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Keeping It Real: Synthetic Cannabinoids in Utah

By Corey Morrill

September 3, 2022

The promise of cheap, legal medicine can be almost too much to pass up, especially if you are genuinely suffering from a condition that requires regular medicating. But what if you found out that the medicine you were being offered had never been safely tested on humans? Furthermore, there is no evidence to prove that anything you’ve been told about the dosing, effects, or even ingredients is true. Unfortunately for Utah patients, there are many “gray market” cannabis and hemp companies utilizing synthetic cannabinoids that are willing to capitalize on the suffering of a person’s medical condition by making lofty promises that their products are “just as good as medical cannabis”. Fortunately for those gray market retailers, the State of Utah seems to turn a blind eye to this lack of consumer protection.

Delta-9-Tetrahydrocannabinol (abbreviated as Δ-9-THC or simply d9) is the primary cannabinoid responsible for the intoxicating effects we feel when we consume cannabis. It is also the specific cannabinoid that is responsible for cannabis being considered a Schedule-I controlled substance by the DEA. According to the 2018 United States Farm Bill, a product with no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight is considered legal “hemp” whereas anything higher is illegal “cannabis” despite both being derived from the plant known as cannabis sativa.

As it happens, there seem to be two loopholes here that these gray market sellers take advantage of. The first is in the very name of the molecule. While d9 THC may be illegal, d8 THC is not. Neither is d10, THC-O acetate, HHC, or THC-P. And neither was K2/Spice before it killed hundreds of people and sent thousands more to the emergency room for overdoses. All of these legal molecules can intoxicate you in some way similar to d9, but they were all made artificially in an effort to skirt the law. Although d8 and d10 may be found naturally at times in cannabis, it is always in trace amounts. Therefore, products containing large quantities of either molecule rely on chemical conversion.

Most synthetic cannabinoids can be, and typically are, derived from CBD rich hemp. The hemp is washed in a solvent that separates the CBD from the plant matter, then some type of acid is added to catalyze the CBD’s conversion into a different synthetic cannabinoid. And there are many types of acid that will do the trick, some more dangerous but cost effective than others. According to Russell Lombard, CEO of Canna Redux and Forge Hemp Company which synthesize d8 on a large scale:

“Anytime there’s a mad rush to make a product, some people will act ethically, and others won’t. Unfortunately, some companies cut corners. Harmful solvents and acids like Heptane, Hexane, Cyclohexane, Toluene, Sulfuric acid, Hydrochloric acid, and p-Toluenesulfonic acid can be used in the production of Delta-8. These methods can be hazardous to the people performing the reaction, as well as the end-user if not handled properly.”

So how can you know if a product contains residual solvents? You check the certificate of analysis (COA). All hemp and cannabis products, medical or otherwise, are supposed to be accompanied by a COA that shows not only the amounts of cannabinoids present, but also any heavy metals, molds, pesticides, or residual solvents in the product. Dragonfly product COAs are all located on the brand website and linked to from the pharmacy and packaging QR codes. Considering the direct impact of these products on our health, it is vital that this information be freely and easily accessible.

Many gray market products simply have no COA. Even if they did, it wouldn’t matter. While there has been research on the effects of d9 on humans (it’s safe, medicinal even) there is virtually no evidence that suggests d8 or d10 are beneficial or particularly safe for human consumption. THC-O, often claimed to be 3x stronger than d9, also has precisely zero research into its effects on humans making that claim completely invalid. A study by Portland State University in fact demonstrated that THC-O produces toxic ketene gas when vaporized at relatively low temperatures, in the range at which a person might consume a THC-O vape cartridge.

But what about the products claiming to have d9? A kiosk out in the open at West Valley’s Valley Fair Mall and many other CBD or vape shops will sell gummies claiming to have 10mg or more of d9 per piece to people aged 18 and up (most cannabis pharmacies won’t even let you in if you’re under 21).That brings us to the second loophole: the phrase “0.3% by dry weight.” In order to get around this restriction, one needs only to make a product that is extremely dense in something other than d9. Gelatin, for instance, is popular. So although it may contain enough d9 to be considered a high dose, it is still legally a “hemp” product by dry weight.

Despite these loopholes being easy to spot, state and federal lawmakers have made little to no effort to close them. In the meantime, potentially dangerous, barely regulated products are being sold online and in public to unsuspecting consumers as medicine. How long will it be before one of these synthetic cannabinoids becomes the next K2? Dragonfly is trying to spread awareness of the importance of safe, tested products. Our new location, soon to be open in Price, will help us continue that mission. Our website and our pharmacies will always be places where you can learn accurate information about the products we carry. Dragonfly simply would not risk it otherwise.