Delta-8 retailers and users struggle through an uncertain regulatory environment

click to enlarge Legal experts warn that Delta-8, which includes limited amounts of THC, isn’t so much legal in Texas as it is operating in an unregulated space. - Sanford Nowlin
Sanford Nowlin
Legal experts warn that Delta-8, which includes limited amounts of THC, isn’t so much legal in Texas as it is operating in an unregulated space.

Delta-8 products aren’t hard to track down in San Antonio. As their popularity built over recent months, they’ve made the jump from CBD and vape shops to the glass cases at convenience stores and gas stations.

Just the same, legal experts warn that the substance, which includes limited amounts of THC, isn’t so much legal in Texas as it is operating in an uncertain and unregulated space.

Texas recently expanded its limited medical cannabis program to include people with PTSD and all cancer patients, but outside of that, pot is still illegal in the state. Delta-8, however, is derived from the hemp plant, which was made legal through the federal Farm Bill of 2018.

Local retailers who carry Delta-8 say they’re aiding customers who seek it as a remedy for conditions such as chronic pain and sleeplessness. Although the THC in the cannabinoid does offer a “high,” it’s not as psychoactive as the Delta-9 found in marijuana, and few people are seeking it for recreational purposes, they add.

Danielle Cunningham, the owner of Mr. Farmacist, a San Antonio shop specializing in CBD and kratom, a plant derivative used for pain management, began to carry a limited number of Delta-8 products after she tried them and saw their value.

“I have a wounded veteran with stage 4 cancer who buys it from me so he can still function,” she said. “It would be great if we could just get [Delta-8] in front of the V.A.”

Regulatory maneuvers

But Cunningham is also wary about stocking too much Delta-8 in event Texas moves to ban or severely limit its sale. She already took a financial hit when state regulators banned smokable hemp products, forcing her to give away her stock of those items.

A court case has since reined in the state’s ban — smokable hemp products can now be sold here, just not manufactured inside the state. Still, “the whole thing wasn’t very nice to my pocket,” Cunningham added.

Earlier this year, the Texas Senate added an amendment to outlaw or drastically limit sales of Delta-8 to a marijuana reform proposal from the Texas House. Under the amendment, cannabinoids with more than 0.3% THC would be illegal. The amended bill, however, failed to pass.

Even so, the Department of State Health Services testified before the Lege that it considers Delta-8 an illegal substance. While DSHS has no enforcement capabilities, the testimony sends a signal that the state may not be done looking to curb sales of Delta-8.

Furthering concerns for retailers, DSHS quietly updated its website last week to include Delta-8 on its official list of controlled substances. The move had largely gone unnoticed until the Dallas Morning News reported that the agency placed a notice in the Texas Register, which tracks changes in state rules.

Growing local interest

In San Antonio, interest in Delta-8 began to percolate around the end of last year, and it’s only built up since then, said Delton Childs, manager of Supernova Smoke Shop’s location on Perrin-Beitel Road.

Most of Childs’ customers who sought CBC products to deal with chronic pain and other maladies have since migrated over to the new compound.

“It’s mainly CBD people using it,” he said. “Pretty much anybody who was using CBD has moved over to Delta-8.”

Childs said his shop tries to stick to Delta-8 products from
larger companies that conduct lab tests and can provide data on the items’ potency and quality. While he’s against banning access to the compound, he said he’s not opposed to government oversight.

“Like anything you consume, it should probably be regulated,” he said.

Evidence-based answers

The good news for Delta-8 users is that the Texas Legislature was too consumed with the redistricting process to debate new hemp restrictions before its last session ended. What’s more, the next regular session won’t take place for another two years.

For now, people seeking medical relief, relaxation or a mild high from Delta-8 can continue to find it widely available. But limitations on scientists’ ability to research the substance signal suggest it will continue to be surrounded by uncertainty.

“We need scientists to work with government to have common-sense regulations” for research and usage of various forms of THC, said Daniele Piomelli, director of the Institute for the Study of Cannabis and professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the medical school of University of California, Irvine.

There are 140 compounds similar to THC, according to the researcher. As one is outlawed, it could be replaced with another. Meanwhile, both consumers and retailers will be left on their own to figure out the safety and efficacy of those products.

“By the time it gets to the Supreme Court [of the United States], somebody will have made a lot of money,” Piomelli said. “Without meaningful regulation, this will go on for decades. And we can’t do the research to give an evidence-based answer.”

Editor's Note: This story was edited to include the change to the TDHS's website.

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Sanford Nowlin

Sanford Nowlin is editor-in-chief of the San Antonio Current.

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