What the Hemp?
Annie von Neupert
Project Coordinator for REACH
As more and more states legalize marijuana and others have a variety of cannabinoid products available, it seems sensible to ask what they are, what they aren’t, and how they might affect young people. Annie von Neupert is Project Coordinator for REACH. REACH, a federal Drug Free Communities coalition, focuses on reducing misuse of alcohol, nicotine, and other substances by youth in Calumet County, Wisconsin. When a product is visible and accessible, young people tend to view it as safe to use. As always, it is important for families to have discussions with their children about all substance use. Annie and REACH can be contacted at https://www.cahlinc.org/about/reach
[Jaunty Guitar Music]
Mike: Welcome, everybody. This is Avoiding the Addiction Affliction, brought to you by Westwords Consulting and the Kenosha County Substance Abuse Coalition. I'm Mike McGowan.
Mike: As more and more states legalize marijuana and others have a variety of cannabinoid products available, we wanted to have a discussion today about those products, what they are, what they aren't, what we know, what we don't know and how they might affect young people.
Mike: I'm pleased today to have as our guest, Annie von Neupert. Annie is project coordinator for REACH. Now REACH is a federally funded drug free communities coalition that focuses on reducing misuse of alcohol, nicotine, and other substances by youth. Annie is a Wisconsin certified prevention specialist and substance use prevention skills trainer.
Mike: Welcome Annie.
Annie: Thank you.
Mike: I'm so glad you could be here today because, you know, we know each other from a ways back, but I'm in schools all the time with young people and there's so much confusion about what we're talking about today. So let's start with an easy one. Well, it's probably not easy, is it?
Annie: (laugh) I think it's a little complicated.
Mike: Yeah, it is. There's a lot of things called hemp, the plant derivatives. So break it down for us a little bit. What are they, how many are they? And do they all do the same thing?
Annie: Well, let's kind of start at the beginning. A hemp derivative can be a couple different things we commonly know about CBD [Cannabidiol], or we've heard about CBD, but the other hemp derivatives are the deltas.
Annie: That's what we kind of call them. Delta 8, delta 9, delta 10, delta 11, delta 12, and then we can go into HHC [Hexahydrocannabinol], et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So these products are, are about every couple of months actually I'm finding a new one coming out. And It's a, it's just a chemical puzzle that scientists have really come up with to come up with more. So, right now, I'm seeing about 16 of these products that are derived from the hemp plant that are not CBD.
Annie: So, some of them are hallucinogenic. Some of them are psychoactive. Many of them are intoxicating and some of them are not. It depends on the potency level. It depends on what's in each product. So, that's where the complication really starts.
Mike: Okay, so in states like Michigan, Minnesota, which August 1st legalized recreational use of cannabis, are all of the derivatives just legal?
Annie: It really depends on the state and their laws. So marijuana, what we commonly call marijuana, is legal in some states. That is also a THC [Tetrahydrocannabinol] product. It's delta 9. When we're talking about these other delta products. They're under a legal loophole, the 2018 Farm Bill addressed, and I can explain that in a little bit, but some of the states recognize them as illegal substances.
Annie: Some of them recognize them as legal substances. In other states, it's unregulated. So about 15 states right now declare the delta products as illegal and then including in there about 15 and then a total of 10 more. Address it in some way, shape or form as far as restricting the sales of it or restricting how it's sold.
Annie: And then the rest is kind of a wild wild west, right? Like Wisconsin, we don't address it at all right now.
Mike: Well, and the federal government is still illegal.
Mike: And I understand when I'm up in Michigan, they tell me that that's created somewhat of an issue because the shops that are selling it have difficulty banking their money because federally they have to be very careful of where they put the money from the profits and the proceeds.
Annie: Yeah, it all depends on the state. And in some states, even the lobbyists are more interested in banning the delta eights. Because it's affecting the delta 9 dispensary sales or the marijuana sales that are legal. So it is a big mess across the country right now.
Mike: Wow. Okay. So the cannabis plant itself, right?
Annie: Yes. Cannabis Sativa L.
Mike: Okay. It has over a hundred compounds called cannabinoids.
Annie: Mm hmm.
Mike: Am I right so far?
Mike: All right. Why is the one we hear about all the time, the delta 9 THC, considered psychoactive? But CBD, the one found in hemp plants, is not considered psychoactive.
Annie: It's all based on the chemistry.
Annie: I can't, I don't, I can't really speak too much to the chemistry of it. But CBD is not technically part of that same chain. So it has similar carbon, hydrogen, oxygen molecule structure. But there's a different number to the, that chemical component. Whereas the delta products, including delta 9, have the exact same number of atoms or of the structure.
Annie: It's just restructured differently. So it's a lot of science behind it. And that's why it's been so prevalent to continue to make these new products. So it's just scientists kind of moving around atoms, doing their work, and then they come up with a new product that's similar. So they're, again, they're, the basic building block is similar.
Mike: So hemp and marijuana are different plants, but from the same family.
Annie: So they're actually the same plant. They're categorized based on the THC delta nine level in them. So a hemp plant is legal in the federal, the federal legal terms. If it's less than .3 percent THC delta nine. If it is more than that, when it leaves the field it would be considered marijuana, so I kind of break it down to some individuals.
Annie: A Chihuahua is a dog, and so is a Great Dane. They're different, but they're both dogs. So one's bigger, one's less, right? So the potency levels are different, and that's where this really is coming from. So you can create Marijuana, delta 9 THC from a hemp plant, because there is still that basic percentage.
Annie: The products are still in there. You know, if you're going to the grocery store to make something, you still can get your carrots and your potatoes out of that product. It's just how you chemically synthesize it to make it the potency level that would make it illegal.
Mike: And the Food and Drug Administration has approved, right, the use of CBD for some conditions.
Annie: Only one, juvenile seizure disorder. So Epidiolex is the only CBD product that's approved and that is made in a very careful environment in a laboratory where they're able to ensure that only CBD has been synthesized or taken from the plant as opposed to all the other products. When we're talking about how CBD and delta eights, nines, et cetera, are made. They're chemically synthesized, which involves organic compounds, solvents, heavy metals. None of that process is regulated by the federal government. So when we are assuming it's like a can of soda at the store that was made at a factory, which has very careful stringent guidelines about what can go into it and how much. These products, their labels do not have to match how they're made.
Annie: There's no research being done to study. There is some research, but that's not widely promoted what actual contents are found in there. So some studies are finding most of these products have heavy metals have solvents and have varying levels of THC or other products within what they state are supposed to be in the product.
Mike: So even though they've been approved for juvenile seizure disorder, when I see CBD oil in the supermarket or the gas station and the sign says it cures almost everything from sleep disorders and insomnia to depression and anxiety, et cetera, and even is safe to use for pets. That's just them putting it on the label.
Annie: Yeah, you can put whatever you want on a label because those labels are not recognized. So the CDC and the FDA [Food and Drug Administration] both came out with statements along with other agencies saying that this information has not been tested right. They're not saying that it's false because there hasn't been testing, but they're also saying that it hasn't been tested.
Annie: So it makes me worried because if you look at these products, the labels can change from, I, you know, I monitor the stores and the different retailers. And so that label can change within a week. And in one time, the product that I'm looking at, I'll say great for sleep. The next time says great for energy.
Annie: How, how does that work?
Mike: Well, you know, a lot of what's said about these products is word of mouth. You can see a lot of it spread on Facebook. I hear a lot of it in friend groups. Somebody starts using it for X, Y, or Z, and then tells all their friends that it helped them with X, Y, or Z. And it spreads rather quickly.
Annie: Yeah, it's, it's really scary and there has been some studies about just in general, like our attitudes about these products and our assumptions because it's such a common, just a common conversation and not a lot of research is promoted about it. So the assumption that CBD is safe or the delta products are safe solely because it seems as if everyone is using them and they're being sold legally.
Annie: So the national kind of average mindset is they're, they're safe products.
Mike: When we, the one I we hear a lot about, even on the radio now, is delta 8, right. And delta 8 gummies. And I guess there's delta 10. And you said we're moving up into the teens. Are they psychoactive?
Mike: But less so than THC?
Annie: Not necessarily. So we're looking at a couple different things when we're looking at the psychoactive component. So, one, I think we have to go back. What I will call at this point, traditional marijuana, right? There's lots of confusion about vocabulary, but we'll go back to the marijuana of the 70s. That was psychoactive and the potency level within what people were imbibing was different. So then if we fast forward to today and our legal marijuana states that are selling things from dispensaries, their potency levels are different, right? So one, we have to kind of contend with that in our mind when we're thinking about when we're talking about what's potent, what isn't, what's intoxicating, what's psychoactive.
Annie: Then when we back up and we look at these hemp products. It's very, very different. It's across the board in what, if we would call it a pure form. So CBD in its pure form is not psychoactive. The deltas, the THC delta 9, traditional marijuana, delta 8, we'll just call everything delta 8 for now. That is psychoactive.
Annie: It depends on what amount you imbibe, the potency level of what you imbibe, but then also what else is mixed in it. So that's one part of it. There are a few, and I don't want to quote because these studies are so new. This study was six months ago and done in Italy. There is one new strain, I'll call it a strain, but it's a version of the deltas, that scientists are reporting is 33% more potent and more psychoactive than traditional marijuana. That's scary.
Mike: How do you know what you're getting?
Annie: You don't. That's one of my major points that I like to share with parents, with students, with anyone in the community who will listen. These products we're assuming are safe on so many levels, and there's so many concerns, they need to be regulated.
Annie: The FDA has stated it needs to be regulated. The CDC has stated that they need to be regulated. The DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration], right, I'm throwing out alphabet soup, but people have researched this. They're starting to really look at it. And the average person doesn't understand the background of how dangerous these substances are.
Annie: The poison control center has come out with the alarming amount of reports of adverse effects. The permanent damage that can be done, especially to a developing brain, right? Long term psychosis is connected with these things. Brain development can be affected. And we don't know the extent because, you know, for me, I tripped across these products about two years ago.
Annie: That's not a lot of research in two years of a product.
Mike: Right, right. You know, it's those people that advocate for legalization across the board are probably jumping through their screens right now listening to this. And, and I know that. 'cause I run into 'em all the time. And we're not talking about the person who occasionally uses, we're gonna get into this, we're talking about youth and the developing brain, and we're talking about chronic use too.
Mike: In the same way a glass of wine is totally different than somebody who's drinking constantly and every day. And even the research now on alcohol is showing. Hey, you know, that stuff we heard about moderate drinking being good. Well, that may not be true after all. I, I think we've done so little research that it's really difficult to, to judge.
Mike: People just know how they feel around it.
Annie: Right. I mean, and you look at, you know, when we look at youth studies and a lot of what we can do is, you know, speculate based on what we know about the, the original marijuana, right? Right. The physical issues. We know that it's problems with learning memory concentration.
Annie: You know, what is the number one job of a youth right now, to go through school right to gain knowledge and experience and education. All of the things that we do know it affects their ability to memorize things, to concentrate, to learn, to adapt right it affects those things we can talk about the likelihood of addiction is greater the younger you start substance misuse.
Annie: So when we're introducing these substances to a youth's body, we're introducing the possibility, a likely possibility, unfortunately, of addiction later on in life. And then we're also talking about the physical effects, right, depending on how they're imbibing in this substance, whether it's vaping, which we know has a whole nother implication with EVALI. We know that there's some speculation THC zero may lead to the next vaping epidemic from EVALI issues. We talk about heart and lung problems besides that. It's, it's just, it's just alarming how much we don't know and how significant the impact can be on a youth who in general is learning impulse control.
Annie: Right. And you know, I think about a story that really made me very passionate about, about sharing this information. A local school district reported to me that in their middle school a student had brought a bag of gummies to lunch. And now gummies seem pretty innocent except for they were edible gummies. Right? So we know what we know that they weren't the average peach ring or gummy bear. And I thought, my goodness, what table of middle school students isn't going to share a bag of candy. And what does that do to a school?
Annie: What does that do to that individual student? And then I heard not long after, about our youth who a fifth grade student who had borrowed their parents devices. And I thought there's so much misinformation in our communities about what these products are and, and not making judgment on adults who choose to, to try these substances or to use them.
Annie: But how do we keep our kids safe too and educate our kids to not borrow what they see their parents using or take them from the trash and share them at school?
Mike: You know, and, and when you go into even a dispensary in states where they're legal. It's a little like going into a wine shop.
Annie: Oh, it's beautiful!
Mike: Yeah, and there's, there's different varieties that are grown differently, meant for different things advertised differently, and I, I get that, right? So, somebody may, as an adult, choose to do that instead of having a glass of wine on the weekend. But what I found in my career and mainly is because of who I work with, I am not working with the once a week people.
Mike: I'm working with the people who habituate and for whom it becomes a problem. And everyone who's listening to this, I think knows somebody who has used a lot of the product we're talking about, who's not the same. And I think that's the danger is where do you cross that line to not being okay and how much can you use before you're not okay and who can use and who can't and who's gonna, you know, you know, it's the same old question we deal with with addiction all the time.
Annie: Right. And every individual, obviously it's different. But what we do know is the earlier substances are introduced to a body, the more likely of addiction issues later on in life, right? There is a connection. And so REACH, the coalition that I'm with, we work really hard at giving our parents and our youth the information to make safe decisions. To have parents have conversations with the kids about why we don't want them to use substances and try to empower them to make the choice on their own to continue to make safe choices.
Annie: And then as they get older, hopefully that will kind of stick with them as they If at some point in time they do choose to experiment they'll again, the longer that we can kind of push back that age of initiation, the better for the youth themselves and helping parents understand that is a bigger picture issue.
Mike: So what, when you do the talks, when you go into places, do you get in arguments.
Annie: I don't, I'm not an argument person. I try to recognize that I have to meet every individual where they're at and, you know, reach just this is not on the delta 8 topic. But in general, REACH was established in Calumet County, where I live and work is notorious for our stats. We are the drunkest county in the nation year after year after year. And our excessive diminished drinking rates are high, and we have a culture of of alcohol consumption. And again, that's not a judgment. That's our social norm. That's where we're at.
Annie: We know more now than we did then. So I always want to start a conversation with a parent like this is the information I have. How are you making your choices? Let's talk about it, right? You're the parent. You get to make those choices. However, what more do you need to know from me to kind of move this conversation forward?
Annie: We talk about the laws and so that they understand that. And then we talk about kind of what goes on in the community and we and I think it's a good meeting ground. So I never want to judge a parent for making a choice, but I want to make sure they have all the information. Oftentimes, I don't think it's an argument because I do have parents.
Annie: Well, I drink in front of my kid. I said, Okay, like what? How does that look for you guys? Or you know what I'm addicted to cigarettes or I'm addicted to vaping myself. How do I tell my kid not to do it? Let's talk about it that way then. Like, why don't you want them to have the same situation for them?
Annie: And then we talk about safe storage, right? If you're choosing to use any product or just having medications in the household, how do we keep your kids safe, right? How do you help monitor that, you know, even the simple, like, well, my kid would never take the medicine under the cabinet.
Annie: Absolutely. Your child may not, but do you have other children and that come in your house? Are you home all the time? Do you have parents or other friends were coming through the household. Let's just talk about maintaining a safe environment in general. It's not a judgment on your child or your parenting.
Annie: It's just how do we improve our environment?
Mike: Did you grow up Annie in the decade or decades of the Mr. Yuck stickers on products?
Annie: Absolutely. Yes.
Mike: You know that you have a good point there where you know, when kids are told early that something is not good for them, they just don't. Right?
Mike: And it's amazing how intelligent kids are. You're working a lot with kids. This is an interesting one for me. While vaping is on an uptick right now, it was on a downtick until COVID hit. And then because we didn't do any education around it, it upticked again. Marijuana is absolutely, the products we're talking about today, on an uptick.
Mike: Cigarettes are almost non existent at a high school.
Mike: I mean, no, I'm in schools all the time. Nobody's doing it. Think about that. When you and I were growing up, it was, they had this smokers corner on every, in every high school. And sometimes the staff would be out there smoking with kids. Well, how did we get there?
Mike: And what are the applications then, right, for the products we're talking about? You're not talking about banning them. That, that horses out of the barn, right?
Annie: I really address it as an age restriction. I would I and many others have said, let's talk about restricting sales to minors.
Annie: So just as alcohol is restricted, you cannot sell it to someone under 21 or nicotine products at this point. Any of these products are legally able to be sold at this point to a minor in the state of Wisconsin with the exclusion of a few municipalities or areas that have passed ordinances. So one of the things that I've been working with our group and others.
Annie: Is how do we create an ordinance in municipalities or in a county to restrict the sales and monitor how they're being sold. So solely restrict sales means they cannot be sold to a minor. So you would have to be ID'd like you are for alcohol to purchase the product. That would be the starting block right there, because again, if anyone missed that, these products can be sold to anyone from any location.
Mike: Be more specific, because I know, I'm glad you repeated yourself. I'm sure people are listening and going, what? Which products can be sold to minors?
Annie: So obviously CBD. So my, I'll, I'll even back up further. This started, I walked into a grocery store and next to the M&M display was a vending machine of these products.
Annie: And I thought, is this for real? (laugh) Right? Like what am I seeing?
Mike: Like the old cigarette machines.
Annie: Yes. Except for it was. And I'm not saying this lightly. It was a beautiful display, pristine white on the outside with green, like a very serene green logo and lettering and backlit LED. I mean, it was gorgeous, nice digital display and lots of different products in there. Now I've been watching this machine for about two years and I'm proud to say that the city that's located in has passed an ordinance requiring that the machine age verify so it can't just dispense, but it was. It was absolutely dispensing to anybody who wanted to buy it from, from that machine, cash, card, whatever you wanted to pay with.
Annie: So fast forward in my community, I go shopping at these different stores and I look, do we have a sign that says we won't sell? I'll talk to who's selling. They're next to your nicotine products, so they look similar, so that's very hard unless your retailer knows what each product is, what they're selling. But the truth is there's one, two blocks from a school, a local school, that local school has an open campus lunch and you can walk right in and you can purchase.
Annie: Now, I also work with Tobacco Prevention and Control in connection with Community Action for Healthy Living, and I know the stats of our, our sales of nicotine products to, to youth, and that's what's alarming. So, at this point, they're not regulated. I could, as a 16 year old, go and buy a delta 8 vape.
Annie: That looks exactly like a nicotine or tobacco vape, and I can walk back to my school with it on my open campus lunch. Same thing with edibles, and I'll tell you, anybody who wants to look these products up, they look the same. They look exactly, the gummies, I have a, I have a peach rings that are 30 milligrams of THC delta 9, purchased legally in the state of Wisconsin, that look exactly like the peach rings that you buy at Target in the candy store.
Annie: So. Anyone, any age, a two year old technically could go up and buy these products as long as you can, you know, pay the money at any retailer and they're at gas stations convenience stores of any sort, some grocery stores, they have dispensaries, any of which, again, your 12 year old, your 16 year old can walk in and buy and then bring to the park and share.
Mike: And it's up to the communities at this point, in states that don't regulate this to do something about it.
Annie: Correct. There's options for the federal government to change that as they're reviewing the current farm bill. There are options for our state to begin to regulate it or you can regulate it on a local level.
Mike: I could be cynical at all of those. I'll choose not to be. So the, so the takeaway message for you is, is we're not talking about making THC illegal.
Mike: What we're talking about is?
Annie: Age restricting the sale of these hemp products. So anything that's synthetically derived from the hemp plant, that is where that loophole opened it up. So anything that is taken from that hemp plant that is psychoactive and converted into a product that is consumed by humans. Whether that's vaping, smoking, drinking, chewing, right?
Annie: I mean, any, this can be made, these products are made into drinks. They're made into seltzers, they're made into juices, they're made into brownies, right? I mean, the options are endless, so again are age restricting the sale of these products to those who are under age 21. Have no purchasing abilities. And kind of starting the process of educating people about what these products can do or how they interact with current medications and the different dangers.
Mike: Perfect. Perfect. You know, that is, that is the point of doing these podcasts as well as education. I know I wanted to do this because there's a lot of confusion when I go around about what these products are, what they do. Young people lump everything together, of course. And this has been incredibly instructive.
Mike: I really appreciate you being here, Annie.
Annie: Thank you so much.
Mike: Yeah. And those of you who are listening, we hope you're a little bit brighter following this half hour than you were when you came into it. We invite you to listen in next week, and until next week, please stay safe and learn a little something.
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