New report: A significant number of US teens use ‘diet weed,’ sparking concern from health experts

More than 11% of high school seniors in the United States report using delta-8 THC, commonly referred to as “diet weed” or “weed lite,” according to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This psychoactive substance, derived from hemp or created using a chemical reaction often in an unregulated lab, has found its way into the hands of teens due to a legal loophole in the 2018 Farm Bill, making it accessible online, in gas stations, and in various specialty stores. However, an increasing number of states are illegalizing the substance, which health experts warn is potentially dangerous.

“Cannabis use, in general, has been associated with negative impacts on the adolescent brain, so we must pay attention to the kinds of cannabis products teens are using, educate young people about potential risks, and ensure that treatment for cannabis use disorder and adequate mental health care is provided to those who need it,” Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a press release accompanying the study.

Angela Kennecke, founder of Emily’s Hope, recently advocated for a South Dakota bill that successfully outlaws delta-8 THC in the state. 

“THC introduced into the developing brain increases the risk of substance use disorder by 15 percent. Therefore, we must take proactive steps to prevent children from accessing products containing psychoactive cannabinoids, such as Delta-8, Delta-9, and Delta-10 THC,” Kennecke said.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported more than 2,300 poison control calls related to these products in 2021-2022. More than 70% required hospitalization. 

In 2022, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration also issued a consumer update warning of the serious health risks associated with the use of delta-8.

“11% is a lot of people – that’s at least one or two students in every average-sized high school class who may be using delta-8. We don’t know enough about these drugs, but we see that they are already extremely accessible to teens,” said Volkow.

Delta-8 is often packaged attractively for teens in the form of gummies, brownies, treats, and vapes, further raising concerns about accessibility. 

“Delta-8 products are out there where teens can easily find and buy them, and there needs to be continued surveillance of its use, as well as public health efforts to help youth and parents stay informed and safe,” Alyssa Harlow, lead author of the study, said.