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More than 1 in 10 high school seniors use hemp-derived drug

Over 1 in 10 high school seniors reported using a hemp product that gives a similar high to marijuana but is sold legally in gas stations.
More than 1 in 10 high school seniors use hemp-derived drug
Posted at 2:09 PM, Mar 12, 2024

A report released Tuesday indicates that 11.2% of high school seniors use delta-8, a product that mimics the high produced by marijuana. 

The report was released in the Journal of the American Medical Association by researchers at multiple universities. The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health. 

Officials said the number may be underestimated as it only counted teens actively attending school. Constant absenteeism is a known risk factor for drug use, officials said. 

“Eleven percent is a lot of people — that’s at least one or two students in every average-sized high school class who may be using delta-8. We don’t know enough about these drugs, but we see that they are already extremely accessible to teens,” said Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Cannabis use in general has been associated with negative impacts on the adolescent brain, so we must pay attention to the kinds of cannabis products teens are using, educate young people about potential risks, and ensure that treatment for cannabis use disorder and adequate mental health care is provided to those who need it.”

SEE MORE: Are cannabis edibles safer than smoking? Here's what some experts say

The Food and Drug Administration says delta-8 has psychoactive and intoxicating effects. The FDA said concentrated amounts of delta-8 THC are typically manufactured from hemp-derived cannabidiol. 

According to the FDA, there were 2,362 exposure cases of delta-8 THC products reported between Jan. 1, 2021, and Feb. 28, 2022. Of those, 40% involved unintentional exposure to delta-8, and 82% of these unintentional exposures affected pediatric patients. The FDA reported that 70% of the cases involved medical evaluation. 

The exposures prompted further study to show how much these products are being used. 

“This is the first national study to report the extent of delta-8 use among young people, which is important to inform research and policy,” said Richard Miech, co-author of the study. “A prevalence of 11% is appreciable and indicates this drug is quickly making inroads among teens.”

Delta-8-THC can be consumed in many different ways, including in edible products. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission sent a cease and desist letter to six companies selling edible products containing Delta-8.

The FTC said the packaging of the products looks nearly identical to that of common products children eat, including Doritos, Cheetos and Nerds.

Because of how Delta-8 is made, it can be seen as a legal alternative to marijuana. 

“In states without cannabis legalization, delta-8 might be marketed as a legal alternative to cannabis and be easier for teenagers to access,” said Alyssa Harlow, clinical assistant professor of population and public health sciences at the University of Southern California. “Delta-8 products are out there where teens can easily find and buy them, and there needs to be continued surveillance of its use, as well as policy and public health efforts to help youth and parents stay informed and safe.”

The FDA said that these products can sometimes be found in gas stations and convenience stores, and generally there is no minimum age to purchase them. 

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