New York researchers have discovered that many unregulated delta-8-THC vapes contain toxic contaminants and are often far less potent than they claim.

For a new study published in the Chemical Research in Toxicology journal, researchers from the University of Rochester Department of Environmental Medicine examined the chemical content of 27 locally-sourced delta-8 vaping products. An analysis of each vape’s cannabinoid content revealed that literally none of these vapes contained the amount of THC that was advertised on the packaging.

“Delta-8 THC levels can vary as much as 40 percent from the label value, suggestive of poor testing capabilities and falsified results,” the researchers wrote, according to NORML

Further analyses revealed an even more alarming trend, however. Eleven of these products were found to have high concentrations of “unlabeled cutting agents,” and every single vape tested positive for toxic heavy metals, including magnesium, chromium, nickel, and mercury. The study authors suggest that these metals probably leached into the vape liquid from the vape carts or heating elements, and warn that “their inhalation could cause deleterious effects on the respiratory tract.”

Toxic contaminants have been found in many unregulated cannabis vapes, not just delta-8 products. Studies have found that low-quality vaping devices can generate toxic metallic fumes when heated, potentially causing lung damage and heavy metal poisoning. In late 2019, thousands of Americans were sickened by a mysterious outbreak of vaping-related lung illness, aka EVALI. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eventually linked over 80 percent of these cases to unregulated THC vapes.

And because the FDA hasn’t bothered to regulate hemp-derived products yet, CBD vapes are also totally unregulated. One recent study found that 70 percent of CBD products are also contaminated with heavy metals or pesticides. Delta-8-THC products also exist in the same legal grey area, because they are derived from legal hemp. This cannabinoid naturally occurs in cannabis plants, but in such small quantities that creating purely plant-based delta-8 products would be impossibly expensive.

The delta-8 products currently on the market are created by a chemical process that converts natural, hemp-derived CBD into psychoactive forms of THC. Again, these processes are completely unregulated, and some shady manufacturers have been caught using dangerous household products to facilitate the conversion. In the present study, researchers identified several side-products of this chemical reaction, including delta-9-THC, in addition to iso-tetrahydrocannabifuran, a novel cannabinoid that has never been identified in nature.

So far, the DEA does not consider delta-8-THC to be a controlled substance, but the FDA does not regulate these products to ensure that they are safe. Without federal guidance, Alabama, Colorado, New York, Oregon, Texas, and many other states are now banning these products outright, rather than choosing to license and regulate them. 

Of course, delta-8-THC products are readily available everywhere, even in states that have banned them. And without regulations in place, cheaply-produced vapes with toxic heavy metal content will likely continue to dominate the market. Remarkably, Louisiana – a state which is not exactly renowned for progressive drug laws – has decided to license and regulate the sale of delta-8-THC, providing a lucrative opportunity for local hemp businesses and a safe alternative for cannabis lovers.