Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Many 12th Graders Found to Use Potentially Risky Products With “Legal” THC Variant

A study published today in JAMA reports that many high school seniors are using products containing Δ8-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a variant of the main psychoactive compound of marijuana, Δ9-THC. The analysis also showed that Δ8-THC use was elevated in states where recreational marijuana was illegal.

“Gummies and other edibles, electronic vaping devices, and combustible flower containing Δ8-THC are marketed as providing a user experience comparable to marijuana in a product that is federally legal,” wrote Alyssa F. Harlow, Ph.D., of the University of Southern California and colleagues. “Δ8-THC exposure may pose risks to adolescents, including addiction, neurodevelopmental changes, acute psychiatric reactions from accidental overdosing, and exposure to toxic byproducts generated during Δ8-THC synthesis.”

Harlow and colleagues examined data from the 2023 Monitoring the Future study, a nationally representative classroom-based survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students. The 2023 survey included a question for a subset of 12th graders on whether they used Δ8-THC in the past year, and, if yes, how many times. The students also answered a similar question on past-year marijuana use. The final sample included 2,186 responses.

Overall, 11.4% of seniors in the U.S. reported past-year Δ8-THC use and 30.4% reported past year marijuana use. Of seniors who reported using Δ8-THC, 35.4% used it at least 10 times in the past year, while 16.8% used it at least 40 times.

Other findings from the survey included the following:

  • Geographically, Δ8-THC use was lowest in the Western U.S. census region (the 13 states west of Texas) at 5.0% compared with the Northeast (10.1%), South (14.3%), and Midwest (14.6%).
  • Δ8-THC use was lower in states where marijuana is legal for adults (8.0%) versus states where marijuana is not legal (14.0%).
  • Δ8-THC use was lower in states where Δ8-THC was banned or restricted (5.7%) versus states with no Δ8-THC regulation (14.4%).

“The unregulated proliferation of Δ8-THC represents a potential threat to the public’s health,” wrote Jennifer M. Whitehill, Ph.D., of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and colleagues in an accompanying editorial. “As health professionals, we need to improve our capacity for addressing the evolving cannabinoid marketplace by instituting centralized and coordinated systems for monitoring cannabis products.”

To read more on this topic, see the Psychiatric News article “Nicotine Gummies, Tablets Popular Among Adolescents.”

(Image: Getty Images/iStock/Stefan Tomic)

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