Following a review of recent research in addition to my clinical experience working with nearly 8000 medical marijuana patients in my Fully Alive Medicine practice in Boulder, I’ve concluded that dabbing concentrates such as shatter and wax could be considered the equivalent of the opioids of cannabis. Although it won’t kill you (opioid overdose is killing nearly 150 people/day), dabbing poses the greatest health risk of all methods for consuming cannabis, primarily due to its potential for addiction.
Cannabis concentrates include any cannabis product produced through an extraction process. Tinctures, hash, hash oil, Rick Simpson oil, shatter and wax are examples of the most commonly available concentrates. Solvents such as butane, CO2, and ethanol strip compounds from the cannabis plant, leaving behind a product with cannabinoids packed in every drop.
Although every concentrate has a higher content of cannabinoids than in the plant itself, none are higher than those found in shatter and wax (the dabbing concentrates), with THC and CBD contents ranging from 50 to 95%, while terpene content can be as high as 34%. Tinctures and hash oil generally have a much lower concentration of THC and are therefore much safer and a more effective medicine. With such a high percentage of THC, the dabbing concentrates produce a tolerance that requires the cannabis consumer to use increasingly higher amounts of product more frequently, producing a weaker therapeutic effect, along with dependence and possible addiction.
The primary extract used in producing the concentrates used for dabbing (heating a small amount of cannabis extract [a dab] with a nail and then inhaling the vapor), is butane hash oil (BHO). BHO cannot be ingested. It must be vaporized to experience the desired effects.
The risks posed by dabbing are the following:
- It’s far more addicting due to its high concentration of THC. Most consumers will dab multiple times/day.
- Produces toxins such as benzene and methacrolein, both of which are toxins and regarded as significant pulmonary irritants, damaging the respiratory tract. And with the higher the temperatures (preferred by most dabbers), the more toxins are produced. Butane is also a toxin.
- Increased risk of schizophrenia; brain is still developing until mid- to late 20s and THC interferes with proper brain development and increases risk of schizophrenia. With the higher potency and the fact that the vast majority of dabbers are adolescents or young adults (highest risk population) we’re seeing an increased incidence of schizophrenia.
With the higher concentrations of THC and frequency of use, dabbers are more susceptible to the adverse side-effects of chronic use of THC, such as memory loss, depression, fatigue, and a distortion of time intervals and space distances.
For all of these reasons, I never recommend dabbing for medicinal use, and very sparingly for recreational use.