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Mississippi right to address intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids

By: Robert Welch - April 28, 2024

  • Just because a retail location sells these items doesn’t mean they are safe. 

If you’ve recently been inside a convenience store in our state to buy a soda or snack, you may have noticed a plethora of items behind the counter, or a locked cabinet, that have colorful packaging and with names such as “Delta 8,” “THC-P,” “HHC,” and “THC-O,” among many others. Unbeknownst to most customers, these products contain what’s known as “Intoxicating Hemp-Derived Cannabinoids.” But just because a retail location sells these items doesn’t mean they are safe. 

In 2020, Dr. Bill Gurley, a principal scientist in the National Center for Natural Products Research (NCNPR) at the University of Mississippi (UM), along with his colleagues, published a study that analyzed some of these products being sold in our state. At the time, most of the available products being sold were touted as “CBD (cannabidiol),” a non-intoxicating compound found in cannabis. Undercover law enforcement agents purchased twenty-five of these products, which were sent to UM researchers for analysis. The results were alarming: only three products that claimed to contain CBD were within 20% of what the label claimed was in the product; three products contained delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (d-9 THC), a predominant, intoxicating compound found in cannabis; and three products contained no cannabinoid material whatsoever. 

In another study published by UM in 2023, Dr. Mohamed Radwan and his colleagues looked at products containing delta-8 THC, an intoxicating compound found in trace amounts in cannabis. Since there are only trace amounts of delta-8 THC found in cannabis naturally, the manufactures chemically alter CBD to make delta-8 THC for the active ingredient in the products. This process of adding chemicals to create synthetic products such as the ones mentioned earlier (delta-8, THC-P, HHC, etc.) results in many byproducts that could be harmful when ingested. Furthermore, the manufacturers of these products often do not disclose what these byproducts are, nor the amount you are potentially ingesting. This study found several impurities in these products and great variability of their contents. 

Some of the side effects of these products are anxiety, vomiting, dizziness, loss of consciousness, tremors, hallucinations, and rapid heart rate. The Center for Disease Control found that since these products have become widely available to the public, hospitalizations of children under 10 years old have skyrocketed as the result of accidental ingestions of cannabis edibles (gummies, cookies, etc.). The Mississippi Poison Control Center has seen similar instances of Emergency Room visits and hospitalizations, mainly due to children having access to these products a parent or guardian purchased and them thinking it was candy or a snack, then having a horrible side effect. 

A reasonable question to ask is, “why are these products allowed to be sold in the first place?” In 2018, US legislators passed the Agricultural Improvement Act, commonly known as “The 2018 Farm Bill.” As we discussed earlier regarding the CBD study from 2020, when those products were obtained, most of the products were CBD-based. However, as businesses looked closely at the Farm Bill, a loophole was noticed that stated “derivatives” were also allowed to be sold. This may have been an unintended consequence of the bill’s language, but, nevertheless, companies started making these highly intoxicating products such as the ones we’ve discussed (delta-8, THC-P, HHC, etc.). These products fall outside the governance of the FDA and DEA, hence they are unregulated and able to be sold in gas stations, convenience stores, vape shops, etc. 

This issue is not unique to Mississippi and the federal government realizes it must act to address it, but until then, states must take action to protect their citizens. Thankfully, Mississippi now has one of the most comprehensive solutions in the nation on the table. Representative Lee Yancey (District 74) has sponsored House Bill 1676, which addresses this issue, the main goal being consumer safety. By removing these products from the shelves of gas stations and vape shops and placing them under strict rules and parameters of the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Program dispensaries, we can be sure of the products’ purity, correct dosage/labeling, and consistency, which is currently not the case with the products being sold in retail outlets today.

I commend Representative Yancey and his colleagues who have supported this bill, as Mississippi can lead the way on how to deal with this issue and other states can follow our example. 

About the Author(s)
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Robert Welch

Robert Welch, PharmD, is the Director of the National Center for Cannabis Research and Education at the University of Mississippi.