Cannabis Concentrates: Why Potency Doesn’t Equate to Preference or Pleasure

Photo by Lochfoot

This piece is brought to you by the founder of the Global Drug Survey, consultant psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, Dr. Adam R. Winstock. 

Global Drug Survey (GDS) is so happy to have partnered with HIGH TIMES for GDS2017. That the oldest, wisest and hippest of all cannabis publications has seen fit to partner with the world’s biggest drug survey is just fab. But I also worry that I better be careful what I say, since I don’t what to upset people by saying anything that might go against a tide that is turning in many places for the better.

So, I’ll start off positive. Americans use cannabis more smartly than anyone else in the world. In most countries, 80 percent of people who smoke cannabis mix it with tobacco. In the U.S., its 7 percent.

America is leading the way in research into medical marijuana and and recent elections on cannabis drug law reform have shown Americans are some of the most enlightened people in the world (yes, I know there was another election as well…). America has also been the first country to embrace cannabis concentrates, and the rest of the world is watching with interest.

And this what I want to think about. 

Before I go on, I better explain that as a psychiatrist and addiction medicine specialist, I have seen the less fun side of cannabis. Cannabis is not without risk; dependence is a reality and withdrawal can be difficult to manage. For the young and those with mental illness, cannabis can be seriously problematic, and it’s not the panacea for every ill.

I can say all that and in the same breath say getting stoned can be fun, it can enrich people’s lives, it’s not the road to ruin, it does not lead people to become heroin users, it has huge medicinal potential and drug laws that destroy a person’s life for being caught smoking a joint are a joke. No conflict, no mutual exclusion, just the reality of cannabis use in a large population of users.

But as a general rule the more potent the preparation of a drug, the more potential for problems.

From the isolation and purification of cocaine and morphine from their plant-based origins to the distillation of alcohol from fermented fruits—almost without exception, the development of a more potent form of a drug is associated with greater risks of addiction, overdose and other harms. Although the driver for the development of more potent preparations was often medicinal and therapeutic, the benefits of dose titration and higher potency are not wasted (forgive the pun) on those wanting to get high. And BHO is way more potent than “good bud” (which can reach up to 25 percent THC with a bit of luck/hard work) with THC concentrations of up to 76 percent.

The development of a more potent from of a drug is often partnered with a more efficient/rapid route of delivery. For cocaine hydrochloride and morphine, it was the hypodermic needle, leading to a more rapid onset of action with shorter, more intense highs.

Until BHO came along, making cannabis oil was a pain, using it was messy and as a product, it never really caught the imagination. Then “shatter,” “budder” and “wax” came along, conveniently supported by a flourishing and uber cool vaping industry. A perfect storm of potent product and excellent delivery device. It got us thinking—what’s going to happen next? 

So over the last two years GDS has conducted the largest study of BHO use in the world, with over 6000 people sharing their experiences of production, use and effects with us. The data has been recently submitted to an academic journal, but I can share a few highlights here that tell an interesting story and explain why GDS2017 is continuing to explore the whole issue of vaping drugs.

First, BHO is a great thing because it supports non-tobacco routes of administration, either through dabbing or vape pens. It’s use seems to be more common among those reporting cannabis use for medical reasons as well.

With concerns over home production leading to explosions, it is of note that 25 percent of previous survey respondents reported making their own oil. Of course, there are other methods that can be used to extract THC and produce concentrates without using butane that have much less risk of accidental explosion, and these should probably be promoted over other methods.

Most BHO is just highly concentrated THC, but it does not need to be. 

Two years ago, we asked about 2500 people to compare the effects from high-potency herbal cannabis (flower) and their most common BHO preparation. The ratings suggested that they were very similar in effect profile, suggesting most current BHO products are predominantly THC.

Based on our previous work, manufactures should be offering more balanced preparations with CBD offsetting the negative aspects of a pure THC high (memory impairment, anxiety and paranoia). Our data from GDS2015 suggested that overall, BHO got people more stoned, more quickly and for longer than high-potency flower.

The worry is that people also build up tolerance more quickly and are thus possibly more at risk of acute unwanted experiences and even dependence. Potency is not the same as preference.

In fact, when we looked more closely at the effects profile, BHO users also reported stronger negative effects and less positive effects when using BHO compared to high-potency bud. Potency is not the same as pleasure. 

So what should we do?

It’s still the early days. The world of weed is changing rapidly. Commercialization, medicalization and big profits are all going to play their role. GDS is going to keep an open mind. We’ll keep gathering data and learning from the real experts—people who use cannabis. And then we will share our findings so people can make informed decisions concerning their own health and well-being.

So, if you dab, roll, build, bubble, toke, smoke, swallow or otherwise partake, please help us understand how people around the world are using different types of cannabis, how they want to see it regulated and what conditions can most usefully be helped by cannabis.

We will give the findings straight back to your via HIGH TIMES in May/June of next year. If that sounds reasonable to you, and you’d like to be part of the world’s biggest survey of drug use ever conducted, please take some time to share your experiences anonymously and join over 90,0000 other HERE.

PS: you need to get through the core survey (takes about 20 minutes) to get the cannabis sections—please stick with it!

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