The landscape of marijuana has changed. A new marijuana product has gained popularity, known either as marijuana concentrate or THC extractions (hereinafter referred to as concentrates). While there is research available to caution the public about the long-term health effects of smoking marijuana buds, the newness of marijuana concentrates means that their long-term effects are yet unknown. For this reason, individuals who are have initiated into use of concentrates should understand that at present there is a dearth of reliable and time-tested information about their ill effects.
According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the hallmark of concentrates/extractions is a high concentration of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol). According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana concentrates have different forms, including oil, butter-like, wax, and a texture known as shatter because it is glass-like. Typically, the THC level in concentrates ranges from 40 to 80 percent. To illuminate how potent concentrates can be, consider that even the most concentrated marijuana buds have a THC level that typically does not exceed 20 percent.
Individuals who consume a marijuana concentrate typically do so by inhalation, topically, or orally. Inhalation involves the use of different instruments, such as rolling papers, hand pipes, water pipes (i.e., bongs), homemade single use bongs (such as those made from apples), hookahs, and vaporizers. The oral use of marijuana concentrates can involve consumption of tinctures, oils, drinks, and foods. Topical use typically involves use of a thick cannabis oil that has been decarboxylated to fully activate the cannabinoids, which can be absorbed directly into the skin.
How Concentrates Are Made
A quick mental picture of marijuana buds, which do not resemble butter, honey, oil, or glass, can lead a person to ask a very reasonable question: How are cannabis buds converted to concentrates?
Due to the different texture of concentrates, street names for this marijuana product include:
- Honey oil
- 710 (Oil backwards & flipped)
- Black glass
As the DEA explains, there are different conversion methods. For instance, a dangerous process involves the use of highly flammable butane to draw TCH directly from the cannabis plant. The maker will grind up the cannabis plant and pack it into a pipe with a filter on one end and butane in the other end. As the butane travels through the pipe, the THC is forced through the filter and into a container. The container is then heated to remove any butane that was not filtered out, which in turn creates a dangerous butane gas. The many dangers inherent in this process have resulted in explosions.
THC levels in hash can be as high as 60 percent. Hash goes through a different culling process compared to marijuana. Hash producers collect trichomes from the flowers that grow atop the female cannabis plant. Hash has a higher potency than marijuana in part because these flower heads are the most potent part of the female cannabis plant.
Hash is typically smoked in a pipe or bong, or rolled into a cigarette with rolling papers. Some people add tobacco to hash before smoking it. While hash is not a marijuana concentrate per se, it is a drug with a high concentration of THC, which may appeal to those who smoke or consume marijuana buds or concentrates.
Some marijuana concentrates can be crumpled up and smoked in any device used to smoke buds. However, among those who use cannabis concentrates, this method is likely the least preferred because it reportedly does not deliver the full psychoactive experience, and much of the product is burned up in the smoking process. Individuals who use this method may be new to the process, as more experienced concentrate users reportedly purchase vaporizers (portable or desktop) or other equipment to optimize the experience of smoking concentrate. A newer generator vaporizer is the vape pen that provides individuals who use concentrates with an alternative to having to plug into an outlet because usually a USB power source can be used. According to feedback from users, a hash pipe provides a middle ground between pipes for smoking marijuana buds and more expensive equipment like a vaporizer.
An inhalation method known as dabbing is among the newest ways individuals use marijuana concentrates.
This process involves specific equipment, including a “nail” that is made of a durable material such as titanium and an “oil rig,” which is a special pipe designed for inhalation of concentrates. The individual who is dabbing uses a butane torch to heat the nail and then inhales the resulting vapors through the oil rig/pipe. The cost of dabber apparatus can range from a low of $50 to a high of $50,000 for a customized piece. The cost associated with smoking marijuana concentrates denotes an extensive commitment on the part of some people to using the drug.
Oral Use of Marijuana Concentrates
A main assumption around oral marijuana use is that it is ingested through the stomach; however, this assumption is only partially correct. Tinctures are marijuana concentrates that can be applied directly to the mouth and therefore enter the bloodstream faster than edibles or drinks. Typically, a person who uses tinctures will place 3-4 drops under the tongue. This formulation is most often found in glass bottles with an attached dropper.
However, the edible experience is reported to be attractive for individuals who enjoy the prolonged “body high” that is associated with this drug. Most often, the marijuana concentrate is mixed into a fat or oil, which is then used to make an enjoyable food item, such as a brownie or cookie.
Edible oils are typically consumed in the oil form without alteration. The oils can be eaten directly or packed into empty gel caps and taken like a regular pill. One of the most popular edible oils on the market is “Rick Simpson Oil” (RSO), which is named after the man who made his own marijuana treatment for medicinal purposes. After suffering brain trauma, Simpson used his legal prescription for medical marijuana to make an oil. Simpson used alcohol to extract medicinal compounds from cannabis, and when the resulting solvent was evaporated, a tar-like oily compound – now known as RSO – was left behind. Some people who use marijuana concentrates prefer oils because they can dispense with the need to buy costly equipment.
Topical Use of Concentrates
Individuals who use topical concentrates, which can be made to have a thick, petroleum-like consistency or dense creamy texture, typically do not aim to experience the psychoactive effects of marijuana. Rather, topical marijuana concentrate is essentially a healing balm (can also be a salve, lotion, or patch). This formulation does not confer a high; topical marijuana concentrates can alleviate pain and inflammation in the local areas to which they are applied. Some individuals may be concerned about using this topical pain reliever because they do not want to test positive on a drug test. The use of topical concentrates is not typically detected in drug tests. As a rule, the THC level in these products is significantly lower than marijuana concentrates that are smoked, applied to the mouth, or eaten.
As the THC concentration of marijuana (some strains are considered “super pot” for their high THC content) and marijuana concentrates is higher than ever before in history, there is now even greater risk associated with using cannabis. As research notes, higher THC concentrations can cause people who use marijuana to become tolerant more quickly (i.e., develop a physical dependence on cannabis) and increase the likelihood of addiction to this drug.
Additionally, the more THC enters the body the more likely a person will experience negative side effects.
Due to marijuana becoming more potent, clinicians and researchers are finding higher rates of marijuana use disorder among those who use marijuana in cases where these individuals have not changed the quantity or frequency of their consumption. In other words, potent marijuana and marijuana concentrates threaten to cause individuals to transition (largely unwittingly) from recreational use to use associated with dependence or addiction.
Among adolescents new to the use of marijuana, researchers caution that higher potency can result in users engaging in high-risk behaviors, such as driving under the influence. A main concern here is that a new generation of young users/adolescents is not sufficiently aware of the risks highly potent marijuana presents. Youth of today, in short, are initiating into more concentrated forms of marijuana and likely without proper education on the dangers. The benign perception and permissive attitudes around marijuana in some states are born out of experience with older generation, less-potent strains of marijuana. Further, the new forms of marijuana concentrates did not even exist when public opinion was developing around marijuana. Adolescents and adults today who are initiating into marijuana or stepping up their consumption of THC (via buds or concentrates) are best advised to be aware of the increased risks they face.