The cannabis and psychedelics industries are evolving at a rapid pace as new cannabis-style drugs are popping up in the market. A new generation of synthetic drugs made from hemp is undercutting the legal cannabis market and raising concerns about contaminants and side effects such as seizures and lung injury. The new drugs, with names such as Delta-8, HHC, and THC-O, offer a psychoactive hit similar to traditional marijuana. They can be made cheaply with hemp, which is federally legal in the US, thus existing in a regulatory loophole. This has led to some companies selling them untaxed and unregulated, even in states where marijuana isn’t legal. According to new research from cannabis data firm Brightfield Group, they have sold almost $2 billion of these products over the last two years.

The Beginning of the Cannabinoid Boom

Their success comes at a tough financial time for cannabis as small players are failing due to competition from the black market, which can sell cheaper products that aren’t taxed or regulated. The new breed of synthetic drugs is adding even more competitive pressure and tempting some beleaguered participants to take up selling the hemp derivatives themselves, despite a lack of safety testing.

State regulators have tried and failed to quash the market, which took off with the explosion of Delta-8 products around two years ago. Testing commissioned by Bloomberg News found heavy metals and other contaminants in Delta-8, and more than a dozen states have banned Delta-8 and other hemp-derived psychoactive substances.

Hemp Derivatives Eclipse Marijuana Sales

However, some companies have supported the market, even popular brands that sell licensed cannabis have begun selling the hemp-derived synthetic drugs. This includes Cookies, one of the best-known US brands, who recently opened a flagship store in Manhattan’s Herald Square. The company’s website advertises Delta-8 and HHC products as “fully psychoactive” and “federally legal” items it can ship straight to customers.

The most popular hemp-derived drug is Delta-8, which makes up about half of the $2 billion in sales, according to Brightfield. Synthetic hemp-derived Delta-9 is about 13% of the market, HHC is 12%, Delta-10 is 8%, and THC-O is 8%, according to a spokeswoman for the research firm.

Brightfield noted that competition isn’t just affecting licensed cannabis but also CBD products. It estimates that 30% of cannabis users and 35% of cannabis users have tried a psychoactive hemp product. Some of these compounds, such as Delta-9 and Delta-10, exist naturally in the cannabis plant, while others are novel compounds, making them more akin to synthetic drugs such as K2 and Spice that have existed since 2008. Both of those drugs can cause seizures and death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The emergence of synthetic cannabis drugs made from hemp is a cause for concern as they exist in a regulatory loophole and are being sold untaxed and unregulated. This is putting pressure on the legal cannabis market and raising concerns about safety and health hazards. State regulators have tried to ban these drugs, but they continue to be sold, and it’s crucial for authorities to take action to ensure the safety of consumers.

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