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Dabs and the Developing Brain

DABS and the Developing Brain

This article should really be entitled “cannabis concentrates”, but “dabs” seem to be the preferred nomenclature these days.

Just so we’re all on the same page… “dabs” are a concentrated form of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana/cannabis. The cannabis flower goes through an extraction process using butane or carbon dioxide (the 2 most common methods) and produces a concentrate typically in the form of wax, shatter (thin amberish glass), budder, or oil. These concentrates are socially referred to “dabs”, which is basically defined by their extremely high THC content which can range from 60-95%. For reference, weed from the old days (pre 90s) was typically around 5-7% THC. Then came the “kind bud” which has evolved into what cannabis flower is today, typically 12-30% THC with most averaging in the low 20% range.

Dabs have gained a lot of popularity in recent years for several reasons. First and foremost, our culture lives in excess. If a stronger version of something is available, then of course we want it! It’s also desirable because many feel that it’s purified from the other carcinogens that come with a burnt organic compound, therefore making it ”healthier”. I’m not a fan of this argument! Other reasons however do make more sense, such as a significantly decreased odor when raw and smoked, less actual exhaled smoke (more concealed), concentrated qualities mean much less to store and transport, quicker more intense high, and parents typically don’t know what it looks like.

The unfortunate consequence of dabs is this… normal, healthy teenagers are smoking this, just as many have smoked weed for decades with the assumption that it is harmless with no lasting negative effects. People smoked the low THC weed for a long time, and most turned out just fine (some didn’t). So why would this be any different? The answer is… we don’t know the long-term effects because it hasn’t been around long enough to research. What we do know however are the short-term effects that many of us are beginning to see.

For the first couple of years following our state’s legalization, I began seeing an increase in anxiety. Not just the anxiety from getting “too high”. But elevated anxiety and panic disorders when sober. I began seeing intense withdrawal symptoms that at times looked more like alcohol withdrawal; anxiety, agitation, nausea, flush appearance, sweating, tremors. And worst of all, I began getting calls from parents with reports that their kids were talking to themselves, had increase fear of social judgement, rejection, and being followed or watched by the authorities or some other entity. Then came social isolation and extreme agitation. Clinically speaking, these symptoms are defined as paranoia, delusions of persecution or grandeur, and sometimes hallucinations. Combined with several other criteria, these symptoms qualify as psychosis. Just to clarify, psychosis is not the same as schizophrenia! Schizophrenia has many other criteria and needs to be carefully evaluated by a qualified and licensed professional. Substance Induced Psychosis is defined by several of these previously mentioned symptoms, lasting for distinct period of time (then tapering), directly following the use of a psychoactive substance (such as cannabis/dabs, alcohol, etc.).

We’ve been aware of the correlation between cannabis use and psychosis for many years now, however due to the “normalcy” that cannabis has had in our culture, along with the significant number of users, most people believe this to be a myth. There are numerous studies and journals that provide evidence to this, which we are not going to get any further in to right now.

What To Do!!

If you are experiencing these symptoms, or you as a parent are observing these symptoms, they can typically be eliminated if it is caught soon enough. Remember, your goal is to help them be happy and healthy, not prove to them that you know it’s the drug use causing their issues!

  1. As the parent, express concern to your teen/family member over the symptoms you are observing (if you immediately place blame on the cannabis/dabs, they will get defensive).
  2. Remind and reassure them that they can reach their goals, but they might have to utilize some professional resources to get over this hurtle.
  3. Start with a primary care doctor that they’re familiar with, possibly addressing another issue. You can always leave the doctor a message before your child’s appointment informing them of your concern. Keep the message short with 2 or 3 concerning observations, not your opinion.
  4. Find a therapist, potentially under the context of another issue or symptom. If you say “I’m taking you to a therapist because you’re using drugs”, you will likely get defensiveness and pushback. Some alternatives are:

“Talk to a professional to make sure you are on track to meet your goals”

“School can be stressful these days for your generation and I (we) just want to make sure you have the tools you need”

“If you want me off your back, then show me that you’re using resources of your own to deal with stress and meet your goals”

There are a lot of resources available these days. Many therapists offer free 15 min phone consultations to answer general questions and ensure the right fit for treatment. Take advantage of this and start sooner than later.