SALT LAKE CITY — At the urging of patient advocacy groups, Utah’s Department of Agriculture & Food is asking the state legislature to ban synthetic cannabinoids from medical marijuana products sold in the state.
It comes after patients have anecdotally reported some reactions to products with the synthetics, which are a byproduct in the process to make some medical cannabis product. Chirine Touati, who uses medical cannabis to treat pain and nausea related to her multiple sclerosis, said she has experienced problems from what she suspects were synthetics.
“I’ve had vapes before that have triggered things in my body,” Touati said in an interview with FOX 13 News on Friday.
Earlier this year, the Utah State Legislature required that medical cannabis products be clearly labeled to notify patients if they contain synthetic cannabinoids. Christine Stenquist, the founder of Together for Responsible Use and Cannabis Education (TRUCE), said patients deserve to know what they’re ingesting.
“It was the state’s responsibility to appropriately label these products as safe for human consumption,” she said. “There’s not enough evidence to support these degradants are safe for human consumption.”
The problem is that while some patients may report a reaction, there’s not enough scientific study about whether synthetic cannabinoids are actually harmful. Marijuana remains a Schedule I drug on a federal level, making such research difficult.
“There’s really no studies, there’s really nothing we can go after to say this is safe, this isn’t. What we can say is this is not the level that should be occurring in a natural plant,” Desiree Hennessy, the executive director of the Utah Patients Coalition, said of synthetic cannabinoids.
While TRUCE and the Utah Patients Coalition have disagreed in the past on synthetic THC, both groups support the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food’s decision to request a ban.
Stenquist said there are no studies on the efficacy of synthetics on patients’ health, so she questioned why the state would even sell them.
The Utah Department of Agriculture & Food regularly tests all medical cannabis products sold in Utah. Dr. Brandon Forsyth, the head of the agency’s medical cannabis program, said synthetic cannabinoids are common anywhere there is processing of cannabis extracts.
“We ultimately decided to push forward legislation to just limit their presence since nobody really wanted them there anyway,” he told FOX 13 News on Friday.
The idea is expected to not face much resistance on Utah’s Capitol Hill in the legislative session that begins in January. A bipartisan group of lawmakers are tasked with running bills tweaking the state’s medical cannabis program, which was created after voters approved a proposition legalizing it in 2018 (the legislature overrode the initial citizen ballot initiative).
“There’s just a lot of unknowns when it comes to this,” Hennessy said synthetic cannabinoids. “But what [we] can agree on is that the Utah medical cannabis program isn’t a testing facility and Utah patients aren’t lab rats.”
Touati said she would like to see the legislature ban the synthetics.
“They need to take that step because I don’t — as a patient — I don’t want to be their guinea pig,” she said.
Dr. Forsyth estimated less than 20% of medical cannabis product sold in Utah dispensaries contains synthetic cannabinoids. While the Utah Department of Agriculture & Food is recommending they be limited, it will be up to the legislature to decide if products containing them would be recalled.