This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Hemp
Welcome to Volume 3 of our continuing series on hemp-derived THC isomers. In this final chapter of our trilogy, we navigate the short, but turbulent history of these captivating compounds, discuss the divisions they are causing in the cannabis space, and acknowledge our collective bated breath as we await the final word on the 2023 Farm Bill.
Genesis of a Market – The 2018 Farm Bill and Beyond
When the 2018 Farm Bill was passed, with vocal support from Mitch McConnell, it was touted as a beacon of hope for struggling farmers. McConnell famously remarked, “At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future. My provision in the farm bill will not only legalize domestic hemp, but it will also allow state departments of agriculture to be responsible for its oversight.”
Looking back, one can’t help but sense the irony. While McConnell intended to bolster the agricultural sector, little did he know that he was simultaneously unlocking Pandora’s Box. The Senate Minority Leader, a staunch opponent of marijuana legalization, unintentionally paved the way for a new industry revolving around intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids like Delta 8 THC and HHC.
Here’s the backstory: When the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp cultivation nationwide, farmers across the country embraced the opportunity, particularly for floral hemp, to cater to the skyrocketing demand for CBD products. However, the ensuing glut led to an oversaturated market, causing an implosion that left many farmers reeling.
In the wake of this implosion, a new player emerged: Delta 8 THC. The first company to capitalize on this potential lifeline was 3Chi. Their innovative Delta 8 products not only filled a market void but also kick-started a trend, inspiring countless companies to follow suit. Consequently, a market originally envisioned to revolve around non-intoxicating CBD suddenly found itself in the grip of cannabinoids that bore a striking resemblance to their psychoactive cousin, Delta 9 THC.
A House Divided – The Cannabis Civil War
Last month’s installment unveiled a pattern that, while intriguing, needed more substantial backing before reaching any firm conclusions. It was observed that states with legal marijuana markets tended to coincide with states banning hemp-derived THC isomers, a curious correlation that warranted further exploration.
Fast forward to now, and we find ourselves equipped with more tangible insights. I had the opportunity to engage in a conversation with an individual deeply entrenched in the ongoing state-by-state fight to uphold the hemp industry’s interests. This source, who chose to remain anonymous, corroborated the suspicions initially raised in our previous installment. According to this well-informed individual, lobbyists from the state-sanctioned cannabis industry are indeed advocating for a ban on hemp-derived THC isomers.
Why? As I insinuated in the last installment, it’s a “follow the money” situation. If you can go to the local head shop or corner store and pick up a product that can arguably give you the same experience as they’re offering at the dispensary, but for a fraction of the price, why wouldn’t you?
Moreover, as we’ll see in the next section, these compounds likely have medicinal qualities of their own. It’s a no-brainer that dispensaries and manufacturers working under the stringent regulations of a state marijuana regime would object to the hemp industry showing up and skirting the rules.
This revelation adds another layer of complexity to the industry’s dynamics and sets the stage for an ongoing tug-of-war. As the narrative continues to unfold, only time will tell how this “Cannabis Civil War” will ultimately shape the future of hemp and its derivatives.
Delta 8 THC: What Do We Actually Know?
The FDA waves 104 adverse event reports involving Delta 8 THC over a 14-month period like a red flag. But let’s put that number in perspective. There were 2,332,503 reports received by the FDA in 2022 alone, which means that Delta 8 represents less than .044% of the total. They also cite data from the National Poison Control Center over the same period, which lists 2,362 Delta-8 cases. Two things to consider about that number: A) it’s less than caffeine (2,943), and B) it’s only .1134% of the total 2,080,917 cases for 2021.
Beyond these statistics, there’s compelling evidence of the benefits of these cannabinoids. “Delta 8 THC has massive benefits, most notably anti-nausea,” says Sarah Veley, the in-house cannabinoid expert for Coast Smokes. “A 1995 study that was conducted in Israel followed eight children with cancer over a period of two years . . . 480 treatments. [Delta 8] had a 100% success rate. When administered before and after the chemotherapy treatment, there was no vomiting that occurred.”
Veley also highlights the potential of HHC: “The first study [on HHC] was in 1977. It found that HHC, when administered to mice, had pain-relieving effects equal to morphine, without inducing dependency.”
These studies show the true potential of cannabinoids like Delta 8 THC, suggesting they are far more than just “gas station weed.” As Veley posits, they could provide more benefit to some consumers than Delta-9 THC, without the heavy euphoria.
A Lifeline with Frayed Ends – Is Delta 8 THC Enough?
Despite the apparent rescue by Delta 8, the hemp market’s value reveals an alarmingly struggling industry. The National Hemp Report shows a seismic dip from $824 million in 2021 to a mere $238 million in 2022. Between 2021 and 2022, the total value of outdoor-grown hemp plummeted from $712 million to $212 million. Indoor hemp cultivation hasn’t escaped the fall either, with its total value nosediving from $112 million to a scanty $26.1 million within the same timeframe.
But even when you zero in on floral hemp, that is, hemp grown for the resinous flower, the numbers still look bleak. In 2021, outdoor-grown floral hemp, reached an impressive 19.7 million pounds, valuing at $623 million. But in 2022, production dwindled to 6.78 million pounds, and value collapsed to $179 million. Yet again, indoor cultivation couldn’t escape the downturn either, with value slumping from $64.4 million in 2021 to $24.7 million in 2022.
This dire picture is far from the prosperous future envisaged after the 2018 Farm Bill. The initial boom quickly turned bust, driving numerous hemp businesses into bankruptcy.
Hence, the question arises – Is the Delta 8 surge merely a momentary lifeline for an industry teetering on the brink? The figures suggest the hemp market’s struggle is far from over.
Staring into the Fog – The Future of Hemp and Cannabis Legislation
Anxiety casts a long shadow over the hemp industry.
“We’re just waiting to see what happens with the next Farm Bill before we make any major decisions,” one business owner in the space told me in a recent conversation. “Depending on what happens on that front, we might not even have a company anymore. We’re looking to see how we can pivot now just in case.”
The precariousness of the situation is further magnified by the impending expiration of the current Farm Bill and the uncertainty surrounding legislative amendments.
Will Congress seal the loophole that has allowed the industry to flourish? Merely by removing “delta 9” from the bill’s language, our whole slate of THC isomers could suddenly become illegal again. As the clock ticks down, there’s nothing but speculation. Some legalization advocates hope the Farm Bill could be used to institute a complete de-scheduling of cannabis.
Simultaneously, the hemp industry advocates for a raised THC limit (.3% to 1%) and clear, fair regulations for the blossoming hemp cannabinoid market. With all eyes on the upcoming Farm Bill, the industry holds its breath, ready to adapt to whatever comes next.