Hemp companies have sold more than $2 billion worth of legal delta-8 THC products since 2020, according to a new report by cannabis analytics firm Brightfield Group.
Delta-8 THC exploded onto the market shortly after the US legalized hemp in early 2019. This unique cannabinoid is created using a chemical process that converts federally legal CBD into a psychoactive form of THC. There are currently dozens of other hemp-derived psychoactive cannabinoids on the market today, including HHC, THC-O, and THC-P, but as the new report indicates, delta-8 THC is clearly the most popular of the bunch.
These products have become so popular, in fact, that many individual states have banned them over the past two years. However, both the DEA and the US Court of Appeals have confirmed that the specific wording of the 2018 Farm Bill makes all psychoactive hemp products federally legal, as long as they don't contain significant amounts of natural delta-9 THC.
But although hemp-based THC products are federally legal, the feds have yet to establish any regulations. Without safeguards in place, hemp companies are not required to test their products for safety or quality. Researchers have already discovered that many popular delta-8 products contain dangerous levels of heavy metals and other toxic contaminants. Another recent study has suggested that THC-O, another novel hemp cannabinoid, could potentially cause serious lung damage when vaped.
The Brightfield Group report notes that 35% of CBD users have purchased psychoactive hemp-derived products within the past six months. Surprisingly, some of this interest comes from states where weed is already legal. About a quarter of legal cannabis users told Brightfield that they are also interested in checking out delta-8 products.
The greatest proportion of delta-8 sales occurs in states where weed is still illegal. Delta-8 tinctures, vapes, and gummies are readily available online, at local hemp stores, and even at gas stations nationwide. And although most states now ban sales of these products, they haven't criminalized their possession or use. Because of this, weed lovers in prohibition states can freely access various psychoactive THC products without the risk of being jailed.
The report suggests that the popularity of delta-8 is growing so fast that it may end up posing a substantial threat to state-legal cannabis industries. Hemp products tend to be far cheaper than adult-use cannabis products, as they are not subject to excessive cannabis excise taxes and regulatory compliance costs. These cheap prices might drive many price-conscious consumers to choose unregulated hemp cannabinoids over expensive legal weed.
And in prohibition states, easy access to hemp-based THC could potentially discourage cannabis lovers from advocating or voting for full legalization campaigns, the report suggests. To combat this potential market share loss, Brightfield urges legal cannabis companies to highlight how their quality-controlled products are safer than the unregulated competition. The report suggests that legal weed companies could also consider launching their own lines of hemp-derived products.
"Cannabis companies should consider if they want to invest in launching Hemp-derived Cannabinoids in non-legal THC markets to get regional brand exposure before full legalization occurs,” Brightfield suggests, according to Forbes. “Although this could cause confusion later, it is a way to seed the brand while regulatory and legal issues settle.”
However, the 2023 Farm Bill is just around the corner, and it is likely that Congress will choose to ban delta-8 and all other psychoactive THC alternatives.