Just like the U.S., Europe will also have to figure out how to deal with the growing trend of Delta-8 cannabis products, and it’s clear that the controversy is only just beginning.
There is a new cannabinoid in town on the U.S. side of the cannabis conversation these days. If you haven’t heard about Delta-8 at this point, you are probably living under a rock. The cannabinoid is being marketed as the “lighter” if not “less paranoid” version of Delta-9 THC. Even better, at least initially to intrepid entrepreneurs determined to beat the odds if not jump the shark into multi-state distribution, Delta-8 can be chemically extracted from hemp.
There is only one problem with all of this, of course, and that is where this argument bumps into science. Delta-8 can be created by merely oxidizing (exposing to air) good old Delta-9 THC, and from any kind of plant. The delta between the deltas, in other words, is very small. Just because Delta-8 (like Delta-9) can also be extracted from hemp, the cannabinoid has been reported to give consumers similar psychoactive effects of Delta-9, while existing in a legal grey area.
In the middle of the hoopla, American states have begun to take notice as the craze has spread in the aftermath of the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp on a federal level. Kentucky and Vermont have both warned hemp farmers that trafficking in Delta-8 may land them in federal hot water. Another dozen states have already issued regulations about mixing this cannabinoid with food, cosmetics and other consumables.
So far, however, this discussion has not made its way to Europe. What is the likelihood that it might, and what forms might this take? It could be all a storm in a teacup, or it could flip the equation in some interesting ways, particularly across borders.
Europe, Extraction and CBD
There is every chance that a major legal battle may be triggered by Delta-8, somewhere in Europe, particularly in a market like Switzerland, if not Portugal, Luxembourg, Holland or even Italy. This is because the CBD market is indeed moving ahead thanks to the European Commission’s (EC) decision on cannabidiol (namely that it is not a narcotic) last fall. And these countries are all in the midst of either embarking upon or formalizing their recreational cannabis experiments or have formalized the CBD market, somehow.
Beyond this, of course, there is another moving piece that is unknown in the U.S. Right now, almost all extractions from CBD are going the Novel Food route (see both the battles in the U.K. and Europe of late on this topic).
However, Delta-8 is not “just” another CBD extract. Indeed, because of the chemical similarities to Delta-9, there is every reason to believe that the extract would automatically be labeled a narcotic by the EC. Furthermore, because it is also an extract of the hemp plant, it might well also get labelled as a “Novel Food”—just like CBD so far has been.
In places where there is clearly going to be a recreational cannabis market domestically in Europe, or already is (see Holland), such issues will be left up to local regulators. There is no reason to believe they will not automatically slap narcotic labels on such products if not ban them altogether, just like their American counterparts before they even get to the “Novel Food” discussion.
But is this the whole story?
Delta to Delta: The Oxidation Discussion and Imports
One of the more fascinating aspects of the cannabis revolution is the chemical procedures that occur during the life of the plant as cannabinoids themselves are formed. The fact that Delta-8 can be “manufactured” from Delta-9 cannabis also means that there are going to be potential medical implications for the same if not cross-border importation discussions.
Specifically, a GMP-certified producer could also produce large quantities of cannabis that in fact could travel over national borders, aging as they go, and bound not necessarily for medical markets in other European countries but rather nascent recreational ones. This means that, until there is a specific effort to close this loophole, producers in Portugal, Greece and other feeder countries could easily ship product to say, Switzerland, and further, bound for not the medical, but recreational market that is also about to start in the country.
It is also likely that in some markets where only CBD has been legalized, that black market if not grey market Delta-8 will make its way into the market. That is less likely in Europe just because of the strictures of narcotic and pharmaceutical labelling, but it certainly could slip through the cracks temporarily.
The Delta-8 conversation could also finally trigger a conversation about organic production in Europe. EU-BIO has not been in the forefront of such discussions, but Delta-8 could well put it there, especially because extraction regulations including HACCP fall under this regulatory umbrella across the region.
For the present, however, this is all conjecture. It is unlikely that the European Commission will stand down on classification of Delta-8, any more than it has on the other cannabinoids that it has begun to define and parse.
However, it is likely that Delta-8 will make its debut in Europe, perhaps as early as next spring, and further push the envelope, if not overall discussion, forward, even if there is no quick and easy resolution.