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Products containing delta-8 THC—one of many chemicals called “cannabinoids” that can be derived from cannabis plants or artificially created—are part of an increasingly complex landscape of products that many states are seeking to regulate.
On Thursday, August 25, 2022, SciLine interviewed: Dr. Ziva Cooper, the director of the UCLA Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoids and an associate professor in the departments of psychiatry, biobehavioral sciences, and anesthesiology. She discussed topics including: cannabinoid basics, including terminology and categories; potential adverse and beneficial health effects of synthetic cannabinoids; why delta-8 THC is receiving particular attention from health authorities and regulators; and what consumers should know if they plan to use cannabinoid products.
ZIVA COOPER: My name is Ziva Cooper, and I am the director of the UCLA Center for Cannabis and Cannabinoids and associate professor in the departments of psychiatry and anesthesiology at UCLA. And what I study specifically is related to both the potential therapeutic effects as well as adverse effects of cannabis and cannabinoids. Cannabinoids are the chemical constituents of the cannabis plant.
Interview with SciLine
What exactly are cannabinoids, and in particular, what are THC and CBD?
ZIVA COOPER: Phytocannabinoids are frequently called cannabinoids. Phytocannabinoids are unique chemicals in the cannabis plant, and there are over 100 identified phytocannabinoids at this point. And many of them are particularly interesting because there have been signals that they might be potentially therapeutic for a wide range of medical issues and symptoms where there are very few therapeutics that can actually help these medical symptoms and these medical issues. Phytocannabinoids are also known to have some adverse effects. So, an example of this is delta-9 THC. We call this THC for short. THC is the primary psychoactive and intoxicating component of the cannabis plant. So we know that when people use cannabis and they get high, we know that this is attributed to this delta-9 THC.
What’s interesting about delta-9 THC is that it’s also known to have certain therapeutic effects. And so this chemical in this cannabis plant can be used both for medical purposes, for specific medical indications. But we also know that there are adverse effects that the patient should be mindful of. What’s interesting about the cannabis plant and these over 100 phytocannabinoids is that some of these phytocannabinoids do not have these types of adverse effects, or at least we hypothesize they might not have some of these adverse effects while also having potential therapeutic effects.
So, a good example of this is cannabidiol, which is frequently abbreviated to CBD. CBD is not intoxicating, and it’s also not known to have effects on memory or attention. It’s not known to produce abuse-related effects or addictive-related effects like THC does. CBD has been studied in animals as well as humans for its potential therapeutic effects and is actually FDA-approved to help with a medical issue of pediatric epilepsy disorders.
What other cannabinoids interest researchers?
ZIVA COOPER: Among these other cannabinoids, there are ones that are of particular interest that we’ll probably be talking about today. These include delta-8 THC, which is found in the cannabis plant, as well as others that seem to be popping up on the market, like CBG, cannabigerol. THCB is another one that’s of particular interest. And these cannabinoids, again, are of interest because they might potentially be therapeutic for medical purposes and their adverse effects might be different than delta-9 THC that seems to have adverse effects that we should be aware of when being used for clinical purposes.
What are “semi-synthetic” cannabinoids?
ZIVA COOPER: What we’re starting to see are a class of cannabinoids that are what we call—some people call semi-synthetic. What semi-synthetic means is that these cannabinoids are derived from the cannabis chemicals in cannabis. So, for example, if you have a cannabis plant, hemp, that has high amounts of CBD, a phytocannabinoid that’s naturally found in the cannabis plant, you can take out that CBD, and you could synthesize that CBD into other cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC, which we’re seeing a lot of on the market, or delta-10 THC that we’re seeing a lot of on the market.
What else can you tell us about delta-8, delta-10, and any other cannabinoids that are currently of interest to researchers and regulators?
ZIVA COOPER: The semi-synthetic cannabinoids that are popping up now include delta-8 THC, which has become pretty popular over the last year or two in states with regulated cannabis, so with legal cannabis, as well as states without legal cannabis. So, delta-8 THC, you can find this in states like Texas, where they don’t have medical or non-medical cannabis laws in place. And you can find it in places like California or Washington. Although, what’s interesting is that some of these states have kind of banned the marketing and production of delta-8 THC. So even though cannabis with delta-9 THC is legal in those states, some of these states are really cracking down on the delta-8 THC production. So, delta-8 THC is one of these semi-synthetic cannabinoids that we’re starting to see.
Delta-10 THC is also another one of these chemicals that we’re starting to see gain popularity. And just like delta-8 THC, delta-10 THC is also found in the cannabis plant, just in very, very small amounts. And so, in order to be able to get sufficient amounts to market and to sell, manufacturers have to derive that delta-10 THC from the chemicals—from other chemicals in the cannabis plant, like CBD.
Some other semi-synthetic cannabinoids that we’re starting to see on the market or we’re starting to see in the media and being talked about on the web includes THCP. THCP is also found in the cannabis plant, but again, at very low levels. And so what manufacturers are doing in that case, similar to delta-8, similar to delta-10, is that they’re using the cannabis chemicals to be able to synthesize more THCP so that it can be sold and marketed. And another last one that I think is also gaining more popularity is this THC-O acetate. THC-O acetate is not found in the cannabis plant. But it can be derived from the chemicals in hemp, in several varieties of cannabis that are legal across the United States.
What should consumers know before trying a cannabinoid product?
ZIVA COOPER: For consumers that are curious or are interested in these products, I think that a couple of things should be kept in mind. Again, the first thing to keep in mind is the fact that there is no oversight of the production of these products. Certainly, there’s no federal oversight. The FDA is not overseeing these products. And, you know, the states—I don’t know of any states that have put out regulations to oversee the production of these products. And so, consumers should be made aware of the fact that when you get these products, you’re not actually sure what’s in them. And they might have cannabinoids that you might not want to be exposed to.
So, for example, if you’re somebody who doesn’t want to be intoxicated or impaired, you have to recognize that maybe, you know, delta-9 THC, which is the primary psychoactive and intoxicating component of the cannabis plant, there might be measurable amounts of delta-9 THC in those products. So, while you think you are getting a—what some people have called a light delta-9 THC product, with respect to delta-8 THC, you might actually be getting quite a bit of delta-9 THC. And so you should be made aware of that. And you should also be made aware of the fact that there are sometimes contaminants in these products. And so that’s the first thing, just from a consumer safety perspective.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of these synthetic or semi-synthetic products haven’t been tested even in animals, much less humans, right? So, delta-8 THC is one of the chemicals that has been tested in humans to some degree. There have been, I think, about five studies in humans. And what those studies show is that delta-8 THC is what we call less potent than delta-9 THC, meaning that you would need more delta-8 THC to get the same effect as delta-9 THC. So, some people call it the light delta-9 THC. But with respect to the other semi-synthetic cannabinoids that we’re seeing pop up, such as delta-10 THC, I don’t know of a study that’s even looked at delta-10 THC in animals, much less humans. THCP, another one that is gaining popularity, is actually thought to be more potent than delta-9 THC. So, you would need a very little bit of the THCP to get the same effect as delta-9 THC. And so, this is something that people also should be made aware of. Yet, THCP also has not been tested in humans. In fact, I think there’s only been one study to date in animals.
How are reporters doing covering cannabis?
(Posted August 25, 2022 | Download video)
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