By Robert Brodsky | Newsday

An unregulated marijuana compound, often marketed as “weed light,” has seen its popularity grow in recent years among high school seniors and is now a “potential public health concern,” according to a new national study.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Southern California and published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is among the first to track adolescent usage of Delta 8 THC, a cannabis product similar to the ingredient found in marijuana but which causes a somewhat less potent high.

Delta 8, which is synthesized from the hemp-cannabis plant, is only slightly chemically different from Delta 9 THC, the principal psychoactive compound found in marijuana, which is largely responsible for the drug’s high. 

But while Delta 9 is regulated and legal in New York, Delta 8 is not permitted to be sold or manufactured in New York, according to the state's Office of Cannabis Management. In total, Delta 8 is prohibited in 17 states and restricted in 7 others, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association.


  • Delta 8 is only slightly chemically different from Delta 9 THC, the principal psychoactive compound found in marijuana. 

  • Delta 8 is not permitted to be sold or manufactured in New York.

  • Among 12th graders surveyed, 11.4% reported using Delta 8 in the prior 12 months while 30.4% said they'd used marijuana during that period, researchers found.

Experts, however, said Delta 8 is widely available online, often without age verification, and in retailers such as vape shops, gas stations and convenience stores in the form of gummies, edibles and vaping cartridges.

Heather Hugelmeyer, director of behavioral health at Northwell Health's Garden City Patient Center, said the major concern is that Delta 8 is largely unregulated but often marketed to minors.

“You really have no idea what it is that you're getting at any point,” Hugelmeyer said. “And these items get marketed very much toward young people, whether it's through the packaging of edibles or through vapes that have designs or flavors appealing to young people. And these substances are increasingly impactful on adolescent brains, which are still developing. Any substance in an adolescent brain has much more of an impact than it does in an adult.”

USC researchers asked 2,186 high school seniors in New York and 26 other states, between February and June 2023, about their experience with Delta 8 and marijuana.

In total, 11.4% of 12th graders reported using Delta 8 in the prior 12 months while 30.4% said they'd used marijuana during that period, researchers found.

“The finding that more than one out of every 10 12th-grade students in America use Delta 8 THC is concerning,” said Adam Leventhal, the study's lead author and executive director of the USC Institute for Addiction Science. “This substance may have harmful effects on teens like addiction, interfering with brain development, and exposure to impurities in synthesis of the drug.”

Use of Delta 8 was higher among men, and whites overall, than other groups and was more prevalent in the South and Midwest and in states without legal adult-use marijuana, the study found.

Among teens who used Delta 8 in the prior year, 68% admitted trying it at three least times; 35% at least 10 times and nearly 17% said they'd used it at least 40 times, the study found. Almost 91% of Delta 8 users also reported using marijuana, researchers said.

“Delta 8 THC use prevalence is appreciable among U.S. adolescents,” the study stated. “ … Prioritizing surveillance, policy and public health efforts addressing adolescent Delta 8 THC use may be warranted.”

National poison control centers received 2,362 exposure cases of Delta 8 THC products between Jan. 1, 2021, and Feb. 28, 2022, including 41% involving a minor under the age of 18, according to the Food and Drug Administration. More than two-thirds of those cases involved a medical evaluation; 8% resulted in a hospital admission and one pediatric case resulted in death, the agency said.

“The ease of access has definitely increased,” said Christian Racine, senior director of clinics for the Huntington-based Family Service League. “And the concern is that even though it's illegal right now, it can still be abused. It can still be used in a way that's going to have an impact on somebody.”