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Misleading Hemp Intoxicants Terminology

Those producing and selling unregulated hemp-derived intoxicating products often rely on a confusing set of terms that can obscure meaning or even mislead the public and policymakers as to their intent. Here are a few of the terms commonly used in the hemp intoxicants industry, and what they actually mean:

Delta-8, or Delta-8 THC. A form of intoxicating tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), structurally similar to the primary intoxicant found in the marijuana plant, delta-9 THC.  While it can appear naturally in the Cannabis Sativa L. plant, it appears only under certain conditions, and in trace amounts that are not commercially viable. Rather, delta-8 THC is produced using the non-intoxicating constituent of hemp, cannabidiol (CBD) as a starting point, and chemically converted into an array of other chemicals, many of which are intoxicating including delta-8 THC. Delta-8 was the first notable street drug produced from hemp, it is widely considered less potent than delta-9 THC although still clearly intoxicating and consumed for that purpose. Delta-8 has been eclipsed in popularity by artificially-produced delta-9 THC since it was introduced in late 2019.

Hemp D9, D9, or delta-9 THC. Now currently marketed as D9 when produced artificially from hemp, delta-9 THC is the primary intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. This drug is now widely available and has largely displaced delta-8 among hemp intoxicants consumers. Because many interpret federal law to allow hemp-derived intoxicants including D9, it is widely available at retail outlets and online. The only restrictions on sales or manufacturing take place under state law. 

Dietary Supplement or DSHEA. When used in this context, the term refers to the goal of hemp producers and retailers of intoxicating hemp products to regulate CBD and intoxicants products (such as “Full Spectrum Hemp,” described below) through the Food and Drug Administration’s supplements product pathway. This product category was established through the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, known by its acronym, DSHEA. The case for regulating these products through the dietary supplements pathway relies on the claim that CBD should be regulated by the FDA, with the further argument that intoxicating THC can be paired with CBD products and allowed in de minimis amounts through the entourage effect (see below). In fact, this is an effort to market intoxicants, with the presence of CBD being incidental to the consumer. In addition, such an approach would in fact undermine the supplements pathway and DSHEA. 

Entourage Effect. This term refers to the theory that various compounds in a substance, when taken together, can produce a different physiological or psychoactive effect than when taken individually. This concept is most commonly mentioned in discussions about marijuana or cannabis, suggesting that the combined effect of the various cannabinoids such as THC and CBD, in addition to terpenes and other compounds contained in the plant, are more effective or offer different effects than any single compound on its own.  The claim is that these compounds either enhance each other’s properties or mitigate potential side effects, leading to a more effective and balanced therapeutic outcome. Research is still preliminary on the validity of the theory, and broader studies beyond animal studies or gathering anecdotal evidence are needed. Hemp producers and retailers rely on the entourage effect theory in order to make the claim that the presence of CBD or other non-intoxicating ingredients in hemp products can negate the intoxicating effect of THC. However, there is simply no evidence that this is the case, and obscures the intent to sell intoxicating products.

“Farm Bill Compliant” Used in marketing materials and product labels for hemp intoxicants to refer to any hemp-derived intoxicating ingredient. This term suggests it is lawful under federal law despite a lack of approval by the Food and Drug Administration.  

Full Spectrum CBD. An intoxicating product that, while labeled as a non-intoxicating hemp product, instead contains delta-9 THC or another form of THC at levels which lead to intoxication. Typically this is set at 5 mg delta-9 THC per serving, with no limitation on the number of servings per package or container. Full Spectrum CBD presents itself as capturing all natural ingredients in hemp including a significant amount of intoxicant and is often marketed as a wellness product. However, as explained above, hemp does not naturally contain intoxicants, and so intoxicating THC is added to products in order for them to be present in intoxicating amounts. Note that full spectrum CBD is contrasted with “broad spectrum” CBD, which also claims to contain all the various ingredients in hemp, but does not include any intoxicants. 

Intoxicant. This term is not defined in federal law or regulation, but generally understood to mean a substance that can have a psychoactive effect when consumed, affecting the mind, behavior, or perception. Intoxication caused by marijuana or hemp is often referred to as euphoric, but it can also have depressant or hypnotic effects on the consumer. The effect or “high” is caused when large amounts of particular types of THC are introduced to the bloodstream either through the lungs or the digestive tract and conveyed to the brain, where they flood receptors in the nervous system called CB-1 receptors. Delta-9 THC and other variations can connect to this receptor, and when they do so in large amounts, the effect is described as intoxication. The effect can vary widely from individual to individual, but often lasts 3 to 4 hours after consumption.  

“Low-THC Hemp.” A misnomer often used in state laws allowing hemp intoxicant products created through nominally-regulated state programs, suggesting that a product has a negligible amount of intoxicants. Instead, it almost universally refers to products which contain a significant amount of intoxicating THC, usually 5 mg per serving. Importantly, these items most commonly appear in the form of candy, in which one piece contains up to 5mg THC, with no limit on the number of THC-infused candy pieces available per package. 5mg alone is enough for a physiological effect on many adults, and without limiting the number of servings per package, the limitation loses its meaning. In effect, low-THC hemp is a way of getting intoxicants to consumers in a manner that obscures the purpose of the product. This can create a dangerous situation for consumers who are not familiar with the actual purpose or actual contents of so-called “low-THC” hemp products.   

“THCa Flower.” THCa flower is the same as marijuana, in that it is the Cannabis Sativa L plant which is produced and consumed for the purposes of intoxication. It is branded by hemp producers and retailers as “THCa Flower” in order to obscure the fact that it is indistinguishable from marijuana. The term “THCa” is derived from the fact that when the cannabis plant is growing, it contains a large amount of THCa. However, THCa is simply the precursor to the intoxicant delta-9 THC, and is readily converted into delta-9 when it is smoked or vaped. The term THCa flower sounds innocuous, but takes advantage of the fact that the public is unfamiliar with the chemistry at work in the plant during the growth cycle. Further, the term “flower”here is used in the same sense as the term “bud,” often used by marijuana consumers to refer to raw plant material that has been prepared for consumption, as the most potent parts of the plant are contained in the flowers that the plant produces.