When It Comes To Synthetic Drugs, Legal Doesn’t Mean Safe | Opinion
EDITOR’S NOTE: NJ Cannabis Insider, NJ.comThe B2B Cannabis Industry Business Journal and Vertical Events, is hosting a business meeting on February 17 in Jersey City. Tickets are limited.
By Elisabeth Van Bockstaele
You can buy what is called delta 8 THC at gas stations and smokehouses in New Jersey and nationwide. Hundreds of online vendors with slick websites sell Delta 8 in the form of gummies, candies, brownies, and cigarettes. The sellers make a promise: you will feel relaxed. You can forget about your troubles – take a break from your hectic life.
Delta 8 is legal in New Jersey and most states. But legal does not mean safe. And the repercussions of these unregulated substances brewed in underground labs are showing up in hospitals and emergency departments across the country, where people who have ingested these drugs suffer from vomiting, hallucinations and loss of consciousness. In just six months of this year, national poison control centers received more than 600 cases of exposure to delta-8 THC.
Delta-8 is the latest craze that indicates a persistent problem. To circumvent the laws to protect the public, profiteers with a background in chemistry create compounds that slightly alter the chemical structure of the illegal drugs they are trying to imitate. They change the chemical composition to produce a drug that is technically not illegal. Rogue and unethical chemists continue to alter chemical structures to stay ahead of the law. Regulators can’t keep up.
Another way for manufacturers to circumvent the law is to indicate on their packaging that their drugs are not intended for human consumption. Some of these drugs are presented as “herbal remedies” and “wellness” products.
The history of synthetic drugs should scare us about what the future holds. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, a synthetic drug known as MPTP caused symptoms of Parkinson’s disease in users, some permanently. In the 2010s, psychoactive drugs made from synthetic cathinones, a substance found in the khat plant, were called bath salts. These compounds created a series of frightening cases of acute paranoia and psychosis that led to violence and self-harm.
Delta-8 THC is just the latest drug to make regulation look like a mole game. Delta-8 THC is one of over 100 cannabinoids naturally produced by the cannabis plant. The source material used to create Delta-8 THC comes from hemp, which is legal in most states. The drug is then manufactured and synthesized in the laboratory. Manufacturers add ingredients such as solvents and other impurities – and the truth is, users purchasing these products outside of a regulated environment have no way of knowing exactly what’s in the products. that they ingest.
No one knows what dose to take. And a dose that gives one person mild euphoria can give another person anxiety and heart palpitations, or worse. Some people who may not feel an immediate effect may decide to take more and then overdose. There is no reliable research on these drugs and the heart, neurological, or respiratory complications they can cause.
As a board member of the Pennington-based Cannabis Education and Research Institute (CERI), we support patients who find medicinal cannabis valuable for their health and well-being – and we work to advance unbiased medical research and credible information on medicinal cannabis. Patients who use medical cannabis under the care of their doctor and a certified alternative treatment center often find benefits from cannabis produced under strict guidelines.
We believe cannabis education includes educating the public about potentially harmful unregulated cannabinoids. This is also part of our mission.
As a society, we need better ways to stop these unethical chemists and drugmakers from circumventing regulations to sell dangerous substances to the American public. Suppliers need to take more responsibility for what they sell to consumers. No alternative treatment center should sell substances if they cannot identify and guarantee all the ingredients. Additionally, the scientific community must do more to control those who use their scientific training to create substances that mimic illegal drugs. And, finally, the last line of defense is the consumer. Please research any unknown substance you ingest. And beware of illegal drugs in disguise.
Elisabeth Van Bockstaele, Ph.D., is a board member of the Cannabis Education and Research Institute (CERI), based in Pennington. She is a professor of pharmacology and physiology and founding dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies at Drexel University College of Medicine.
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