NORFOLK, Va. — Data analysis collected from Virginia's poison control centers reveal how often they're dealing with calls related to synthetic marijuana products.
According to a data request to all three poison center districts that make up Virginia, there were more than 1,200 calls in 2022 related to "THC", which is the main psychoactive chemical found in marijuana.
As cannabis sales are not fully legalized in Virginia until 2024, the door remains open for alternatives derived from different cannabinoids like Delta-8 and other synthetic marijuana products to still be sold.
Delta-8 products are derived from the delta-8-tetrahydrocannabinol chemical, a separate but similar cannabinoid found in the cannabis sativa plant. The legal loophole in which Delta-8 is chemically different from marijuana means its sales are fully legalized, without a formal regulation process in Virginia.
"It’s really only in recent years that Delta-8 and synthetic products have become more popular in common cultural, and more exposures called into poison control centers," Dr. Kelly Johnson-Arbor said, who is a medical toxicologist and interim Executive Director of the National Capital Poison Center.
Here are the THC-related calls broken down by district:
- Blue Ridge Poison Center: 330
- National Capital Poison Center: 528
- Virginia Poison Center: 414
Of those THC calls, 180 are coded as either Delta-8 or "synthetic" calls:
- Blue Ridge Poison Center: 85
- National Capital Poison Center: 35
- Virginia Poison Center: 60
The Blue Ridge district reports that 40 of those 85 cases are among patients 19 years old or younger. The Hampton Roads region falls under the Virginia Poison Center's jurisdiction.
Dr. Johnson-Arbor said a big public education obstacle is the notion that because Delta-8 and synthetic marijuana products are legally sold and marijuana isn't, that those products are therefore safer.
"They [Virginians] self-treat for anxiety and panic and other psychological conditions. But because Delta-9 is illegal they’re more reluctant to use it, but with Delta-8 so readily available many people use it for underlying conditions," she said.
13News Now previously reported how many Delta-8 products may have a different chemical makeup than what's advertised on the outside.
So individuals looking to avoid traces of marijuana showing up on a drug test by ingesting Delta-8 or synthetic products instead, might be misled.
“With all these unregulated manufacturing processes, you have no idea what you’re getting," Dr. Johnson-Arbor said. "It's very possible and likely that somebody who uses Delta-8 can have a positive drug screen for cannabis."
Poison center staff noted that the number of calls received is still most likely underreported because people are fearful of getting in trouble for calling in.