development of the brain pathways that support cognition and emotional regulation. Cannabis use beginning in adolescence or earlier can have adverse effects on learning, memory, and attention. Furthermore, the mental health risks include depression, psychosis and suicidality.


According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are serious health risk associated with teens using delta-8 THC. Because the amount of delta-8 THC in hemp is quite low, manufacturers often use more hemp cannabinoids, like CBD, to make the compound. The process of converting CBD to delta-8 THC can involve potentially harmful chemicals that may be harmful when inhaled or ingested. In addition, since the manufacturing of delta-8 THC is unregulated, products can be made in uncontrolled or unsanitary settings. According to the FDA, national poison control centers handled 2,362 adverse event reports involving delta-8 between January 1, 2021, and February 28, 2022.



Does Delta-8 Have Negative Effects?

Potential adverse reactions to delta-8 THC include:

  • Coughing

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Tremors

  • Anxiety

  • Dizziness

  • Breathing problems

  • Hallucinations

  • Vomiting

  • Confusion

  • Seizures

  • Loss of consciousness

Furthermore, teens using delta-8 are at greater risk of these symptoms because they’re generally more impulsive and don’t have experience in how cannabis affects the body. They may not realize it takes 30 or 40 minutes to feel the effects of an edible. Hence, after 20 minutes, for example, they may consume more, leading to a delta-8 overdose that requires an ER visit.


Is Delta-8 Addictive?

As with other forms of THC, delta-8 can be addictive. For some teens, what starts as exploration or as a form of self-medication can turn into a psychological or physical addiction. For some teens, experimentation with a drug can turn into a full-blown (SUD). According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, 788,000 teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 meet the criteria for substance use disorder.


The increasing legalization of marijuana affects teens’ perception of the risk associated with cannabis use. Adolescents today perceive cannabis as much less dangerous than previous generations did, in part because they see adult family members using it. That changing perception, along with increasing accessibility, contributed to a 245% increase in child and teen marijuana use between 2000 and 2020.


When teens use delta-8 THC or other mind-altering substances before the age of 21, they’re at greater risk of developing substance use disorder as adults. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, adolescents are four to seven times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults.


Information in this article courtesy of Newport Academy


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