By / February 15, 2023

DEA Bans Certain Neo-Cannabinoids

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) says two neo-cannabinoids that have recently appeared in various products sold in the United States do not meet the federal definition of legal hemp and are therefore considered illegal controlled substances.

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DEA Says Δ8 and Δ9 Not Natural, Therefore Not Hemp

Asked about the legal status of delta-8 THC-O and delta-9 THC-O, two THC ester acetates, the DEA said the two neo-cannabinoids “do not occur naturally in the cannabis plant and can only be obtained synthetically, and therefore do not meet the definition of hemp.”

“Delta-9-THCO and delta-8-THCO are tetrahydrocannabinols with chemical structures and pharmacological activities similar to those contained in the cannabis plant,” the letter from Terrence L. Boos, chief of the DEA’s Drug & Chemical Evaluation Section.

A New Market for Neo-Cannabinoids

Since the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp containing up to 0.3 percent THC delta-9 on a dry weight basis, the market for natural and synthetic neo-cannabinoids has grown in the U.S., especially in states that have not yet legalized cannabis.

While there are many neo-cannabinoids, one of the best known is delta-8 THC, which can be produced synthetically from CBD but is also present in trace amounts in the cannabis plant. Several states have worked to regulate this product, which, unlike CBD, has intoxicating effects.

DEA officials have indicated that delta-8 THC products are not controlled substances as long as they are extracted from the natural plant and not synthesized.

A federal appeals court, meanwhile, ruled last year that delta-8 is not controlled because the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) explicitly speaks only to naturally occurring delta-9 THC and because federal law defines hemp as “any part” of the cannabis plant, including “all derivatives, extracts, [and] cannabinoids” that contains less than 0.3% delta-9 THC by weight.

What About the THC-O Neo-Cannabinoids?

The DEA analysis concluded that, unlike delta-9 THC and delta-8 THC, THC-O is not a natural cannabinoid. Since it can only be produced synthetically, it is federally prohibited.

“While the DEA’s latest statement does not clarify the legal status of all new hemp-derived cannabinoids, it does state that the DEA believes Delta-9 THCO and Delta-8 THCO are controlled substances,” Michelle Bodian, a partner at the law firm of Vicente Sederberg, told Marijuana Moment.

“Hopefully, Congress will take action soon to address the legality of all hemp-derived cannabinoids so that the industry is not left with a patchwork of laws, regulations, policies, and now letters.”

Danger From Neo-Cannabinoids Result of Prohibition

Advocacy organizations like NORML have warned against using these lesser-known and unregulated neo-cannabinoids.

The U.S. association believes that the patchwork regulatory framework and the resulting confusion for consumers and the market could be effectively resolved if the federal cannabis ban were lifted and people were given the option to use natural cannabis products, removing the demand for these synthetic neo-cannabinoids, especially in states where cannabis remains illegal.

“Whether synthetic or natural, psychoactive cannabinoids must be responsibly regulated to protect public health and safety,” Aaron Smith, CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), told Marijuana Moment.

“The only way to successfully achieve this goal is to finally end national prohibition, adopt reasonable regulations at the federal level, and allow state cannabis laws to continue to operate across the country.”

(Featured image by Elsa Olofsson via Unsplash)

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