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Potent drugs packaged like candy, legally sold in Florida sparks calls for stricter rules

Delta 8 products up to 3 times stronger than pot
Posted at 5:22 AM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 18:17:24-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Products from cake pops to candy containing a chemical compound called Delta 8 are being sold legally in Florida without a prescription and with the goal of getting people high.

The I-Team has uncovered these products have caused hospitalizations and at least one death, sparking calls in Hillsborough County for better regulation of these products.

“It’s candy with drugs in it sold in your convenience store,” said Ellen Snelling, who chairs the Hillsborough County Anti-Drug Alliance.

She recently took packages of candy that looked like popular brands, including Skittles, Nerds and gummy bears.

Ellen Snelling shows Adam Walser medicated candy

But if kids eat the contents, they’re in for a lot more than a sugar high.

“To me, they’re very dangerous, especially to a child,” Snelling said.

Delta 8 can be up to three times as strong as medical marijuana

Delta 8 edible products are made from CBD, which is extracted from hemp.

“Delta 8 is the latest drug trend that our children and grandchildren know about, but parents and grandparents have been kept in the dark,” Snelling told Hillsborough County Commissioners, as they passed around packages of “medicated” candy.

“There is absolutely no doubt that if my grandson walked into a store and saw that, he would not know the difference. And that’s not okay,” said Commission Chair Kimberly Overman.

Hemp, which is used to make the products, was legalized for mass production under the 2018 Farm Bill.

The plant once used to make rope is now used to make dope.

“There’s a demand for cannabis and our government isn’t allowing us to have it. So this is really a response from the consumers,” said Carlos Hermida, who owns Chillum, a hemp product dispensary in Ybor City.

Chillum sells both smokeable Delta 8, only available to customers who are over 21 years of age, and edibles, which are available to anyone 18 or older.

On a recent visit, he pointed out an edible Delta 8 gummy product which he said is three times as strong as medical marijuana.

Carlos Hermida sells CBD products to smoke and eat at his hemp dispensary in Ybor City

“So this is for somebody who is in a lot of pain, to be honest with you,” Hermida said.

“It can be a dangerous process”

Hermida said Delta 8 is a chemical concoction created from CBD. He said his store buys the products only from trusted sources.

“It can be a dangerous process. There is an acid that is used. There needs to be a good distillation process to make sure that this is safe for customers,” Hermida said.

Regulation of CBD is much more lax than for medical marijuana. More than 2,800 people were diagnosed with lung injuries as a result of vitamin e acetate used to make CBD vaping liquid.

Snelling worries edibles could also be contaminated.

“They can have solvents in there, they could have some of the acid leftover from the process, lead… I mean, who knows? Cause they’re not tested,” Snelling said.

Snelling bought some of the candy she showed commissioners from a Hillsborough County convenience store, where the products were legally sold.

Medicated candy purchased from Hillsborough County stores

Glass shelves were stocked with Delta 8 products including a “Medicated Nerds Rope” we bought for $19.99 plus tax. That’s nearly 10 times the price of a real Nerds Rope package we bought from another nearby store.

The package said it contains 250 milligrams of Delta 8. That’s close to the equivalent of 25 doses of medical marijuana.

“This isn’t something that should be sold at the gas station. The guy at the gas station doesn’t understand how to tell you how to take this,” Hermida said.

Other packages contain even more.

“They actually have information on this one. This one had the most information, had a label with a warning and all that,” Snelling said, pointing out a package called “Tittels,” which purportedly contained 500 milligrams of Delta 8, the equivalent of 50 doses of medical marijuana.

The package said it was made by “Super Dope Laboratories” located in a Miami industrial office complex.

Package of medicated candy produced in Miami

“Really, they’re just gonna keep on selling these products until they’re stopped. And they’re making a ton of money,” Snelling said.

A laced cake pop results in a trip to the emergency room for a toddler

It’s not just Delta 8 candy that’s dangerous.

“It was really a bad experience that day and I definitely don’t want to go through that again,” said Rebecca Villarreal, describing her 3-year-old son’s accidental overdose on Delta 8.

While on vacation from Ohio, Villarreal took her son Emilio to Groovy Smoothies in Tarpon Springs for a treat last December.

“There was a cooler out in front. And my son Emilio, who’s three, opened the cooler, saw a cake pop he wanted. And we let him open it and he ate it,” Villarreal said.

Cooler with "kid-friendly" cake pops that were actually laced with Delta 8

Even though it was labeled “kid-friendly” it turned out the cake pop Emilio ate was infused with 100 milligrams of Delta 8, sending Emilio to the emergency room where he was diagnosed with an accidental cannabis overdose.

Three-year-old Emilio in the hospital after he was diagnosed with a cannabis overdose

His mom said he spent his final day of vacation hooked to an IV bag, suffering spasms and hallucinating that he was being attacked by spiders.

“There was really nothing they could do for him except for just monitor him. That was the scariest thing because he was twitching with them there,” Villarreal said.

Groovy Smoothies didn’t respond to a request for comment from the I-Team. Its online menu showed Delta 8 can be added to any item on the menu.

Hemp infused products for sale at Groovy Smoothies in Tarpon Springs

An FDA report showed that national poison control centers received 2,362 exposure cases involving Delta 8 products since January 1, 2021; 41% of the calls involved children and at least one child died.

County commissioners vote to study Delta 8

“Regardless of how you feel about marijuana use or THC, I think what I’m going to bring forward today is an issue that could potentially target children,” said Hillsborough County Commissioner Stacy White.

The Hillsborough County Commission voted unanimously to direct code enforcement and the county attorney’s office to investigate how these products are sold and marketed and to make recommendations on whether the county has the authority to regulate them in any way.

Nineteen states currently ban or restrict Delta 8.

“Prohibiting these products is just going to make people use drugs on the streets and get people arrested and it’s gonna make people turn to drug dealers. And that’s gonna be irresponsible of the county if they prohibit it,” Hermida said.

“If we can regulate this or even ban it, we could save children from a trip to the emergency room and definitely starting on that journey to addiction,” Snelling said.

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