By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily
An alarming trend has been on the rise at Cody High School. Healthy young people returning from their lunch breaks have been reporting to the nurse’s office with serious symptoms.
“They’ll come into the nurse’s office, or we’re having to go to classrooms where students are profusely vomiting, they can’t breathe, they’re ashen gray, they’re lethargic or incoherent,” said Beth Blatt, the school’s vice principal. “To the point where we have recommended that parents take them to the emergency room immediately or have called the ambulance to transport them.”
Blatt said they’ve had as many as six students as recently as last week show these severe reactions.
What’s causing them is a substance many adults may not know about, but most young people do – delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as delta-8 THC. The psychoactive substance is found in marijuana and hemp plants, and if derived from hemp, is legal for people to use with no restrictions.
But that’s something school administrators, and some Wyoming legislators, want to change.
Delta-8, often referred to as “marijuana lite,” is derived from hemp containing less than 0.3% of delta-9, the compound that produces a high. Delta-8 is a milder substance that creates the feelings of relaxation many people want from their marijuana use, but side effects such as paranoia, anxiety and drowsiness are less potent.
Manufacturers of delta-8 typically add the substance to edibles and vape cartridges, which are sold legally in stores. But because the products aren’t regulated, they can be contaminated with other cannabinoids and heavy metals.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA have issued health advisories about delta-8 after receiving hundreds of reports of adverse reactions, including hallucinations, vomiting, tremors, anxiety, dizziness, confusion and loss of consciousness.
Those symptoms track with what Cody High School students have reported.
“We’ve had six kids leave Cody High School during the day, either in an ambulance or with their parents, to go to the ER,” said Deb White, sponsor for CHS’s Youth For Justice program. “We had one kid pass out right in front of the superintendent.”
Blatt said she is concerned about the long-term effects of the drug.
“To me, the danger is these young students, young minds, their brains are still growing,” said Blatt. “Not knowing how much they are smoking, with it being a synthetic drug, and then possibly having these repercussions – it’s so new, and we don’t know the long term ramifications.”
Lunch Break Accessibility
Because there are no laws regulating the sale of delta-8, Blatt said accessing the substance is as easy as a five-minute walk for Cody High School students, which makes it a convenient to do during lunch breaks.
“None of my ninth graders can drive, but they can walk to two shops and go smoke in an alley and come back,” said Blatt.
The school has sent flyers to parents that identify the dangers of delta-8 encouraging parents to talk to their children about the substance.
“Awareness is key,” she said.
But Blatt, and some Cody High students, want to do more than just raise awareness.
Youth For Justice
Cody High School’s Youth For Justice program was formed 25 years ago by science teacher Deb White. Although retired, White still heads up the group, which places students inside the legislative process by lobbying for selected bills each year at the Wyoming Legislature.
Blatt asked White if her students might consider lobbying for a bill to curb the accessibility of delta-8 to minors in Wyoming.
“Beth Blatt came to us and said, ‘Hey, this is wrong. What can we do?’” said White.
White and her students connected with Park County Rep. Sandy Newsome, who agreed to introduce a bill that would make the substance illegal to buy by anyone younger than 21.
“Sandy’s bill would not only change the consequences for all that stuff under the age of 21, but it would also amend the current state law as well so that cities could do something about delta-8 type products,” said White.
White has brought 25 CHS students to the state Capitol in Cheyenne to lobby Monday and Tuesday on behalf of Newsome’s delta-8 bill, which would set an age limit on the accessibility of delta-8 THC products.
“They can go buy it legally at the smoke shops because it’s not tobacco and it’s not marijuana,” White said, pointing out that there are two such stores within a five-minute walk from Cody High School.
Because of the number of their classmates who have had to go to the hospital because they’ve ingested delta-8, White said her students are motivated.
Rep. Sandy Newsome, R-Cody, has worked with Youth For Justice on bills in previous years.
She said she had been made aware of the issues with delta-8 at Cody High School and wanted to take their concerns and put it into a bill that would address not only delta-8, but any similarly unregulated drug that might come along.
“What this bill does is it makes the age to buy (ingestible) CBD products 21, period,” Newsome told Cowboy State Daily. “I didn’t want to make the legislation specific to delta-8, because that doesn’t solve the problem. It just takes one single item out of the marketplace. There will be the next thing that comes along.”
Newsome said she has had several fellow legislators offer to co-sponsor the bill, which has not yet been assigned a number for introduction. However, there is a bill, House Bill 108, introduced by Rep. Albert Sommers, that is in circulation.
“His is more specific to ingestibles and smokeables,” said Newsome. “I’m going to stand behind his bill because his will come up first. And the kids are prepared to get behind Albert’s bill.”
She added that she and Sommers may work together, combining components of Newsome’s bill into his. But she feels confident that the issue with delta-8 will be raised in the Legislature this session.
“If you’re 16 and you’re going into a smoke shop on the lunch break from high school and you (purchase delta-8) and don’t know how it’s going to affect you, and you come back and you start getting very, very sick, that’s a dangerous thing,” she said.
In her 30 years as a teacher, even though she taught science rather than government, White said Youth for Justice remains the most powerful program she has worked on with her students.
“They see a problem, they research to see if any other states have a solution,” she said. “They gather data, they create media, they work on public speaking. They track how every single person is going to vote.”
White said she even makes students follow up with thank you notes.
“It’s real life, and then they get a result at the end,” she said. “They actually accomplish something.”
Newsome said she’s proud of the CHS students who aren’t afraid to speak up about an issue they believe in.
“I’m so proud of their behavior and so proud of their preparation,” she said. “They print informational material, they are not afraid to talk to legislators one on one. It’s remarkable how prepared they come, and how passionate they are.”