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Published: December 07, 2022

Psychology Major Researches Delta-8

When an opportunity presented itself for psychology major Destin Rothe ’23 to get involved in research on delta-8 tetrahydrocannabinol, the popular cannabis product also known as delta-8 THC, he jumped at the chance. 

“I wanted to immerse myself in a study and take the lead,” said Rothe, of Heidelberg, Germany.  

Rothe began researching caregiver knowledge around delta-8 THC on children and adolescents this summer as part of his year-long internship at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute (FMHI) at the University of South Florida. 

Psychology Major Researching Delta-8Part of the reason Rothe wanted to conduct the thesis was to build his research skills and boost his resume. Photo by Andrew McDougall '23

At FMHI, Rothe and 11 other students chosen from around the country receive lectures and seminars three times a week on addiction-related issues with the goal of participating in corresponding research projects. The research of caregiver knowledge was part of the summer portion of the internship, where he worked full-time. He is still working on the study on a part-time basis.

Rothe said this study on caregiver knowledge is important because most parents Rothe and the researchers spoke to, didn’t know about delta-8 until their kid ended up in the critical care unit. 

He hopes that with more parents aware of the substance and its potential dangers, it will put pressure on the state to regulate it. 

“Right now it’s not a regulated substance,” Rothe said, stating the substance could potentially contain heavy metals and high copper levels. He suggested putting an age restriction on the substance would help.

Due to lack of regulation, there is currently no age restriction on the products, Rothe explained, meaning minors can legally obtain the substance, which has the same effects as cannabis. Delta-8 THC edible packaging mimics regular candy packaging and usually comes without warning, he said. Children can therefore get accidentally exposed to the candies and overdose, according to Rothe.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, the products have not been evaluated or approved by the FDA for safe use and may be marketed in ways that put the public’s health at risk.

Between Jan. 1, 2021, and Feb. 28, 2022, national poison control centers received 2,362 exposure cases of delta-8 THC products, according to the FDA. According to the statistic, 82% of the accidentally exposed were pediatric patients.

“It [the substance] could potentially bring long-term risks; only time will tell,” Rothe said.

The internship inspired Rothe’s senior thesis, which he began in August and is conducting under the mentorship of UT associate professors Erica Yuen, Cynthia Gangi and Mary Martinasek. He is investigating college students’ knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and intentions around delta-8. 

Part of the reason Rothe wanted to conduct the thesis was to build his research skills and boost his resume, and in Germany, a thesis is required in order to be accepted into graduate school. Rothe already had a topic that he was passionate about and professors that he knew well, so he decided to get a head start on the process. 

“Doing a senior thesis and/or getting a publication during undergrad can give you the edge over other applicants when it comes to applying to a master’s, and especially Ph.D. programs,” Rothe said, adding it makes the applicants stand out more.

In addition, leading a study provides him with valuable experience that will help him in graduate school, because the programs are more often research-based, he explained.

“Destin's research work is groundbreaking, as there currently exists few published studies on college students' motivations for using delta-8 THC or on ways to educate young adults about the nature and risks of this drug,” said Yuen, associate professor of psychology.

“[His] passion for research shines through, as he gains invaluable experience designing, implementing and analyzing the results of his original research study,” she added.

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