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Opinion/Editorial: THC poses overdose problems

Opinion/Editorial: THC poses overdose problems

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Marijuana Legalization

A worker spreads cannabis-infused caramel into molds in a kitchen at the Sira Naturals marijuana cultivation facility in Milford, Massachusetts in 2018.

Recently in this space we discussed the pending confusion over regulation of forms of marijuana. A new law in effect today makes it legal to possess a small amount (up to one ounce) of leafy marijuana, but fails to address such forms as oils and gummies. As of that writing, state officials were working to resolve the problem through new regulations.

Meanwhile, another problem has surfaced: overdoses from unregulated THC, which bears chemical similarity to marijuana but is derived from hemp. It is found in popular products ranging from chewables to vaping oils.

The Blue Ridge Poison Center at the University of Virginia reports receiving dozens of calls through June 15 of this year involving products containing delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, marketed as Delta-8 THC.

During the same period last year, there were no such calls.

At least one of those cases involved the not uncommon problem of a child mistaking a product as candy. The child found gummies and ate them, resulting in a dangerously low heart rate.

Parents and caretakers are often warned not to allow medicines or other adult substances to fall into the hands of children — especially if they can be too easily confused with candies.

“Unfortunately,” said the center’s director, Dr. Christopher Holstege, “these gummies and other edibles frequently resemble candy and thus are enticing to young children.”

Another case produced an opposite result — not over-sedation, but over-stimulation. A middle-aged woman who ingested a THC product required emergency care when she developed tremor, anxiety and a heart rate of 160 beats per minute. According to healthline.com, anything over 100 beats a minute is normally too fast for an adult, although the rate can go up with exercise.

“There is no required quality control for these products,” Dr. Holstege said, “and consumers must blindly trust that these products match the labels — if there is a label with an ingredient list present.”

On the issue of regulation, the prognosis is somewhat unclear.

To begin to understand it, we must first delve into chemistry, then law.

Delta-8 is similar to delta-9 THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It is derived from hemp, but marijuana and hemp are the same species. The two types of THC are so closely related that delta-8 can cause someone to test positive for marijuana.

Nonetheless, hemp is named differently, and treated differently under the law, because it must contain no more than 0.03% of THC in dry-weight measure.

But hemp does not naturally produce enough delta-8 to produce the desired effects or be commercially viable. And so Delta-8 THC is manufactured from hemp derivatives.

That issue of manufacture triggers another legal concern.

When federal law decriminalized hemp, it also legalized plant extractions.

But then last August, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ruled that the process of synthetically deriving THC, including delta-8, was illegal.

Distributors of THC products sued.

The dispute has not been resolved yet.

The upshot is, with state and federal governments changing their approaches to marijuana and hemp-derived products, regulations are in flux.

There is not always clarity about what is legal — or even what is safe.

In this evolving environment, it’s a matter of consumer — and user — beware.

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