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FDA Issues First Warning Letters for Delta-8 THC

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has issued warning letters today to companies selling products containing delta-8 THC. In total, the FDA sent out five warning letters to companies for violating the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act).

Image from the FDA’s consumer update on Delta-8 THC

The violations include illegal marketing of unapproved delta-8 THC products as treatment for medical conditions, misbranding and adding delta-8 THC to food products. Back in September of last year, the FDA published a consumer update on their website, seeking to educate the public and offer a public health warning on delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, otherwise known as delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC is a cannabinoid that can be synthesized from cannabidiol (CBD) derived from hemp. It is an isomer of delta-9 THC, the more commonly known psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. Delta-8 THC does produce psychoactive effects, though not quite as much as its better-known cousin, delta-9 THC. Many regulators and industry stakeholders are increasingly concerned about the rise in popularity of delta-8 products, namely because of the processing involved to produce it. Delta-8 THC is often synthesized using potentially harmful chemicals.

The FDA has a history of sending a lot of warning letters to companies marketing CBD products inaccurately and making drug claims. Earlier this year, they sent a number of letters to companies claiming that CBD can cure or prevent Covid-19.

FDAlogoAccording to Janet Woodcock, M.D., principal deputy commissioner at the FDA, they are getting more and more concerned about the popularity of delta-8 THC products sold online. “These products often include claims that they treat or alleviate the side effects related to a wide variety of diseases or medical disorders, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, nausea and anxiety,” says Woodcock. “It is extremely troubling that some of the food products are packaged and labeled in ways that may appeal to children. We will continue to safeguard Americans’ health and safety by monitoring the marketplace and taking action when companies illegally sell products that pose a risk to public health.”

The FDA sent warning letters to the following companies selling delta-8 THC products:

  • ATLRx Inc.
  • BioMD Plus LLC
  • Delta 8 Hemp
  • Kingdom Harvest LLC
  • M Six Labs Inc.

Nonprofits Focus Lens on Delta-8-THC

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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On December 2, ASTM International, released a whitepaper called “Delta-8-Tetrahydrocannabinol and the Need to Develop Standards to Protect Safety of Consumers.” On the same day, the U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) launched an expert panel, drafting commentary and providing recommendations to protect public health. The two organizations are working in tandem to better educate the public as well as regulators on the science behind the risks that delta-8-THC products pose to the public.

The chemical structure of Delta 8 THC.

ASTM has been working in the cannabis industry through their D37 committee since March of 2017. Soon after the D37 committee launched, they began crafting cannabis standards and have grown their membership and subcommittees considerably over the past few years. USP has also been involved in the cannabis space for quite some time, developing reference standards and offering guidance for the cannabis testing market.

The ASTM whitepaper details the current landscape for hemp-based products that contain delta-8-thc derived from CBD. It includes information on what the cannabinoid is, how it’s produced, the emergence of delta-8-thc in hemp markets and the need for better safety and performance standards.

David Vaillencourt, frequent CIJ contributor and ASTM International member, says they want to identify how we can maintain public safety when it comes to delta-8-THC. “Products containing delta-8-THC are widely available to consumers despite the known and unknown risks to consumer health and safety,” says Vaillencourt. “The topic is much deeper than simply the presence of delta-8-THC. Rather it is about defining how to label products containing potentially intoxicating cannabinoids and identifying what safeguards need to be in place to minimize the risk of impurities that can further impact consumer health.”

In addition to the technical information provided, ASTM’s whitepaper also discusses the risks of synthetic cannabinoids to public health and the regulatory landscape surrounding delta-8-THC. USP’s whitepaper discusses the chemical process that creates delta-8-THC, the unregulated market and offers guidance on how to regulate the cannabinoid with labeling and testing rules.

Dr. Ikhlas Khan, chairman of USP’s expert panel on cannabis, says we need a lot more research.  “The fact of the matter is that little is known about the products labeled as containing delta-8, so much so that the FDA and CDC have both released advisories about the products,” says Khan. “Depending on how the products are produced, unknown impurities may be introduced, including minor and synthetic cannabinoid compounds that are not naturally occurring in cannabis.”

Delta-8-THC is not inherently unsafe, says Dr. Nandakumara Sarma, Director of Dietary Supplements and Herbal Medicines for USP. But as we’ve covered this before, the methods that manufacturers use to produce delta-8-THC could have harmful byproducts present in final products. “Synthetically derived cannabinoids are not necessarily inherently unsafe if they are quality controlled and shown to be safe,” says Dr. Sarma. “By using public quality standards, we can help in controlling the quality of the products and set appropriate limits for impurities.”

The folks at USP and ASTM will host a presentation on the two papers during ASTM’s 2nd Global Workshop on Advancing the Field of Cannabis through Standardization, to be held virtually Dec. 14, 2021. Click here to register.

Ask the Experts: The Business of Cannabis Meets the Law

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Practicing Law Institute Press’s Legal Guide to the Business of Marijuana: Cannabis, Hemp and CBD Regulation is a one-of-a-kind deep dive into the many regulations governing the industry. Aimed at attorneys representing clients in this space, the treatise offers guidance on a range of interrelated topics including state regulation of medical and non-medical cannabis; federal law, enforcement and preemption and their implications for employment, taxes and banking; and the various aspects of establishing and managing a cannabis enterprise, from growth to licensing, transport and distribution. We spoke with co-authors James T. O’Reilly, professor of Public Health Policy at the College of Medicine of the University of Cincinnati and author of leading references on food and drug law, and Edgar J. Asebey, a founding partner of Keller Asebey Life Science Law and a life sciences attorney with over twenty years of experience, about the intersection of the cannabis business and the law.

Q: From the legal industry’s perspective, how has this area of the law evolved over the past few years – and what would you advise clients in cannabis to look for when engaging legal assistance for their businesses?

James T. O’Reilly & Edgar J. Asebey: Over the past few years, we have seen a growing acceptance of the idea that lawfully serving the needs of cannabis consumers is a commendable business initiative. This evolution in thinking – tied to the myriad business opportunities cannabis presents – has given large, mainstream corporate law firms the incentive to grow practices and develop specialists in this area, which is a very positive development.

But it is not enough for lawyers to know their way around M&A and the capital markets; they must also have experience with federal regulatory bodies. As regulations continue to evolve, it is essential for practitioners to be familiar with the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act as well as the Federal Trade Commission Act. The framework for regulating cannabis products already exists, as can be seen in the Warning Letters sent to hemp and CBD companies by both the Federal Trade Commission and Food and Drug Administration (as well as, most recently, the FDA and CDC’s warning about delta-8 THC). If a client places their hemp or CBD product into the stream of commerce, that product will be subject to FDA, FTC and relevant state laws. We strongly recommend seeking out advisors who truly understand these regulations and how they align with the regulatory agencies’ procedures and agendas.

Q: What are the most urgent legal and regulatory topics the industry is watching these days?

O’Reilly & Asebey: Our treatise follows and analyzes the most pressing legal issues facing those in the cannabis and hemp space. In our most recent edition, we add discussion of the Final Rule for the establishment of a domestic hemp production program. We think this is a significant development in that it attempted to address some of the industry’s criticism of some provisions found in the Interim Final Rule, par­ticularly around issues of sampling and testing for THC content. The Final Rule clarified issues around THC percentage testing methodologies, but disappointed many in the industry by leaving in place the low 0.3% dry weight threshold for an acceptable hemp THC level. On the other hand, The Final Rule raises the threshold for a negligent violation from 0.5% to 1.0% total THC and limits the number of violations a grower can receive in one year to one, easing potential penalties for violations.

Of course, the regulation of CBD products is on the minds of many in the industry. Key questions remain about whether cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC can be lawfully sold. Since the FDA has provided no clear guidance with regard to the sale and use of CBD and other hemp-derived cannabinoid-containing prod­ucts, well-meaning businesses find themselves operating in a regulatory gray area. While some states have raced to place delta-8 THC on their controlled substances lists or otherwise regulate it, at the federal level it remains unclear. Our book provides a legal argument showing that current regulations support the lawful production and sale of delta-8 THC. To date, this and other legal arguments have not been tested in the courts and, without FDA guidance, the delta-8 THC sector will remain gray.

Editor’s Note: The Legal Guide to the Business of Marijuana: Cannabis, Hemp and CBD Regulation is now available for purchase here.

About James T. O’Reilly

James T. O’Reilly of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine is former chair of the 8,000-member Section of Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice of the American Bar Association and has been active in numerous ABA, Federal Bar Association, and state and local bar activities. He retired as Associate General Counsel of The Procter & Gamble Company to teach full-time, and served as a consultant to three federal agencies and to the Deputy Secretary General of the European Commission. He has authored fifty-six texts and more than 230 articles, and his work was cited numerous times in appellate opinions, including “The experts have written . . . ” in a March 2000 opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court (Food & Drug Administration v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp., 120 S. Ct. 1291). He has received numerous honors and awards for his professional and electoral activities and has been listed in Who’s Who in American Law for twenty-five years. He is a graduate of Boston College and the University of Virginia School of Law.

About Edgar J. Asebey

Edgar J. Asebey, a partner at Asebey Life Sciences Law PLLC, is a regulatory and transactional attorney with over two decades of experience in federal regulation of pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, food, dietary supplement and cosmetics companies. Since 2015, he has been working on cannabis-related matters and transactions, and since 2018, he has provided regulatory compliance, business transactional, venture finance and international trade services to hemp/CBD companies. Mr. Asebey practices before the FDA, the USDA, the CBP, the EPA, and the FTC, representing client companies on regulatory compliance, product approval/registration and FDA enforcement defense matters. He founded and served as president of Andes Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a natural products drug discovery company, from 1994 to 2000, and has served as in-house counsel to two life sciences companies. Mr. Asebey is a member of the American Bar Association (Section on Administrative Law & Regulatory Practice: Food and Drug Committee and International Committee), the Food & Drug Law Institute (FDLI), the Dade County Bar Association, and BioFlorida.

Content sponsored by Practicing Law Institute

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The Real Reason Some Industry Leaders Want Delta 8 Banned

By Robert Johnson
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As sales of Delta 8 increase, hemp and cannabis industry infighting increases right along with it. Some hemp leaders say they object to Delta 8 simply because it’s intoxicating: “Hemp is nourishing….hemp is not intoxicating,” the president of the U.S. Hemp Authority President told Hemp Grower (apparently cannabinoids can only be one or the other). Others claim that Delta 8 itself is unsafe: “Very little is known about the health effects of Delta 8,” warned the media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association. The U.S. Cannabis Council called Delta 8’s growing popularity “a rapidly expanding crisis” in a report that includes the heading “The Health Risks of Delta-8 THC” and claims Delta 8 “presents a public health risk of potentially wider impact than the vape crisis.”

As a cannabis and hemp industry veteran and a long-time maker of numerous hemp-derived formulations (including Delta 8 products) I have to ask: who exactly is Delta 8 a crisis for, and why? I agree that we need to address the legitimate issues with Delta 8 manufacturing and create regulatory oversight that ensures consumer safety. But some Delta 8 critics may be more concerned with their own bottom line than with protecting public health. No one wants another vaping crisis, but demonizing a newly popular cannabinoid or trying to get it banned doesn’t solve the problem of an unregulated space—and it won’t end the demand for Delta 8, either.

The chemical structure of Delta 8 THC.

John Kagia of New Frontier Data points out that the Delta 8 boom is “a phenomenon that has taken the industry quite by storm”—and while that storm’s rising tide saved many hemp farmers from financial ruin, it has not lifted every boat. Some cannabis leaders consider Delta 8 an incursion into “their” market. Indeed, Delta 8 can be sold in some states where cannabis remains illegal: “Unregulated Delta 8 risks becoming a competitive threat to [cannabis companies’] existing offerings, sold in states they can’t get into,” reported Tiffany Kary at the Chicago Tribune. But the threat here for cannabis operators isn’t Delta 8: it’s Prohibition. In states where cannabis is illegal, Delta 8 (which is remarkably similar in molecular structure to its federally illegal chemical cousin Delta 9) is being purchased as an alternative. Rather than villainizing a cannabinoid, let’s address retrograde, reactionary state legislatures that refuse to listen to the will of their constituents, and outdated federal laws that equate THC with heroin.

Many see Delta 8 as a threat to the licensed cannabis industry’s profit margins, not only because it can be sold in prohibition states, but because its unregulated status makes it far easier and cheaper to make and sell. Cannabis companies have to navigate an overwhelming and burdensome maze of regulatory red tape to maintain compliance, so industry-wide frustration with the total lack of oversight for Delta 8 is both understandable and justified. But calling for statewide bans on a product that competes with yours is not the solution. That’s not how markets work. (Of all people, cannabis industry professionals should know that banning cannabinoids doesn’t make them go away.) Regulating Delta 8 manufacturers and requiring rigorous product testing are reality-based measures that will make the playing field fairer for cannabis while also safeguarding public health. In the meantime, we can strongly encourage Delta 8 consumers to seek out products made by ethical operators that are transparent about their manufacturing process and provide third-party testing results—the exact same protocol we recommend for buying CBD.

Some of the many hemp-derived products on the market today.

The safety of Delta 8 products is another legitimate concern that’s unfortunately been distorted. Some alarmist headlines seem to equate the actual cannabinoid itself with hazardous material. One East Coast CBD manufacturer issued a press release announcing “a warning for consumers and manufacturers about potentially harmful chemicals within Delta 8 THC” with the cable-newsworthy headline “Dangerous Delta 8?” Smearing Delta 8 as an inherent health menace is both misleading and unhelpful. As Rick Trojan, vice president of the board of directors of the Hemp Industries Association points out, “Cannabinoids themselves have never in the history of humanity caused a death by themselves.” Once again, the problem here isn’t the actual cannabinoid: it’s the lack of regulation that allows Delta 8 products to be produced with no oversight or testing. But given Delta 8’s widespread popularity, short-sighted bans like the ones that have been passed in 17 different states will only increase the risk to public health. Retailers nationwide sold at least $10 million worth of Delta 8 products last year. I guarantee that demand will continue, and that these bans will simply empower an illegal market full of bad actors.

Finally, I remain shocked at the contempt aimed at Delta 8 because it’s psychoactive, and at those who consume it for just “wanting a cheap high.” As with all cannabinoids, we need more clinical research into Delta 8’s properties—but the research we do have indicates that Delta 8 actually has therapeutic properties very similar to Delta 9 THC, just with less psychoactivity. Anecdotal reports indicate that Delta 8 offers many of the health benefits of Delta 9 (help with sleep problems, stress, and pain management) without THC’s less-enjoyable side effects, like paranoia. As cannabis specialist and medical doctor Peter Grinspoon told Insider, “I can’t tell you how many patients I have who say, ‘I’d love to use medical cannabis instead of opiates for pain, except it makes me anxious.’ Delta-8 might be a very good option for people like that.” Believe it or not, there are plenty of people who are using Delta 8 for its therapeutic effects—which, in a nation where 136 citizens die from opioid overdoses daily, I think should be encouraged rather than derided.

With more than 140 known cannabinoids, it makes no sense for us as an industry to brand some of them as “bad” and others as “good.” Are we going to have these tugs-of-war and calls for bans over every single cannabinoid that becomes popular? Instead of arguing amongst ourselves, we could instead focus our efforts on legalizing all of these plant compounds, studying them to determine their capabilities, and creating standardized, evidence-based regulations and testing regimens to ensure consumer safety and adult use. Delta 8 is popular because it serves a need. Consumers want it, and it’s here to stay—the sooner that we as an industry recognize those facts, the better.