HAMPTON, Va. — One step inside the Happy Hempo in the Phoebus neighborhood of Hampton, one might feel like a kid walking into a candy shop.
However, the products inside Dani Edwards' venture aren't meant for kids.
“My family and I have a passion for cannabis," she said.
If the name didn't already give it away, Edwards' storefront sells hemp products. But it's one particular product on her shelves -- and other business owners like her -- that is grabbing national attention.
"Unfortunately, it's not regulated right now," Edwards said.
What is Delta 8?
The cannabis sativa plant can produce both marijuana and hemp, with the difference being the amount of the chemical compound Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol. Anything above a percentage of 0.3% of the plant's dry weight constitutes marijuana, and anything under that threshold can be considered hemp.
“Delta 9 is the main psychoactive ingredient in THC, where we think, 'That’s going to get me high,'" Virginia Commonwealth University researcher and professor Dr. Michelle Peace told 13News Now.
So what then, is Delta 8?
It's a different, but closely related, naturally-occurring cannabinoid within the cannabis sativa plant, of which there are more than 100 cannabinoids produced by the cannabis plant.
“Reported to have similar properties to Delta 9 THC," Dr. Peace said. "It has some psychoactive properties that are the same."
At the moment, its sales in Virginia are a legal workaround. Marijuana sales do not become legalized in the Commonwealth until 2024, but without specific regulations around Delta 8, its sales are allowed within Virginia.
"There are industry 'professionals' that don't care"
Its unregulated nature -- both in Virginia and at the national level -- has created some of the challenges and concerns surrounding it.
Between December 2020 and February 2022, the Food and Drug Administration received more than 100 reports of adverse effects from patients who consumed Delta 8.
Other reported concerns from the FDA include:
- Delta 8 products not being FDA approved or authorized
- The chemical synthetization processes in which to extract Delta 8 can be done with "unsafe" chemicals, which may leave potentially harmful contaminants in the products.
- Manufacturing and packaging can be falsely enticing to children
“There are industry ‘professionals’ that don’t care," Dr. Peace said. "If Delta 8 isn’t manufactured or synthesized well, the product that Delta 8 cleaned up is using very volatile and perhaps dangerous solvents.”
In her research lab in Richmond, Dr. Peace and her team discovered some Delta 8 products sold in Virginia contained a higher dosage of the chemical than it was advertised to have.
“When we analyzed this 'honey stick' product, we found more than 900 mg of CBD, 200 mg of Delta 9, and more than 600 Delta 8," she said.
That breakdown is for a product that was only labeled to have 45 mg of Delta 8, according to Dr. Peace.
Staying safe, and navigating the market
So how can one tell if a product is deemed safe or unsafe?
Both Dr. Peace and Edwards note that an accessible Certificate of Analysis (C.O.A.) is a report that can help consumers trust the product they're interested in, which is intended to show a particular product has been independently tested.
However, because of the unregulated nature of Delta 8 products, those might not always be a 100% guarantee either.
“A lot of the companies that make it don’t have lab reports, they’re making it based on something or another product they’re looking for," Edwards said. “I’ve scanned some products with a QR code, and it comes up as some website but no C.O.A. report.”
This year, Governor Glenn Youngkin added amendments to a Senate bill that would have prohibited Delta 8 product sales in Virginia but was ultimately not approved by lawmakers in a General Assembly special session.
So at the moment, Delta 8 products are here to stay in Virginia, and for the time being continue to be one bridge for the cannabis industry until marijuana sales are completely legalized in two years.
The common theme from both sellers of the product and researchers looking at its impact: better and safer regulation is needed.
“The industry is defining what’s safe, it needs to be verified and validated," Dr. Peace said.
“Each state is left trying to figure it out for themselves," Edwards said.