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Dabs Addiction

What is Marijuana?

Marijuana is a mixture of the dried flowers of the Cannabis sativa plant.1  Marijuana in all of its forms is a controversial drug. Though several states have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes (and a few have legalized recreational use), it is still illegal on a federal level as a Schedule I controlled substance.2 This means that there is no federally approved medical use for the drug and a high potential for abuse.2

What Is Dabbing?

There are numerous concentrated cannabis preparations with high levels of THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the major psychoactive ingredient in cannabis). “Dabs” is one name given to such potent THC extractions, though they may go by additional designations, such as:3

  • BHO (butane hash oil).
  • Budder.
  • Shatter.
  • Wax.
  • 710.Shatter wax

Marijuana extracts can be extremely potent. While even high-grade marijuana may top out with THC concentrations in the 20% range, many concentrates have THC levels ranging from 40-80%. These increased levels of THC result in more powerful psychoactive effects.3

Compared with the smoking of marijuana plant materials (i.e., flowers, buds), dabbing is a relatively complex involving the inhalation of the vapors of a marijuana concentrate.4 Most often, dabbers use a device they term an “oil rig” to consume the substance.

This device consists of a glass water pipe and a hollow metal rod (referred to as a “nail”). The nail, which has a concave surface for the dab, is heated. Once hot, the dab is placed on the nail, and the vapors are inhaled through the pipe.4

Alternatively, people can take a dab of the concentrate and then use a vape/e-cigarette to heat it and produce vapors that produce an immediate high.3 This method of abuse is sometimes called “vaping”. Though this method ultimately has many of the same health risks, it may be relatively safer in terms of immediate fire/burn injuries. 4

Short- and Long-Term Effects of Marijuana Dabbing Use

The long-term health consequences of dabbing have not been fully investigated, as this method of abuse is relatively new. However, some suggest that because potent marijuana concentrates contain high levels of THC, the risk of adverse acute effects (e.g., anxiety, cognitive deficits) may be higher and drug-related accidents and injuries may be more common among dabbers than marijuana smokers.4,5

Some have also suggested that physiological dependence and withdrawal are more likely to develop in dabbers, though as of yet there is not enough research to back up this claim.4 Despite the relative lack of information specific to concentrated marijuana extractions, we do know many of the short and long-term effects of regular marijuana use.

Short-term, or acute, effects include:6

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Altered senses.
  • Distorted perception of time.
  • Mood changes.
  • Problems thinking and solving problems.
  • Memory impairment
  • Hallucinations and delusions (in high doses).
  • Psychosis (in high doses).

Given that concentrates have much higher levels of THC than many other cannabis products, it stands to reason that dabbers are likely to experience relatively intense drug effects. In fact, a 2018 study on infrequent cannabis users found that vaporized cannabis produced stronger effects and resulted in higher concentrations of TCH in the blood, compared to smoked cannabis.

The study also found that high doses of THC, such as those present in dabs and other cannabis extracts, not only resulted in more pronounced subjective drug effects, but in more significant cognitive and psychomotor impairments.5

Anecdotal reports from those who tried dabbing suggest that the high is not the same as the high from smoking and that for some, it can be too intense. One regular marijuana user who dabbed for the first time said it “made [her] hate being high.”7

Long-term effects of regular marijuana use may include: 6

  • Brain development issues. Young people who use marijuana may suffer problems in thinking, learning, and memory.
  • Respiratory problems, such as chronic cough, increased phlegm production, and an increased risk for lung infection.
  • Cannabis Hyperemesis Syndrome (intense nausea and vomiting that may require emergency medical attention).
  • Paranoia.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Worsening of schizophrenia-related symptoms (e.g., paranoia, hallucinations, disorganized thought).
  • Onset or worsening of depression, anxiety, or suicidal ideation (in teens).
  • Lower level of satisfaction with life.
  • Interpersonal relationship problems.
  • Development of a substance use disorder.*

*The National Institute on Drug Abuse suggests that continual exposure to high levels of THC may result in an increased risk of addiction.6

Safety Risks

Open flame

  • While there are many websites online that detail the process of creating dabs at home (“blasting”), the process is incredibly dangerous. Butane is both volatile and flammable, and the risk of fires and explosions is ever-present when individuals are attempting to create dabs on their own.
  • Severe burns have been reported in cases of at-home extraction. In fact, the dangers have been compared to those of methamphetamine labs.
  • Even beyond amateur “blasting,” dabbing is associated with personal safety risks. Using an “oil rig” requires the use of a blowtorch to heat the nail. This is concerning, not only because of the obvious risks of using a blowtorch while potentially intoxicated, but also because of the long-term health consequences of inhaling oxidized metal and increased benzene exposure, the latter of which has been associated with various hematologic abnormalities and fetal developmental issues).4,8

Treatment for Addiction to Dabs

  • Don’t let the false assumption that marijuana is safe in any form keep you from seeking the treatment you need. If you’re abusing this drug and are unable to stop, you may be risking your physical and mental health.
  • The long-term health risks of dabbing are still being researched, and the consequences of using THC this way could be far more serious than many people assume.
  • Treatment for a cannabis use disorder (marijuana addiction) is available on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Your doctor or an addiction specialist can help you decide the right course of treatment for you.
  • Treatment for marijuana addiction will revolve around therapy. This will help to uncover and resolve the issues that perpetuate the continued, compulsive use of dabs and other forms of marijuana.
  • Participation in social support groups, such as a 12-step group, a community health group, or a secular recovery support group such as SMART Recovery, is commonly a major component of treatment, as well. These groups serve as a continuing source of support for those in recovery.
  • Treatment can also include numerous interventions that can range from case management services to tutoring at school or vocational rehabilitation.

Resources:

About The Contributor
Scot Thomas, M.D.
Senior Medical Editor, American Addiction Centers
Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating... Read More