State Cannabis Laws, Risk Perceptions, and Delta-8 THC Use among Young Adults
Background: Delta-8 THC, a federally unregulated psychoactive substance, has been rising in popularity. Although no prevalence data exist, calls to U.S. poison control have been increasing. Preliminary research indicates Google search trends relating to Delta-8 THC are higher in states where adult non-medical use of Delta-9 THC is not legal. Theoretical models posit that perceived risk is a theoretical antecedent of risk behavior. However, no research has examined associations between state cannabis laws, perceived risk, and Delta-8 THC use. Methods: Amazon MTURK was utilized to recruit participants aged 18-25-years-old to answer an online survey (n = 603 responses). Rigorous quality control methods were undertaken to ensure the quality of the data, resulting in a final analytic sample size of n = 166. Multivariable logistic regression models were used to examine whether the following factors were associated with the odds of using Delta-8 THC in the past year: 1) state Delta-8 THC laws, 2) state Delta-9 THC laws, 3) Delta-8 THC perceived susceptibility, 4) Delta-8 THC perceived severity, 5) Delta-9 THC perceived susceptibility, 6) Delta-9 THC perceived severity, and 7) past year Delta-9 THC use, adjusting for age, race/ethnicity, birth sex, and student status. Results: Almost one-quarter (22%) used Delta-8 THC in the past year. Associations between state cannabis laws (both Delta-8 and Delta-9 THC) and Delta-8 THC use were not statistically significant. Participants with higher levels of Delta-8 THC perceived susceptibility and Delta-9 THC perceived severity, and lower levels of Delta-8 THC perceived severity and Delta-9 THC perceived susceptibility, had significantly higher odds of using Delta-8 THC in the past year. Those who engaged in Delta-9 THC use in the past year had 14 times the odds of also engaging in Delta-8 THC use. Conclusions: This was the first study to examine how cannabis risk perceptions are associated with Delta-8 THC use. Findings indicated that most Delta-8 THC users were also users of Delta-9 THC, suggesting possible polysubstance use or substitution. Strong, statistically significant associations were observed between cannabis risk perceptions and Delta-8 THC use, which has important implications for harm reduction interventions. Future longitudinal research, with large nationally representative samples, is needed to fully understand associations and potential causality.