Physician Group Calls for Tighter Alt Cannabinoid Regulation


A nonprofit physician’s group that normally advocates in favor of medical cannabis has come out in support of tighter regulation of alternative cannabinoids, like delta-8. They say more regulation is necessary to protect public health. I am guessing that their position is not shared by everyone in the medical cannabis community.

In recent years, we have seen a measurable increase in the number of alt cannabinoids hitting the market. More importantly, manufacturers get around federal regulations by synthesizing these alt cannabinoids from legal CBD. The cannabinoids occupy a proverbial no man’s land that no one seems to know what to do with.

What the Doctors Are Saying

Doctors for Drug Policy Reform (D4DPR) is well known for advocating in favor of medical cannabis. They do not support continued prohibition of medical cannabis or THC-derived medications. However, their latest official statement on alt cannabinoids is clear.

According to the organization, “all intoxicating cannabinoids should be subject to a regulatory framework to ensure public safety.” Intoxicating cannabinoids include those derived from CBD, despite the fact that CBD itself is non-intoxicating.

D4DPR cites the 2018 Farm Bill as the impetus behind its recent public statement. The organization’s president says their paper was issued to “help bridge the policy gap between hemp and marijuana, which remains federally illegal.”

What It All Means

The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp and CBD nationwide. Virtually anyone can now buy CBD without any special state-issued card or license. CBD is available at grocery stores, corner pharmacies, gas stations, department stores, and even online. Where do alt cannabinoids come in?

According to the experts at, most of the alt cannabinoids now on the market are derived from CBD. They specifically cite delta-8 given its popularity for both medical and recreational consumption. Apparently, delta-8 occurs naturally in cannabis plants, but not in high enough volumes to make harvesting it worthwhile.

So what do manufacturers do? They employ a complex process that transforms legal CBD into delta-8. Doing so allows them to claim that delta-8 is a CBD-derived product, thereby making it legal. What concerns D4DPR is the fact that delta-8 is intoxicating.

Not the Same as Delta-9

At this point, it is important to point out that delta-8 is a delta-9 isomer. This means that the two compounds have the same molecular makeup. The only difference between them is how their molecules are arranged. Also note that delta-9 is the form of THC that is illegal under federal law.

Users have described the high delta-8 produces as not being the same as delta-9. It is apparently not as intense, either. Nonetheless, allowing delta-8 and other alt cannabinoids to flourish gives people without access to state-legal recreational marijuana another option for getting high.

D4DPR doctors are of the mind that any alt cannabinoids with intoxicating properties should be regulated the same way medical cannabis is regulated. They cite the fact that there are too many unknowns with these substances. According to the group, “many have never been observed in nature and their toxicology is unknown.”

Unregulated Manufacturing Is a Problem

I am normally not a big fan of excessive government regulation. In this case however, I tend to lean toward D4DPR’s position – especially since most alt cannabinoids are synthesized in the lab. Not only do we not know how alt cannabinoids work in nature, but we also have no idea whether synthesized cannabinoids are safe.

Until we have more information, I would be inclined to agree that alt cannabinoids need to be more tightly regulated. States choosing to legalize cannabis, in either form, should take the lead on this.

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