A team of Missouri researchers have figured out a way to distinguish Delta-8 from Delta-9 using common drug testing methods.
The new discovery comes as testing companies have faced challenges isolating the semi-legal Delta-8 from its chemical cousin Delta-9 – the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis – in both presumptive and definitive urine drug tests. The findings were presented by its author Dr. Uttam Garg of Children’s Mercy, Kansas City and researchers at the Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine during the 2022 AACC Annual Scientific Meeting & Clinical Lab Expo in Chicago this past weekend.
“With our methods, we can detect both Delta-8 and Delta-9 isomers and distinguish Delta-9 from Delta-8,” said the paper’s author, Dr. Uttam Garg of Children’s Mercy, Kansas City. “If someone is using Delta-8-THC, the immunoassay we are using and likely other immunoassays which are out on the market will detect it. Once an immunoassay positive sample has been identified, then you need a chromatographic method to separate Delta-8 and Delta-9 because they are very similar structurally. That’s what we did in our lab—we used immunoassay for initial screening and GC-MS to separate and distinguish the two compounds.”
Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) is an instrumental technique typically used for fast molecular analysis in forensics, environmental monitoring, drug testing of athletes and other applications.
Delta-8 gained more popularity in the U.S. over the past few years after the 2018 federal Farm Bill made it legal to grow hemp. The Farm Bill specifically defined THC as Delta-9, which left Delta-8 out, sparking a grey market of Delta-8 products. Hemp contains large amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), and CBD can be chemically converted into Delta-8, Quest Diagnostics Medical Science (NYSE: DGX) Liaison Jack Kain said in a company blog post last year, “and in recent years, it has grown in production and selling as medicinal or recreational cannabis products.”
Delta-8 is known for giving consumers a milder high than regular pot, but because Delta-8 products are unregulated, researchers have found that many contain toxic manufacturing by-products that make it more dangerous than Delta-9-THC.
“In light of this, testing for Delta-8 is needed to discourage people from taking these contaminated products as a way to circumvent drug tests,” the release said. “Testing is also needed to monitor the spread of Delta-8 and to inform public health efforts to craft better regulations for it.”
The market seems to be cratering for Delta-8.
Hemp Benchmarks said rates are beginning to slide, with Delta-8 prices falling each month for the past year — down 6% since May to an average tag of $542 a kilogram in June. This represents a 55% drop since the same time last year. Reported deals ranged from $370 to $725 per kilogram, according to the latest benchmark.
Delta-8 THC is illegal in 14 states. Oregon this month banned the sale of synthetic cannabinoids at general retailers – the first state to do so.
Regulators at the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission (OLCC) said that any store without a special license cannot sell Delta-8 products on the open market effective July 1 over concerns about the chemicals used to make artificially derived cannabinoids.
“The supply of CBD was outstripping the demand for CBD,” Steven Crowley, the OLCC’s hemp and processing compliance specialist told the Oregonian. “And so, the people who had CBD on hand were looking for other ways that they could market it. People started working on different products that they could convert the CBD into. This is where you get the Delta-8 THC products.”
CBN – a hemp-derived cannabinoid – will have a one-year “grace period” before it is banned as well, the newspaper reported. The new rules will allow the sale of artificial cannabinoids only in OLC- licensed adult-use cannabis shops and after those products have undergone testing and approval from the FDA. Those who violate the law face fines up to $10,000.
In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis signed into law a measure that authorizes the state to ban the production of “intoxicating tetrahydrocannabinol isomers that originate from industrial hemp or may be synthetically derived.” The measure also establishes a 20-member task force to study those intoxicating hemp products – such as Delta-8 THC and other THC isomers manufactured from hemp-derived CBD – in order to make legislative and regulatory recommendations by early next year.