Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Unregulated Delta-8 weed poses health risk: ‘It turned our lives upside down’

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An increasing number of people, especially children, are being hospitalized due to poisoning from Delta-8 weed, a product similar to cannabis that is legal but completely unregulated.

Buying Delta-8 weed at a gas station or head shop is akin to buying drugs off the street—consumers have no way of knowing exactly what’s in it. Like marijuana, Delta-8 gets users high. Unlike marijuana, it exists thanks to a loophole in federal law and is sold without any kind of testing or regulation. One Illinois resident said she wishes she knew that before she bought it. Delta-8 not only altered her consciousness, it changed her life.

“Every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Laurie, a middle-aged resident of Seneca, Illinois, describing what she experienced when she witnessed her daughter have a full meltdown after taking a Delta-8 product. “Something you can’t unsee. I wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.”

Laurie and her daughter asked to protect their identities due to the sensitive subject. Laurie said her daughter, who suffered from PTSD and had been using medicinal marijuana, bought Delta-8 at a gas station thinking it was the same thing. Her daughter had immediate mental and physical reactions.

“It wasn’t my daughter… one minute she was angry, she was happy, she was a little girl singing little girl songs, she had no control over her own body,” Laurie said.

“I felt like I was in a movie,” her daughter said. “Every morning I woke up, when I saw people in this hallucinatory state, they kept saying ‘Season one, episode one; season two, episode three.'”

Doctors diagnosed her with drug-induced psychosis and had trouble treating her because they weren’t sure if there were other substances present in the Delta-8 she took.

“It wasn’t laced with anything; we just think it was an extremely high dose that triggered this hallucinogenic effect,” her daughter said.

Laurie’s daughter spent nearly a month in a hospital psychiatric ward before being transferred to an outpatient facility. She said she is recovering now thanks to a variety of psychiatric medication and especially the help of a PTSD service dog.

Dr. Steven Aks, a toxicology specialist at the Cook County Health and Hospital System, said the particular danger with Delta-8 is that what you see in the head shop window or on the packaging isn’t necessarily what you get.

“We don’t know the dose, the quantity. You’ll have a range of effects and it’s not predictable because you don’t know what the dose is,” Aks said.

There have been nearly 9,000 cases of Delta-8 poisoning reported to national poison control centers in the last three years. Forty-one percent of the cases involved children below the age of 18. The Illinois General Assembly considered but ultimately failed to pass a ban on hemp-derived weed products like Delta-8 this spring, thanks to furious lobbying from hemp retailers. However, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said lawmakers should make it a priority in the coming months.

“There needs to be regulation of these products. Period. End of sentence,” Pritzker said in a June 14 interview. “I think you’re gonna see movement on it in the veto session in November or January.”

The hemp industry said it would welcome the same regulation as legal cannabis shops, while the legal weed industry wants Delta-8 run out of town entirely.

“There are 800 pages of regulations regulating weed stores and there are none regulating these stores that are selling substances that are intoxicating from the same plant,” said Jason Erkes, a spokesperson for Cresco Labs.

Charles Wu, who owns a legal Delta-8 café called Chitiva, said the stalemate has pushed businesses like his to self-police to root out bad actors, such as gas stations and head shops.

“We are currently in the process of developing standards, so consumers know this is not just a good hemp product, it’s been tested, it’s been third-party verified by a source, there is an internal enforcement body verifying these things,” Wu said. “All the things that are important to enable responsible use.”

Laurie and her daughter said they hope their story can spur lawmakers into action, whether it’s through tough regulations or an all-out ban.

“We either need to regulate this stuff or get it taken out of stores because it is something that can be detrimental to people,” her daughter said.

“I feel the people that are selling it don’t realize what they’re selling and what it does to people’s lives,” Laurie said. “It turned our lives upside down.”

Downstate Illinois Congresswoman Mary Miller has introduced an amendment in the 2024 Farm Bill that would ban hemp-derived weed products, but it has yet to be considered in the House or Senate.

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