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Area poison center sees hike in crisis calls from hemp-derived THC
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Area poison center sees hike in crisis calls from hemp-derived THC

A cousin of the high-inducing chemical found in marijuana has bloomed in popularity across the country in the past year, but its ingestion also has brought an increase in calls to the Blue Ridge Poison Center at the University of Virginia.

Officials say dozens of calls reporting adverse reactions to delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol products, marketed as Delta-8 THC, have come into the center between Jan. 1 and June 15, 2021, compared with no such calls in the same time period in 2020.

The chemical is derived from hemp and is similar in structure to delta-9 THC, the psychoactive ingredient that gives marijuana its kick. Delta-8 THC must be created synthetically to provide enough of it to generate the effects, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Currently, it’s a hot-ticket item at many retailers who sell cannabis products such as CBD oils and vapes and can be purchased in gummies and other edibles.

“There is no required quality control for these products, and consumers must blindly trust that these products match the labels, if there is a label with an ingredient list present,” said Dr. Christopher Holstege, director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center. “Unfortunately, these gummies and other edibles frequently resemble candy and thus are enticing to young children.”

According to Holstege, calls received at the poison center this year included a toddler who required hospitalization after eating gummies containing the product. The chemical caused the child’s heartbeat to slow and resulted in sedation.

Another call involved a middle-age woman who required an emergency department visit after developing anxiety, tremor and a heart rate of 160 beats per minute after ingesting a product.

Poison center officials say they offer assistance to anyone who has an adverse reaction to the product. The center may be reached at (800) 222-1222 or (800) 451-1428 and calls are free and confidential.

According to the NIH, the chemicals are essentially the same with a different location of a double carbon bond on their molecules. That gives delta-8 THC anti-nausea and anti-anxiety properties, as well as appetite-stimulating qualities, but less of a high.

Because of its close connection to delta-9 THC, it also creates a positive test for marijuana consumption.

Currently, the legality of delta-8 THC is hazy. Federal legislation that legalized hemp also legalized extractions from the plant, including delta-8 THC. Nearly all delta-8 THC on the market today is synthetically manufactured from hemp derivatives, which would make it legal.

However, in August, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ruled the process of synthetically deriving THC, including delta-8, is illegal.

That resulted in a lawsuit by distribution companies and so far no enforcement by the DEA.

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