The Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF) issued a statement Nov. 3 to clarify its stance on synthetic and derivative cannabinoids found in the state’s hemp and medical cannabis products.

“Cannabinoids, such as delta-9 THC and CBD, are generally regarded as the primary active ingredients in hemp and cannabis products,” department officials said. “Because delta-9-THC, CBD, and a few other cannabinoids that are more abundant in cannabis plants have been used by humans for thousands of years, the potential of these cannabinoids to directly harm those who use them is generally considered to be low. However, other cannabinoids which are not generally present or are less abundant in cannabis plants, do not have the same history supporting their safety. While the health effects of these minor cannabinoids are unknown, some negative health outcomes have been reported.”

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Producers in Utah can obtain these minor cannabinoids in greater quantities through “selective genetic techniques or semi-synthetic/synthetic production,” regulators said. They warn that these synthetic cannabinoids “have not been sufficiently used or researched and are considered poorly categorized,” which is concerning to UDAF officials.

As a result, regulators said that the UDAF has taken steps to prevent products that contain these cannabinoids from being sold to the public as hemp products on the open market.

“While compliance with these regulations is rapidly increasing, consumers may still be able to find such products on some store shelves,” department officials said in the statement. “These products are frequently labeled as containing THC-O, delta-8 THC, THCP, and HHC, however, this list is not exhaustive and new synthetics are being released frequently. Manufacturers intentionally include the majority of these poorly characterized cannabinoids in their hemp products as a replacement for delta-9 THC in an attempt to evade state and federal regulation. UDAF urges consumers to act with caution when buying hemp or ‘CBD’ products and not use products that contain unfamiliar ingredients.”

Regulators encourage Utahans to report retail stores that sell these types of products to the department using the UDAF Industrial Hemp and Cannabinoid Product Complaint Form.

When it comes to the medical cannabis market, UDAF officials said in the statement that “some poorly characterized cannabinoids may be found in medical cannabis products in Utah and across the country.”

“However, they are typically found in small amounts and may be unintentionally created during the processing of cannabis to produce vape carts, gelatinous cubes, tinctures, and other cannabis-derived products,” regulators said. “Recently, in conjunction with other local  labs, UDAF’s lab was able to positively identify several poorly characterized cannabinoids that are commonly found in small amounts in some cannabis extracts. These cannabinoids were identified as 9R-delta-6a,10a-THC, 9S-delta-6a,10a-THC, (6aR,9R)-delta-10-THC, and (6aR,9S)-delta-10-THC.”

UDAF officials then placed these products on hold and notified the Utah Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), according to the statement. Following a DHHS investigation, officials told the UDAF that there was no evidence that these cannabinoids are harmful to human health, and the products were released for sale.

DHHS did, however, issue a public bulletin to raise public awareness of the products and to encourage people to discuss the potential risks and benefits of using them with their healthcare providers or pharmacists, according to the UDAF’s statement.

While Utah law requires all cannabis products to be tested for contaminants, and while the UDAF oversees this testing, department officials said that the UDAF “does not conduct original research to determine the safety of cannabinoids or any other component of a consumer product.” Instead, the department relies on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, DHHS, and similar agencies to make these decisions.

“At this time, UDAF has not been presented with evidence showing harm from these cannabinoids, nor is there a law requiring that any cannabinoid be classified as a deleterious substance. Until clear direction from a reputable public health body is given or a relevant law is passed, patients should talk to their prescribing physician and pharmacist about the ingredients in any product they are using to treat a condition. Out of an abundance of caution, UDAF and DHHS are working with legislators to address the presence of poorly characterized cannabinoids in hemp and medical cannabis products in Utah,” officials said.

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