The Holistic Connection is a retail “dab bar” in downtown Nashville. The shop sells cannabis legally despite Tennessee prohibiting the sale or even possession of marijuana. Business has gone so well there that one of its employees franchised a second location in downtown Knoxville this summer. How do they get away with it? They’re selling Delta 8, a form of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. It’s another hemp extract like CBD.
What’s Delta 8?
Delta 8 is an increasingly popular loophole around laws prohibiting medical and recreational use and sale of pot. It’s been called “diet weed” or “marijuana lite.” Your CBD Store in Burbank, Ca., where marijuana use and sale is legal, reported at the beginning of this year that requests for Delta 8 products have dramatically increased. Bison Botanics, based in Buffalo, N.Y. has reported the same trend.
“I think it’s safe to say that sales of Delta 8 THC and similar products in the U.S. likely generated several hundred million dollars in 2021,” Adam Koh, editorial director of Cannabis Benchmarks & Hemp Benchmarks, told WebMD after conceding that it’s hard to get solid national sales figures on these products. “These products began to emerge around summer 2020, and I believe sales were substantially smaller that year.”
Delta 8 is one of over 100 cannabinoid extracts from the cannabis sativa plant. This form of THC is not only marijuana but also hemp-derived CBD. It’s found in far smaller amounts than Delta 9, which is what people traditionally refer to as the marijuana that gets you high. Delta 8 proponents claim it can do virtually everything Delta 9 does, albeit to a lesser extent.
Delta 8 Ban in Tennessee
The Tennessee legislature recently fielded bills aimed at banning Delta 8. House Bill 1927 and its Senate companion 1904 proposed amendments to state code that added Delta 8 to the same legislation that already outlaws Delta 9. Neither have resurfaced for consideration since April.
At the federal level, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 is viewed as the legislation that opened the floodgates to Delta 8 products. Nicknamed the “Farm Bill,” the law removed hemp and its byproducts from Schedule I Controlled Substances with the exception of cannabis, which remains included in Schedule I.
The Case for Delta 8
Married couple Daniel and Jessica Kruger, who are both researchers at different institutions, conducted a study together, comparing Delta 8 to cannabis by user response. It was a poll. Jessica’s a clinical assistant professor of community health at the University at Buffalo. Daniel’s an investigator at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan.
The Krugers polled 500 Americans across 38 states and asked them to compare Delta 8 to the more popular Delta 9. They found Delta 8 to be a prospective means of harm reduction for those who use marijuana. Respondents reported Delta 8 THC as bringing all the same positive effects with fewer of the disparaged effects.
About 71% reported relaxation, and 68% reported euphoria. More than half reported pain relief. Another 74% said it didn’t bring the anxiety that Delta 9 sometimes would, and 83% said they had no paranoia either.
What’s Wrong With Delta 8?
However, 81% also reported disorientation. In 2021, the Food and Drug Administration also warned that Delta 8 has serious health risks. Their reports from December 2020 to July 2021 — albeit involving only 22 people — showed some were vomiting and experiencing hallucinations, trouble balancing and passing out after consumption of Delta 8.
A few months thereafter, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert about possible adverse effects of Delta 8. The first half of 2021 saw 660 Delta 8 exposures recorded in the National Poison Data System, and 18% (119 cases) of them required hospitalization. Furthermore, 39% (258 cases) were children. The CDC also expressed concerns that the Delta 8 products might not be well tested for certain contaminants like heavy metals and pesticides.
Would It Help With Recovery?
Beyond all this, another issue is that anyone working toward recovery from marijuana use disorder is likely to only find a new struggle with Delta 8. The substance presents little more than oral, olfactory and psychosomatic reminders of their past experiences with Delta 9. Those reminders will only lead them to pursue further marijuana use.
Moreover, even if one were able to use Delta 8 to successfully wean themself off conventional marijuana intake, they’ve merely substituted one substance for another. They’re still satisfying the same addiction, which they’re most likely continuing to privilege over other important responsibilities. If work suffered before because of the addiction, it still will. If the addiction impinges at all on family life, it still will.
Research shows that approximately 10% of all cannabis users will develop behaviors consistent with an addiction and most will require treatment to return to normal function. Dr. Jason Kirby, chief medical officer at Landmark Recovery, a nation-wide drug and alcohol addiction provider, explains that marijuana is addictive, no matter if it’s Delta 8 or Delta 9.
Landmark Recovery of Knoxville offers treatment for marijuana addiction as well as other substance use disorders.
The Holistic Connection (THC)
John Slota worked for The Holistic Connection — aptly abbreviated THC — for six months. That’s all it took for him to decide he wanted to take his affiliation with the Nashville locale to the next level by opening his own THC in Knoxville. He even roped his father, Patrick Slota, and his friend Rekesh Ali into the mix.
In concept, the shop itself is a place where people are able both purchase and legally consume Delta 8 products. Users are encouraged to remain in the store while the effects of Delta 8 kick in. This is something Ali says they take seriously from a safety perspective.
“People will be having their mind state changed,” Ali said in an interview with Knox News. “And you need to be able to make sure everyone’s safe, especially because there is sort of a stigma around the industry right now.”
Driving While Intoxicated in Knox County
The last thing they would want is for customers to get high on the product and then drive while intoxicated. In fact, this is already a serious problem in the area. The Knoxville Police Department just allocated a $200,000 grant from the Tennessee Highway Safety Office to acquire a DUI enforcement trailer. Hitched to the backs of police pickups, this trailer is expected to be used for setting up DUI checkpoints.
KPD has reported on social media that the “trailer will allow us to expand our in-the-field sobriety testing capabilities and provide any officers conducting DUI checkpoints with space to do any necessary paperwork and protection from the elements.”
It was announced at the end of June that the trailer would be deployed on the roads soon, as well as public events. One such event at which it made a debut already was the Festival on the Fourth in downtown Knoxville. Slogans on the trailer’s sides read, “drive high, get a DUI,” and “if you feel different, you drive different.”
The Tennessee Highway Safety Office deemed it worthwhile to authorize the grant because sobriety at the wheel has been a challenge to achieve locally. DUI arrests are currently down 27% statewide since 2013 according to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. Just this month alone, however, Knoxville Police Department announced the separate DUI arrests of not one but two of its own officers. Officers John Morris and Adam Parnell were both charged with DUI. The latter was arrested by the Jefferson City Police in a routine traffic stop. The former was arrested in Pigeon Forge.
Mind you: if you or someone you know struggles with either alcoholism or marijuana use disorder, don’t hesitate to visit Landmark Recovery of Knoxville at 1016 Ic King Rd. in Seymour, Tenn. or call 865.448.5174.