Boom in Pot 'Concentrates' Could Pose Addiction Risk for Teens

Boom in Pot 'Concentrates' Could Pose Addiction Risk for Teens

Wax. Honey oil. Budder. Shatter. Dabs. Black glass.

These are some of the names given to extremely potent marijuana concentrates, and don't be surprised if you overhear your teens mentioning them.

A startling number of teenagers are using these marijuana concentrates, a new study reports.

About one in four Arizona teens have tried a marijuana concentrate at least once, survey data shows.

More alarming, more than seven out of 10 kids who use marijuana say they also use marijuana concentrates, said lead researcher Madeline Meier, an assistant professor of psychology at Arizona State University, in Tempe.

Marijuana concentrates contain between 40% and 70% higher levels of THC, the compound in pot that produces a high, researchers said in background notes.

"It is concerning because we think higher doses of THC might increase a person's risk for addiction" Meier said. "If these kids are already at high risk for addiction, that combined with their use of very high THC cannabis could increase that risk."

For this study, Meier and her colleagues questioned nearly 50,000 students in grades 8, 10 and 12, who participated in the 2018 Arizona Youth Survey, about their pot use.

Marijuana concentrates are becoming more widely used across the United States, particularly in states that have legalized recreational and medical pot, Meier said.

For example, sales data from Washington state shows that concentrates accounted for 21% of all pot purchases in 2016, a 146% increase from 2014, the study authors said.

"More and more people are purchasing cannabis concentrates year after year. It's making up a higher proportion of the market," Meier said.

However, previous surveys examining pot use among teens have not asked them about concentrate use, she noted. Because of that, Meier's team included specific questions about marijuana concentrates in the Arizona survey.

The researchers found that 33% of students said they'd tried some form of marijuana, and 24% had tried marijuana concentrate.

Of the one-third of kids who'd used marijuana, 72% had tried a pot concentrate, the findings showed.
"Most adolescents who've used cannabis have used a cannabis concentrate," Meier said.

Parents might not know their kids are using these concentrates because they look nothing like leaf marijuana, she explained.

The concentrate can look like a soft wax or butter, or like hardened and brittle pieces of glass.

Concentrate also isn't imbibed the same way as pot. The substance can be sprinkled across leaf marijuana in a bong or pipe bowl, but it also can be vaped in a modified e-cigarette device or "dabbed" -- heated with a blowtorch to produce inhalable smoke.

"This concentrate does not look or smell like the flower, and parents might not know that what their kid has is a drug," Meier said. "Try to be aware of the fact there are these new cannabis products that don't look like marijuana, and kids might not be smoking it."

Teens who reported using concentrates also had more risk factors for addiction, such as a low perceived risk of marijuana's potential harm, substance abuse by their peers or parents, poor grades in school, and greater availability of drugs in their community. In fact, the teenagers who'd used concentrates were worse off on every addiction risk factor.

The findings were published online Aug. 26 in the journal Pediatrics.

Experts are concerned exposure to such high-potency pot products could make these teens more likely to fall into addiction in the future.

"The expansion of recreational products, from edibles to concentrates, continues to far outpace rigorous assessment and regulations," said Dr. Harshal Kirane, medical director of Wellbridge Addiction Treatment and Research in Calverton, N.Y. "Importantly, the dramatic increase in teen vaping appears to be rapidly accelerating the uptake of cannabis concentrates."

Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y., said marijuana concentrates "have prompted public health concern due to increased rates of THC and subsequent risk of psychosis, medical comorbidities, cognitive [mental] deficits and dependence to the agent itself."

And, Krakower added, "The younger the age of exposure may exacerbate the risk and may expose youth to additional substance use disorders."

Kirane agreed. "High-potency cannabis is associated with concerning medical and psychiatric consequences, particularly in early brain development," he said.

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