SAN ANTONIO – There’s marijuana. Then there’s hemp. One is legal, one is not. But understanding why and what’s in each substance is a little hazier than that.
Let’s rewind to 2018.
That’s when a new federal farm bill legalized commercial hemp production in the U.S. and simultaneously removed hemp from the list of controlled substances.
In 2019, state lawmakers created a Texas law to establish a statewide industrial hemp program and define what’s legal and can be sold.
A legal hemp product in Texas must not contain more than 0.3% THC by weight.
But what is it?
Hemp and marijuana are two types of cannabis plants. Both contain CBD, or cannabidiol.
CBD is a chemical found in cannabis plants that’s becoming more widely used to ease a range of ailments. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Hemp and marijuana also contain THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol. THC is likely what you think of when it comes to marijuana and the high users get from it.
There’s much less THC in hemp, which is why it doesn’t give users that high.
THC contains the chemical compounds Delta 8 and Delta 9.
“We think of Delta 9 as the main psychoactive component in marijuana,” said Brett Ginsburg, PhD, a substance abuse pharmacologist at UT Health San Antonio. “But there is Delta 8 present as well, and it probably contributes to some of the effects of marijuana that we think of.”
Because THC is also found hemp, the plant also contains Delta 8 and Delta 9.
The Texas hemp law did not explicitly ban Delta 8, so some businesses latched on to the loophole.
“What ends up happening is people make hemp, and what they can do with the cannabidiol that they remove from that hemp is convert it into a tetrahydrocannabinol,” said Ginsburg. “If they convert it into Delta 9 tetrahydrocannabinol, they could run into some legal problems. But because there’s sort of a gray area around Delta 8, they’re converting it into Delta 8 THC and selling those products.”
Ginsburg warns that while Delta 8 is naturally found in hemp, Delta 8 products sold for psychoactive use have been created in a lab.
“This is not a natural product. People like to think of this as, and this is another misconception -- as a natural product,” he said. “But it has been removed from the plant and then highly processed to convert it into this Delta 8 product.”
Delta 8 legal fight
The state of Texas recognized the loophole in law and later added Delta 8 to the state list of Schedule I Controlled Substances, making it illegal.
But businesses were already selling Delta 8.
So then came a lawsuit.
In 2020, Hometown Hero, a CBD business based out of Austin, sued the state, claiming it was not given enough notice about the change in classification of Delta 8, which would cause the company to lose money and customers if it had to be pulled from shelves.
In November 2021, a judge sided with the company and issued a temporary injunction, which banned the state from making Delta 8 products illegal — at least for now.
So, what’s being sold?
We checked out two local CBD businesses: Archie’s Fine Coffee & CBD and Alamo Botanicals.
Archie’s, on Huebner Rd. near Interstate 10, has been open about a year.
As the name suggests, they combine CBD and coffee, among other things.
“You can put it into your drink to aid in the caffeine and the jitters that you can get from caffeine,” said Jae, Archie’s manager. “And people are really scared to try it because they think it’s psychoactive, but it’s not. Kids can have it. I’ve had pregnant women try it.” (Always consult a doctor before adding CBD or other supplements into your health routine.)
They sell CBD in other forms such as edibles, topicals, tinctures and smokables.
Jae says the main reason customers turn to CBD is to deal with pain and anxiety.
“My husband is in the military, so that’s really stressful at times,” said Aurora Sandoval, a customer of Archie’s. “So it really helps me with sleeping and focus, even.”
Managing pain, sleep and anxiety is also a big motivation for customers of Alamo Botanicals, which has multiple locations and was the first dedicated hemp store in Texas.
They also have customers buying CBD to help with dementia and cancer patients.
“I think a lot of the stigma is starting to be broken, and word of mouth of people are starting to see outcomes in their lives with products that are out there,” said Joshua James, chief scientific officer and lab director for Alamo Botanicals.
“We work with a lot of physicians groups in town that really, truly believe in the power of cannabis as medicine,” James added.
Both stores also sell psychoactive Delta 8 products.
“Usually the way Delta 8 is actually produced is from CBD through a conversion process,” said James. “You’re starting out with CBD, like the CBD molecule, and then you’re going through an isomerization process. And then through that you actually get a new molecule altogether that’s actually a THC.”
James said Delta 8 naturally found in the hemp plant cannot be extracted in high enough amounts for any “meaningful industry use.”
Alamo Botanicals and Archie’s both say there is demand for Delta 8 for recreational purposes and treating physical ailments.
“People are looking for an alternative that’s not, you know, honestly off the street,” said Jae. “It’s still really potent, just like marijuana is, but just legal.”
Does it work?
Little research exists on the effectiveness of CBD use.
LEARN ABOUT THE TEXAS MEDICAL MARIJUANA PROGRAM
There is currently one CBD product approved by the FDA for use in children with epilepsy.
“It’s been very difficult to do scientific research on these chemicals because they’ve been illegal for so long,” said Ginsburg.
Alamo Botanicals and Archie’s make their own products, which are tested by third party labs.
James said labs test for things like CBD content, residual solvents and heavy metals.
“We’re really at the forefront of creating the evidence ourselves because we’re actually having to do a lot of the research ourselves,” he said. “And a lot of it is experimentation, but it’s based on rationale. We’re not just kind of throwing stuff in a bottle and hoping for the best.”
There is no regulation on how much CBD is allowed in products or how they should be formulated. That’s up to individual companies to decide.
“It’s a Wild West,” said Ginsburg. “They’re selling you a product, and you’re taking it under faith that that company is giving you what they tell you they’re giving you.”
While there is a “buyer beware” element to CBD use, anecdotes about its benefits are growing whether regulation and research are or not.
“That education needs to be there, that advocacy, because hemp is, you know, it is cannabis, but it’s also medicine. It’s also a drug,” James said. “And special care needs to be given in all cases where people are taking medicines.”
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