Utah Officials Seek Better Regulations For Delta-8 And Other Synthetics

Utah Officials Seek Better Regulations For Delta-8 And Other Synthetics

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Regulators of the state’s medical marijuana program intend to curb the use of the controversial cannabinoids significantly.



At the urging of patient advocates, product manufacturers and researchers, the state has formally initiated the process of creating more thorough guidelines for governing the presence of delta-8 THC and other synthetics allowed in its medical marijuana program, according to recent news reports.


Utah voters voted to legalize its MMJ market in 2018. However, prior to its launch in 2020, the state legislature and then-governor Gary Hebert (R) made “tweaks” allowing for “THC analogs” in edible products, vape cartridges and other offerings sold in state-licensed pharmacies.


By definition, an analog is “any substance that is structurally or pharmacologically similar to, or is represented as being similar to, delta-9-THC.” This language of the law has allowed medical marijuana pharmacies in Utah to legally sell items containing the controversial delta-8 THC variant and other equally notorious derivatives such as delta-6 and delta-10. As a result, patients have reported alarming side effects, including blackouts, following the consumption of MMJ products containing delta-8 THC, which many other states have already banned.


Prior to the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, which removed hemp from the Controlled Substances List, delta-8 was an unknown quantity in the world of THC. However, following the legalization of hemp and hemp-derived products, a flood of new and almost entirely unregulated products inundated markets all over the country.


According to many experts, the chemical process used to create the derivative could taint the end product with many unknown contaminants that go undetected during scientific laboratory analysis. Those same authorities point to the case of the tragic death of a Virginia toddler in May, where delta-8 THC was detected in a package of edibles the child ingested. The mother has been charged with homicide in that horrendous case.


To address the concerns raised by the various activist groups, the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) has formally requested that the state legislature take swift and decisive action concerning the law governing the MMJ program. In a statement, Brandon Forsyth, Director of the agency’s Cannabis and Hemp Division, said, “(Although, to date), no public health body has recognized a synthetic cannabinoid as a toxic or deleterious substance, (the UDAF) is asking for changes to state law that would allow us to restrict the presence of synthetic cannabinoids in products in Utah, even if they have not been demonstrated to be toxic.”


"(Although, to date), no public health body has recognized a synthetic cannabinoid as a toxic or deleterious substance, (the UDAF) is asking for changes to state law that would allow us to restrict the presence of synthetic cannabinoids in products in Utah, even if they have not been demonstrated to be toxic.”

- Brandon Forsyth, Director of the agency’s Cannabis and Hemp Division


The request by the UDAF is an abrupt change of course for the regulatory agency. Many believe the pressure brought on by a months-long campaign spearheaded by cannabis manufacturers and patients concerned about public safety prompted the dramatic shift. Moreover, according to industry experts, the real problem is that there is not enough data to confidently assure the general public that these chemically derived variants are safe.


Blake Smith, a trained biochemist and Chief Scientific Officer at Zion Medicinal, a licensed marijuana manufacturer in Salt Lake City that sells to MMJ pharmacies across Utah, bluntly asserts, “Here’s the deal: Lack of data does not equal safety. If we don’t know anything about these things that we just discovered, we should probably not be giving them to cancer patients. I think that is perfectly reasonable.”


"Here’s the deal: Lack of data does not equal safety. If we don’t know anything about these things that we just discovered, we should probably not be giving them to cancer patients. I think that is perfectly reasonable.”

- Blake Smith, Chief Scientific Officer, Zion Medicinal


Smith and other advocates want MMJ products to be more strictly regulated by state authorities and, if necessary, ban all analogs completely.


However, not all state organizations feel the same sense of urgency communicated by the UDAF, Smith, and his colleagues. For example, when the UDAF recently pulled some products from shelves over safety issues, the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which oversees the state’s medical marijuana program, lifted those bans saying that the agency was “unable to find any evidence that these cannabinoids are harmful to human health at this time.”


Furthermore, instead of addressing the legitimate health and safety concerns, it is supposed to be responsible for, the agency reiterated that Utah allows “synthetic and derivative cannabinoids,” provided they “are listed on cannabis product labels.” Those comments came through Rich Oborn, director of the DHHS’ Center for Medical Cannabis, at an October 25th hearing on the issue of analogs and their potentially dangerous effects on patient health.


At that hearing, Oborn also stated that those patients with concerns about product safety “should talk with their medical provider and/or a medical cannabis pharmacist to determine if they should use products with synthetic and derivative cannabinoids.”


His words seemed to pass the buck and rang somewhat callous and hollow to many researchers, advocates, and patients at the hearing. Several of those who spoke described experiences with products recommended by state-licensed medical marijuana pharmacists as “scary,” “unsettling,” and “unnerving.”


As with most challenging issues surrounding the creation, regulation and establishment of a new market steeped in controversy, misinformation and good old-fashioned greed, how states like Utah address the manufacture and use of analogs like delta-8, delta-6, delta-10 and others will set a precedent for how other states and eventually the country tackles the proper and safe use of a plant that looks so very simple from the outside but is as complex and varied as each and every human being inhabiting the planet.


As a rule, it is best always to buy and seek counsel from a cannabis dispensary where the health and safety of the patient or customer are put far above the pursuit of profit.