The legalization of hemp changed everything

We all have those conversations that stay with us through the years. I’ve been friends with Jimi Devine for nearly a decade, and while you’ll usually see us laughing together while smoking a cigarette, I remember one time in 2018 when we disagreed on a piece of cannabis policy. Since I have this platform to express a negative opinion, I figure why not do the pettiest thing possible and tell Jimi why he was wrong all these years later? Can you hear me laughing out loud in this silent room? I can.

Our argument centered on the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp in America. At the time, I thought the news was surprising and would forever change the face of cannabis as we knew it. Jimi disagreed, and while I don’t exactly remember his arguments against me (isn’t it lovely that I wrote this instead of him?), I’m here in 2023 to say that he was absolutely correct.

The reason the legalization of hemp was able to change the way we think about cannabis so much was that it established the way we define hemp. Although hemp and cannabis are the same plant, the Farm Bill used a conservative threshold, 0.3% THC, to separate hemp plants from cannabis plants. Plants with less than 0.3% THC are legal hemp; above this line, the same plants become defined as illegal cannabis plants by the federal government.

The cannabinoid THC is just one of the many chemical elements that make up the cannabis plant. As hemp was legalized and defined solely by its THC composition, the 2018 Farm Bill sparked a frenzy of development around another cannabinoid, CBD.

The CBD rush has gone too far (I swear I was propositioned for CBD blue jeans and heard a CBD ad on the radio in the same tone and cadence as a Monster Truck rally) and while it has peaked, it will never be completely done . The idea that you can receive some of the medicinal benefits of cannabis without the high associated with THC is very appealing to many people.

Don’t get me wrong, CBD has a lot of medical promise. When I last spoke with Raphael Mechoulam, the Israeli chemist who first identified THC, he told me he was investigating CBD’s ability to affect bone density in conditions like osteoarthritis. Mechoulam was a pioneer in cannabis research and believed that understanding the active compounds in cannabis and how they relate to an endogenous system we all have, the endocannabinoid system, would one day have great importance in modern medicine. I completely agree with this, but I also think that adding CBD oil to the fried tater-totsa dish I once saw on the menu in Austin, Texas is not the healthy choice it is made out to be. One of the things that Mecholam also advocated was the entourage effect. According to another noted cannabis scientist, Ethan Russo, the entourage effect suggests that a molecule is unlikely to match the therapeutic and even industrial potential of Cannabis itself as a phytochemical factory. This means that the medicinal benefits of cannabis work best when the plant’s chemicals work together rather than in isolation.

Another nuance in discussing the medical benefits of CBD is that the CBD industry is unregulated, which means that a product that claims to have 10 mg of CBD may not have CBD at all. A 2022 study showed that nearly half of the CBD products researchers studied were mislabeled.

First CBD, then Delta-8

While we typically just say THC, the cannabinoid that gets us high is more specifically delta-9 THC. The 2018 Farm Bill said plants would be defined as hemp if they had less than 0.03% delta-9 THC. This has led to another gap to develop alternative cannabinoids, including a chemical analogue of delta-9 THC, delta-8 THC.

Delta-8 THC products are now available countywide. I say products because although delta-8 is naturally produced in the cannabis plant, it is only in small amounts. Products containing delta-8 are created through a chemical conversion of CBD.

According to The New York Timessearches for delta-8 on Google grew by more than 850% in the United States between 2020 and 2021.

Research on delta-8 THC is scarce, but a 1973 study shows that delta-8 THC is about two-thirds more potent than delta-9 THC and has similar effects.

Synthetic Cannabinoids

Synthetic cannabinoids, such as THC-O, are also seeing a boom due to the definition of hemp in the 2018 Farm Bill. The cannabis plant does not naturally produce these cannabinoids, and these are the products that raise the most concern about potential effects. adverse to health. In 2022, the California Cannabis Industry Association published a white paper examining the dangers of a nationwide, unregulated, and intoxicating market in hemp-derived cannabinoids.

You have cannabinoids that are produced organically by the plant. They just might be concentrated in extraction, as THCV is a good example of this, explains one of the report’s authors, Tiffany Devitt. And you have cannabinoids that go through a little bit of processing like delta-8, which typically takes CBD, concentrates it, and then goes through a process of using solvents and catalysts to change it. And then you have what I consider to be fully synthesized cannabinoids, which either don’t occur in the natural plant, like THC-O, or occur in the plant in such minuscule amounts that there’s really no toxicological evidence that they’re safe because no one has been ingesting them. in significant quantities.

Cannabinoids interact with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our body. Delta-9 THC is a partial agonist, meaning it can only stimulate or block receptors to a certain extent. Devitt is concerned about the potential adverse health effects of synthetic cannabinoids because they are agonists.

You can think of these cannabinoids, it’s like a dimmer switch, and if it’s only partial, no matter how much you take, you’ll only be able to stimulate or block that receptor to a certain extent, explains Devitt. The difference between a partial agonist and an agonist is a dimmer switch that makes it a little brighter or a little darker, rather than making it blindingly bright or pitch black.

Although THCP is a cannabinoid found in small amounts in the plant, so it is not technically synthetic, it is an agonist that researchers report is 33 times stronger than delta-9 THC.

The newest development in the legal hemp game is THCA. THCA is the acidic precursor of THC. For THC to be activated, it needs to be heated, which in cannabis means smoking it or roasting it for food.

When hemp was legalized, it opened up the cannabis seed market because the seeds do not contain delta-9 THC.

Cannabis flowers also do not contain delta-9 THC. They have THCA, which is not converted to THC unless heated through decarboxylation. Eating a raw cannabis bud won’t get you high. If you juice cannabis buds and leaves, you will get THCA, which has shown health benefits in terms of anti-inflammatory effects, but is not psychoactive.

The hemp regulatory loophole game now includes flowers labeled as THCA, and the flowers they are THCA. All the marijuana you’ve ever smoked was made up of the cannabinoid THCA before you lit up your joint or bowl.

There has not yet been a crackdown on THCA flower available in states that do not yet have a legal framework for cannabis, but that could be coming. There have been discussions to refine the definition of hemp in America. If that doesn’t happen, the legalization of hemp also legalized all cannabis, and I think that’s a big problem.

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