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Pot Matters: Dab Tweets

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A September, 2016 article in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence reports a “content analysis of tweets about high-potency marijuana.” The research and article are by Patricia A. Cavazos-Rehg, Shaina J; Sowles and four other colleagues, and their aim was to add to the “limited understanding of marijuana concentrates” by “examining the dabbing-related content on Twitter.”

The researchers collected 206,854 tweets about dabbing in the month of January 2015 from which they randomly selected 5,000 for study. These were coded according to various categories for review, and a further analysis was conducted on tweets regarding respiratory effects and passing out.

Among those tweets coded as addressing extreme effects, the most frequent effects reported were passing out and experiencing respiratory issues, the most common of which was coughing. In fact, “tweeters commonly expressed dabbing with the intention to pass out.”

Before getting to more information on the results of this study, a little context will be helpful. The emergence and use of marijuana concentrates is a relatively new phenomenon. While marijuana has been studied extensively for decades, research on concentrates is fairly new. In other words, scholars and researchers see this as a new area for research, one that is both good for their careers (it’s what they do) and good in that it adds to public knowledge and can contribute to discussions about public health and public policy.

In this study, the authors note that the potency of plant-based forms of marijuana now average about 12 percent, while the potency of concentrates can reach up to 80 percent. Limited research on the use of concentrates suggests users have “perceived higher tolerance and withdrawal symptoms . . . [and] acute side effects, such as rapid heartbeat, blackouts, paranoia and hallucinations.” Researchers want to confirm these effects and learn more about this type of marijuana use.

Twitter provides an interesting public record of comments about various topics, and the study of large numbers of tweets has become popular and recognized as having reasonable reliability and validity within scientific study. In this study, part of the preparation for the data collection was a review of HIGH TIMES to learn more about the practice and to discover key words related to the subject.

The original batch of 206,854 tweets were selected because they contained key words associated with dabbing. Of the 5,000 randomly selected for the study, 71 percent were actually about dabbing concentrates (3,540).

The most common theme (in 24 percent of these tweets) was a report about the Twitter user’s dabbing (as in describing recent use or plans to use them soon). The next most popular theme involved reports or discussion of the intense high or the extreme effects of dabbing (in 22 percent of the sample), and 15 percent were about frequent dabbing. About eight percent of the tweets “mentioned specific benefits of dabbing including that doing so improved sleep, enhanced relaxation, and/or relieved stress/anxiety.” Another seven percent of the tweets were about first experiences with dabbing.

Other topics included using concentrates along with other forms of cannabis or other substances (such as alcohol or other drugs), use of dabbing along with other forms of marijuana concentrates (such as edibles) and a small share of the tweets contained dabbing-related ads.

A close look at tweets about the extreme effects of dabbing involved 333 tweets. The most common effects reported were “passing out or loss of consciousness” and “coughing, experiencing loss of breath, and/or feeling pain in one’s lungs.” There were also a few reports of “a loss of body control or an inability to move  . . . and feeling nauseous/vomiting.” There were also a few reports about perspiring and crying (about two percent each of this sub-sample of 333 tweets).

Cognitive effects were addressed in 17 percent of the 333 tweets about extreme effects and included “confusion or experiencing a form or altered reality . . . [and] memory loss or forgetfulness.” However, the study’s authors make it clear that “specific physiological and cognitive effects comprised a small proportion of the sample.”

Coughing was a frequent topic in dabs about the respiratory effects. Consider this excerpt from the study:

“Approximately 21% (244/1179) referenced dabbing being hard on the lungs (e.g., ‘dabbin so hard my lungs hurt’) and 7% (84/1179) referenced difficulty breathing after dabbing (e.g., ‘You know it’s a good dab if you have trouble breathing afterwards’). Only 2% (27/1179) explicitly expressed disliking the respiratory effects following dabbing (e.g., ‘Dabs ain’t right, I almost coughed up a damn lung my first time’).”

The study also looked very closely at tweets about passing out. What they found is that 45 percent of the tweets in this category “expressed that the tweeter used concentrates with intentions/plans to pass out or lose consciousness (e.g. “I’m trying to dab to the point where I pass out tonight,” “Gonna dab myself into a coma”). Of the 915 tweets reviewed on this subject, only two percent indicated that “the tweeter did not like the effect of passing out after dabbing.”

The demographic analysis of the full sample of 3,159 unique Twitter users indicated the group was 59 percent male, about half (45 percent) were aged 17 to 19 and about half (48 percent) were 20-24 years old. In this group, 44 percent were African-American and 19 percent were Hispanic.

These findings will not surprise experienced marijuana users, especially those familiar with dabbing. But for researchers, this study provides some detail and proof that dabbing is a bit different from the use of plant-based marijuana, and, in the words of the study authors, how dabbing is “more intense.”

The authors report that they “gained insight into potential reactions to, experiences with, and motive for dabbing as depicted in individuals’ tweets.” They believe this information will be helpful for “guiding future research questions and informing prevention efforts.”

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