Using marijuana has always been a risky behavior and a doorway to addiction, but partial or complete legalization in more states is leading to more relaxed attitudes about the drug. The current climate has also allowed for creativity to flourish in the world of weed — and that can mean extremely dangerous developments for anyone who plays with marijuana abuse without knowing the facts.
While the notorious “pot brownie” has held the comedic spotlight in film and television across the years, manufacturers have taken growing opportunities to infuse practically every product with marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This means in Colorado, Washington and any states that legalize marijuana in the future, anyone over 21 can walk into a pot shop and walk out with a product that’s incredibly dangerous in its concentration.
In the past few months, one particular derivative of marijuana has caught the eye of law enforcement around the country, and its street name is “shatter.” While proponents of legalization insist that marijuana is perfectly safe, concentrates of the plant matter are a different animal entirely. Shatter is as insidious as it sounds, and is responsible for the only marijuana-related overdose death on record.
What Is The Drug Shatter?
Shatter is the most dangerous marijuana concentrate on the market for a few different reasons:
- It’s up to four times more concentrated in THC than regular marijuana
- It has a high street value, similar to cocaine
- It’s incredibly dangerous to make, let alone consume
How Is It Made?
The process of extracting THC from the marijuana plant certainly isn’t new. Hash, compressed blocks of THC crystals, has been around for hundreds of years, after all. However, where hash weighs in at anywhere from 15 to 28 percent THC, shatter’s potency skyrockets to 80 or even 90 percent. How can makers of the drug possibly extract that much THC safely?
The answer is, they don’t. Though some people use techniques that involve water, oil or even the questionable carbon dioxide, shatter is primarily made through an extraction process that makes heavy use of butane. The general outline of the process looks like this:
- A tube is filled with marijuana plant matter.
- Butane gas is pumped through the tube, crystalizing the plant resins.
- As butane makes its way out of the tube, the resin and crystals are collected.
- The butane evaporates, leaving shatter behind.
The product left is known as butane hash oil, or BHO shatter. Imagine a pan of toffee, and you have a starting approximation of what shatter looks like a thin, hard sheet of amber-colored substance. However, shatter is characterized by its transparency and the small air bubbles that usually dot the surface. The sheet is then broken up into sellable-sized pieces and packaged for consumption.
The same process can be tweaked in multiple ways to produce a drug that’s somewhat less concentrated and more malleable but still just as dangerous. In shatter drug slang, these products are known as “wax,” “crumble” or “budder,” depending on their consistency.
Dangers in Shatter Production
With the rise in popularity of marijuana concentrates since 2013, many people decide to take production into their own hands. A quick Google search will turn up hundreds of “guides” to making shatter and its concentrate compatriots at home, but few mention exactly how dangerous that is.
Obviously, butane is a flammable gas, and most people don’t have properly ventilated industrial-style workshops in which to house their drug-related endeavors. In legalized states, this has led to a huge problem:
- In 2014, Colorado experienced 32 home explosions resulting directly from shatter production.
- The murky legal ground of home concentrate creation is creating a dangerous landscape, and not just for the people who use the drug.
- When shatter is procured from anywhere but a tested source, there’s also a huge risk that there may be excess butane left in the product, which can lead to brain damage and other undesirable side-effects.
How Is Shatter Used?
If you weren’t already concerned about the origin of this drug, the method of consumption should do the trick. Referred to by some as the crack of marijuana, shatter requires a few specialized tools to consume — including a blowtorch.
The process of ingesting marijuana concentrates is widely known as “dabbing,” because only a small amount is necessary to achieve the desired effect. Dabbing involves a few steps:
- Heating a metal water pipe attachment with a blowtorch.
- Taking a “dab” of concentrate on the end of a glass or metal rod.
- Holding the dab to the super-heated metal.
- Inhaling the resulting vapor.
One look at the equipment required to do dabs is enough to convince most people that it’s no ordinary derivative of marijuana — and it should be taken much more seriously. This bong and blowtorch setup is sometimes referred to as an “oil rig.”
For teens trying to sneak the stuff into homes and schools, it can be smuggled in lip balm cases and used with e-cigarettes that are easily available at any corner store. This is called “vaping,” and users may make reference to “pens,” because of the shape of the e-cigarettes used.
How Does Shatter Work?
Nearly all mood-altering drugs affect the brain by mimicking certain neurotransmitters. You’re likely to have heard of some particularly important neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, serotonin or dopamine. These are messengers that cause a neuron to turn on or off once they bind to it, somewhat like a key in a lock.
THC, the active ingredient in shatter and its concentrate cousins, mimics anandamide. This molecule pairs with dopamine to produce feelings of bliss, so when THC gets in the way of natural anandamide by binding with our brains’ cannabinoid receptors, we experience feelings of euphoria. These are accompanied by:
- Inability to retain information
- Increases in appetite
- Physical disorientation
Does It Have Medicinal Value?
Supporters of legalization often tout marijuana as a type of medicine. Current evidence shows in some cases, marijuana can have positive effects, such as in the case of Charlotte Figi, a young girl whose epilepsy has been successfully managed with the introduction of a marijuana oil into her life.
However, what most proponents tend to gloss over is the fact that it’s cannabidiol (CBD) that produces the desired medicinal effects, not the psychoactive THC. CBD in itself doesn’t provide a high, and isn’t addictive. It does, however, show promise as a possible source of relief for symptoms of conditions including but not limited to:
- Neurological and psychiatric disorders
- Immune system and metabolic conditions
Scientists believe CBD may have widespread medical applications but are often barred from researching it due to legal restrictions.
Shatter and other concentrates, on the other hand, are chock full of THC and contain negligible amounts of CBD. This makes them dubious as a medicinal tool, and a perfect prospect for abuse and addiction.
Shatter Drug Side Effects
Though this drug is essentially marijuana on steroids, its sky-high levels of THC come with a host of other issues that you don’t often see with traditional marijuana. You’re not likely to die from an overdose of THC, but the psychoactive drug can produce extreme effects such as:
If those symptoms sound familiar, it’s because they’re hallmarks of other hard drugs such as crack and meth. Combined with the danger of making the drug, the overall allure can seem invisible. What is it that’s making shatter and other concentrates such a popular mode of marijuana ingestion?
Shatter’s Alarming Appeal
Shatter is a dealer’s dream come true, and a nightmare for parents or anyone who gets into it without knowing the facts. For those who abuse or distribute the substance, it offers these perks:
- High concentration makes it easy to transport
- It has very little odor even when used
- Its potency creates a perception of good value
For long-time marijuana smokers, graduating to shatter breaks their tolerance ceiling and delivers an intense high they can no longer get from smoking marijuana flower. Clearly, this can be a much more dangerous gateway than simply smoking pot itself, but people may still consider concentrates to be as safe as their plant-matter counterparts, only raising the danger of dependency and addiction.
The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University reports that teen drug use is America’s number one health problem:
- Among teens who use any addictive substance before age 18, 1 in 4 go on to become addicted — as opposed to the 1 in 25 Americans who began substance abuse after age 21.
With numbers such as these, it’s vital to gauge how teens perceive and interact with drugs in order to make sure that substance abuse doesn’t become an issue for them. Unfortunately, the changing climate surrounding marijuana also extends to its byproducts — shatter included — and teens can be very confused about what’s what when it comes to these drugs.
CASA’s study reveals some overall statistics that shed light on just how big a problem teen drug abuse is in this country:
- Seventy-five percent of high school students have used an addictive substance such as tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or cocaine at least once in their lives.
- Forty-six percent of students currently use addictive substances.
- Of that group, 1 in 3 teens currently meet the medical criteria for addiction.
Though alcohol and tobacco top the charts in teens’ addictive substance of choice, a full 36.8 percent of high school students have tried marijuana. It’s not hard to imagine a teen who moves from smoking marijuana to discovering shatter ending up turning to crack because the equipment setup is so familiar. So how can you tell if someone is abusing this potent drug?
Identifying Shatter Abuse
It’s incredibly tough to find out if someone you love is abusing or addicted to shatter, since it’s odorless and a massive amount can be hidden in very compact spaces. If oil or wax is the preferred method of consumption, there may not even be any equipment larger than the vape pen. The ability to ingest these products in public or semi-private without leaving many signs is one of the most troubling aspects of marijuana concentrates. Look for these signs to see if someone is experiencing a dab or shatter high:
- Dilated pupils and red eyes
- Rapid eye movement
- Inability to focus
- Jittery movements or twitching
- Rapid breathing and pulse
Though shatter can produce the telltale “munchies” in small doses, the almost manic high usually leaves appetite stimulation by the wayside. People under the influence of this drug can range from high-intensity energy to nearly catatonic states, depending on their tolerance and the stage of the high they are in. Even experienced smokers have been known to pass out from the intensity of the drug.
Behaviors to Look For
Even if you can’t find physical evidence of shatter use in your child or loved one, it’s a good bet you’ll realize something is wrong through alteration of behavior. Substance abuse and addiction work by robbing the brain of its ability to properly prioritize motivation and pleasure, meaning that the urgency to seek pleasure from drugs overwhelms the natural motivation to perform basic tasks such as eating, sleeping and going to work. This will manifest in symptoms such as these:
- Loss of interest in previous hobbies
- Social disengagement and isolation
- Changes in appetite
- Avoiding talk of addiction
- Increasing preoccupation with the drug
- Disregard for work or family obligations
Combined with the sometimes psychotic symptoms that can arise with continued use of this addictive drug, these effects can leave you feeling like you don’t know the person at all — and that can be scary. However, it’s important to remember that addiction profoundly changes the brain, and helping your loved one seek treatment is the only way to successfully manage it.
Shatter Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders
One central concern about marijuana is its relationship to mental disorders. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), long-term marijuana use leads to increased risk of:
- Amotivational syndrome
- Anxiety and depression
One 15-year Swedish study of over 50,000 individuals concluded that those who use marijuana before the age of 18 are 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and that the chance of diagnosis increases with the frequency of use.
A later follow-up to that study after 27 years found that, when assuming a causal relationship, about 13% of schizophrenia cases might have been avoided altogether had marijuana never been used.
Correlation or Cause?
Of course, schizophrenia only affects about 1 percent of the population, and researchers still aren’t sure whether we can assume a causal relationship. It may be that those who will develop schizophrenia are simply more prone to using marijuana.
There aren’t any long-term studies of the effects of shatter, but it’s reasonable to infer that stratospherically higher levels of THC and the corresponding effects put users of the drug at an exponentially greater risk. Addiction is intrinsically tied to mental health, so there is a possibility of developing a co-occurring disorder when using a highly psychoactive drug such as shatter. In the opposite case, someone with an existing mood disorder may choose to self-medicate with marijuana, only to discover that shatter is much more effective.
Either way, the development of co-occurring disorders is a very real probability when a drug as powerful as shatter is in the mix. That’s why it’s so important to find a rehab program that specializes in dual diagnoses and understands the complexities involved in treating both substance abuse and psychological disorders at the same time.
Talking to Loved Ones About Addiction
When faced with the facts about the drug shatter, it’s obvious how much is at stake when someone is abusing it. With addiction to this marijuana concentrate comes loss of memory and motivation, and its psychological effects are still not fully understood. What is clear is that the most effective path to freedom from addiction is to seek out a professional rehab program.
As marijuana legalization takes hold in areas around the country, more individuals than ever before are enrolling in rehab treatment for marijuana abuse and addiction. According to NIDA, marijuana is the third most frequent reason for enrollment in state-funded treatment programs, making up 17 percent of all admissions. Despite public perception changing, marijuana and byproducts such as shatter remain dangerous and addictive drugs — and addiction to them shouldn’t be viewed as less serious than any other drug.
Finding the Right Form of Treatment
No matter what your situation, there’s a form of drug rehab that can help you tap into your potential for permanent sobriety. Recovering from marijuana and shatter dependency involves challenging deeply ingrained habits and building new, healthy coping mechanisms. Making these changes is nearly impossible without changing some aspect of the setting that allowed for the addiction process to begin in the first place.
Enrolling in a top-quality rehab program can give you every advantage you need over addiction in one of two ways:
- Long-term stay: These programs are ideal for anyone who wants the least distraction and the most care when starting out on the road to recovery. Usually starting at lengths of 30 days or more, long-term stay rehab allows participants to receive round-the-clock treatment without the stressors and temptations that populate everyday life.
- Outpatient: For those who can’t afford to set aside 30 or more days away from work or school, outpatient treatment services are an option. This usually involves attending night treatments, while evenings and/or weekends may still be spent at home. They offer a chance for participants to take the coping skills they are learning right back into everyday life and implement them as treatment progresses.
Making the Most of Treatment
Asking for help with substance abuse can be one of the toughest things a person has to do — but when it comes to addictive and potent drugs such as shatter, that choice can save a life. Willpower is only one element of a real and lasting recovery, but it’s not enough to sustain sobriety on its own.
Rehab allows you or your loved one the space and opportunities for self-exploration that are necessary in achieving and maintaining sobriety. Both long-term stay and outpatient services offer these tried and true techniques that can help you make addiction a thing of the past.
- Medically Supervised Detox: The first step to recovery is getting clean, which can be difficult and sometimes dangerous on without medical supervision. In rehab, medical professionals oversee every step of the detoxification process, ensuring proper nutrition and as much alleviation of discomfort as possible. This is the stage at which many people fail without the assistance of rehab.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): This cornerstone of effective treatment encourages patients to examine their actions closely and identify problem behaviors. It places emphasis on learning to recognize cravings early on and avoid risky situations before they become dangerous. The ultimate goal is to develop useable strategies to cope with cravings and maintain sobriety in the long term.
- Group Support: Whether it’s a 12-step group or any other affiliation, a vital aspect of any effective treatment program is support from people who understand what you’re going through. Sharing stories and strategies is an excellent way to build a support network of individuals who can be a source of strength when cravings hit.
Reach for Recovery With 12 Keys
If substance abuse and addiction are wreaking havoc in your life, it’s time to take matters into your own hands. Addiction is a condition that can be managed for a long, healthy and happy life if you take the steps to get the help you need. The professionals at 12 Keys Rehab understand addiction and all its complexities, and can help you put your best foot forward on the road to recovery. Call today.