Another Great Marijuana Lie: “Dabs” Are Bad And Most Cannabis Consumers Prefer Less THC, Study Finds
Most markets are not rational. That is, the “price” of a good is not related to its intrinsic “value.”
And that certainly seems to be the case with legal recreational marijuana. The cannabis industry seems convinced that consumers want products with higher and higher THC.
The thing is, as yet another study shows, they do not.
While some marijuana consumers are wooed by the high THC content in cannabis concentrates—the oils, waxes, and other potent extracts that go into vape-oil cartridges and into “dab” rigs—that’s not the case with most consumers, a recent study found.
In fact, most people—as in 77.5 percent of people surveyed—who use cannabis actually want products with less THC, somewhere between 9 and 20 percent THC, as an article published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports.
PORTLAND, ME – SEPTEMBER 6: A store employee holds some “dabs”, which are concentrated doses of . [+] cannabis, at Ganja Candy Factory in Portland on Thursday. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
They want lower THC because they prefer the effects of less THC. Cannabis flower and low-THC products tended to “produce greater positive effects than concentrates,” the researchers found.
“Findings showing that marijuana produces greater positive effects than concentrates are consistent with cannabis administration studies documenting that moderate THC doses are preferred to high doses,” the authors wrote.
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And while it was rare for cannabis of any kind to be associated with negative effects, when it was, it was mostly associated with concentrates.
On top of a less beneficial and desirable high, dabs were also more associated with nasty side-effects like weed hangovers, paranoia, memory problems, and blackouts.
While these negative effects are more pronounced among novice users than experienced users—a category into which most “dabbers” absolutely fall—there’s also a dearth of “positive” effects related to dabbing at all, according to 574 marijuana users surveyed by researchers from Arizona State University.
For most surveyed, dabs aren’t even more effective for pain relief.
All that sounds awful (and, reader, you best believe: it is). So why are dabs “popular” at all—and why do they still enjoy a small if vocal and loyal following willing to pony up $70 for a gram of pine-smelling goo?
Here is the good stuff.
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Lead researcher Madeline Meier is a professor of psychology at ASU. She and research assistant Sarah Okney surveyed 574 cannabis users recruited online via social media. The users were real stoners, reporting using cannabis about five to six times per week, and using concentrates at least once a month, though some respondents reported dabbing multiple times a day. (Another 275 study respondents dropped out for a very telling reason: they had never used concentrates.)
Demographics of study respondents painted a familiar picture: 55.4 percent male, 74.6 percent white, with an average age of about 32. They reported living in a wide range of states: about 39 percent in states with legal recreational cannabis, 37 percent in medical-only states, and the rest in prohibition country.
And flower cannabis was selected as the “producing the best high” by 61 percent of respondents and the “preferred type” by 77.5 percent. Concentrates were viewed by 70.2 percent of respondents as “most likely to get you paranoid,” and “most likely to cause you to black out” by 84.5 percent of respondents.
Ever have a weed hangover, the feeling that your brain’s wrapped in cotton, and moving through the day feels like trying to run a sprint in a swimming pool? Seventy-five percent of survey respondents felt that concentrates were mostly likely to do that.
“Findings contribute new knowledge by showing that marijuana produces greater positive effects (positive affect and enhanced cognition) than concentrates,” the authors wrote. “In addition, analyses of each person’s comparative appraisals of marijuana vs. concentrates showed that marijuana was selected over concentrates for producing the best high and being the preferred type of cannabis.”
Remarkably, this was the very first study to ask American cannabis users about the subjective effects of their cannabis use, but given how legalization continues to gain traction, it will surely not be the last. A few findings were surprising or inconsistent: While flower cannabis was rated preferable overall, it was also considered “slightly worse than concentrates” in creating “psychotic-like experiences” and “cognitive impairment.”
“One possibility,” the authors guessed, “is that the negative effects of both marijuana and concentrates in our sample are so uncommon and mild that differences between marijuana and concentrates only come apparent when participants are forced to pick which one is worse.”
So why is it that dispensary shelves contain more and more products promising to send you skyward—which in turn has prompted crackdowns from regulators, who are limiting THC in edibles, as well as alarmist warnings from anti-legalization advocates? Part of it is because there are some users who feel they need more THC, either to counterbalance a deficient endocannabinoid system, or because their endocannabinoid systems are overwhelmed with too much weed. In this way, it could be self-fulfilling: the cannabis industry pushes high-THC products, whose users need more THC, who then pursue high-THC products.
As it is, the study didn’t surprise many legalization advocates. “The conclusion that most marijuana consumers prefer low-to-moderate potency options over high potency options is hardly surprising,” as Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML, said in a release. “Just as the majority of those who consume alcohol prefer relatively low potency beer or wine over hard liquor, most adult-use cannabis consumers gravitate toward herbal cannabis preparations and away from the comparatively stronger alternatives.”
Like all studies, the study was not without its flaws, one of which was treating all concentrates as equal—when there are vast differences in product quality across legal and illegal markets.
“What are we talking about here: big globs of BHO wax or poop soup vape carts?” asked California-based cannabis consultant Sean Donahoe, referring to poor quality extracts containing residual chemicals left over the extraction process. “Any cannabis consumer, or anyone who has consumed anything ever, understands that assessing subjective experiences should look at product type, product quality, product documentation and packaging as well as marketing rather than just wide categories, akin to ‘wine’ vs. ‘spirits.’”
In other words: this study resolves nothing in terms of what’s “better” or “why.” But it does add to the growing pile of evidence that, for most of us, when it comes to THC, less is more.
Most marijuana consumers prefer lower THC products over high-potency cannabis concentrates, a recent survey found.
What You Need to Know About Dabbing
John C. Umhau, MD, MPH, CPE is board-certified in addiction medicine and preventative medicine. He is the medical director at Alcohol Recovery Medicine. For over 20 years Dr. Umhau was a senior clinical investigator at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
When people hear the term “dabbing,” they might initially think of the dance move that is believed to have originated in the Atlanta rap scene and was later popularized by football star, Cam Newton, who made “the dab” his signature touchdown celebration. But the word dabbing also has a darker side.
In marijuana culture, dabbing refers to the dangerous process of consuming high concentrations of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in marijuana. And yet despite the dangers associated with the practice, it is growing in popularity, especially among teens.
What Are Dabs?
Dabs—also referred to as wax, shatter, amber, honeycomb, or budder—are concentrated versions of butane hash oil (BHO) which contains highly-concentrated levels of THC. This concentrated substance is produced through a chemical process using butane oil to extract the oils from the cannabis.
Research suggests that dabs or BHO can have a THC concentration of 80% in comparison to traditional cannabis, which has a concentration of about 10-15% THC. In fact, at a minimum dabs are as much as four times as strong as a joint. Plus, people who dab experience an intense high all at once rather than it gradually building over time.
Dabs are made by pouring butane over marijuana. This process allows the THC to leave the marijuana plant and dissolve into the butane leaving a gummy, somewhat solid product that contains high amounts of THC.
How Dabbing Works
Although marijuana is usually consumed by smoking joints and sometimes through vape pens, dabs are heated to an extremely high temperature and then inhaled. A specifically-designed glass bong commonly called an “oil rig” is used.
The dab is placed on an attached “nail” and a blow torch is used to heat the wax, which produces a vapor that can be inhaled. This type of ingestion means the effects of dabbing are felt immediately.
Many times people will dab by placing hash oil in vaping devices. Teens especially, use this method because it allows them to use hash oil with a very low chance that they will be caught because there is no smoke or distinct smell. Consequently, they often dab in public places, including at school.
Although the process of dabbing is not new, it is growing in popularity in the United States. Scientists attribute this growth to the commercial production of medical marijuana and the legalization of it in numerous states. Both of these factors have led to an increase in instructional videos online as well as a greater social media presence. Consequently, it is becoming more and more popular.
Why Dabbing Is Dangerous
Although some people believe that dabbing is a safer method of ingesting cannabis because it is so highly concentrated and the user only has to take one hit to get high, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Simply put, there is no safe level of drug use. Any drug—regardless of its purpose—carries some risk. And, dabs are no exception.
Dabbing Is Not the Same as Smoking
In fact, one study found that dabbing can lead to higher tolerance and worse withdrawal symptoms. What’s more, it is dangerous for users to assume that dabbing carries the same risks as smoking marijuana. Instead, most researchers say that dabbing is to marijuana what crack is to cocaine. There is simply no comparison between dabbing and smoking joints.
Harmful Side Effects
Dabbing also includes a number of dangerous side effects like a rapid heartbeat, blackouts, crawling sensations on the skin, loss of consciousness, and psychotic symptoms such as paranoia and hallucinations.
Meanwhile, a study conducted by researchers at Portland State University, found that dabbing also may expose users to elevated levels of toxins including carcinogenic compounds. What the scientists found is that the higher the temperature the substance is exposed to, the more carcinogens, toxins, and potential irritants that are produced.
This fact, in turn, puts users at a greater risk than other methods of getting high because there is a challenge in controlling the nail temperature. As a result, people who dab are being exposed to harmful chemicals including methacrolein and benzene. Likewise, another study found that more than 80% of marijuana extracts are contaminated with poisonous solvents and pesticides.
Dangers of Production
Another danger with dabbing is the fact that making hash oil is one of the riskiest aspects of dabbing. Keep in mind that dabs are made by blasting butane (or lighter fluid) through the marijuana plant. It is highly flammable and unstable. So, adding heat to a substance like this is extremely dangerous.
What’s more, after the process has been completed, any remaining butane is now in the form of gas in the room. As a result, the smallest spark—even one produced by static electricity—can cause an explosion. The risks are similar to that of a meth lab.
Consequently, there have been increasing reports of houses, apartment buildings, and other structures exploding during the extraction process. When this happens, the people involved are either killed or become burn victims with broken bones who need skin grafts and reconstructive surgery.
A Word From Verywell
The bottom line is that dabbing is a potentially dangerous process that comes with real risks to a person’s health and overall well-being. It also is very appealing to teens and young adults.
For this reason, parents and educators need to talk to young people about the risks associated with dabbing while stressing that just one hit can not only put them at risk for lifelong addiction but also can kill them if they take in too much.
Dabbing releases dangerous levels of THC into the body producing an extreme high, but the process is very dangerous. Find out why.