What is shatter or dabbing? Experts warn of dangerous new marijuana trend

A new trend called “dabbing” has doctors worried because its production has led to fires, burns and explosions while its usage could trigger sickness from too strong of a high.

American professors say that “dabbing” is on the rise and that it’s up to pediatricians to warn adolescents and teens about the trend’s consequences.

“We have been seeing an emergence of ‘dabs’ over the last three years. It is really exploding onto the drug-use scene,” the editorial’s co-author, John Stogner, told Live Science. He’s a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina where he studies emerging drug trends.

“At minimum, dabs are four times as strong as a joint and the high is administered all at once,” he explained, calling the result a “stronger, faster high.”

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Drug users create “dabs” by passing butane gas over dried cannabis trimmings in a glass or metal tube. That process forces the tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC – the chemical in the marijuana that makes people high – to dissolve. It’s typically pressed through a filter and turned into a solid. The result is a waxy, concentrated version of marijuana that’s used in bongs, water pipes or e-cigarettes.

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“Dabs” are often nicknamed “budder,” “honeybomb,” “shatter” or “earwax,” and even “pot on steroids.” They can range in colour and consistency. The end result has a THC concentration as high as 80 per cent, Stogner warned.

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“We know that it is more potent than smoking marijuana. You don’t know what concentrate you’re going to be getting. It’s going to be a much higher dose, and kids might not be used to that,” Heather Senior, from the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, told Health Day.

Users are also tampering with a volatile gas that can easily spark explosions. Fires and severe burns have already been tied to “dab” production.

The process of creating it at home has been dubbed “blasting,” Stogner said in the editorial. Online forums and instructional videos walking users through the process are plentiful.

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“Given the amount of butane that can build up during this process, these individuals should be worried about any spark from any source,” Stogner warned.

“There’s a big danger of fire even if they aren’t using some sort of heating device,” he said. Keep in the mind, the butane could build up in an enclosed space. The metal or glass tubes used to produce the dab have also caused severe burns when users handle the tools.

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Benzene might seep into the dab while the vapor may contain traces of gases released from the heated metal and rust, the paper points out.

While Stogner is calling on doctors to warn their young patients about the risky drug trend, one pediatrician says it isn’t necessarily feasible.

READ MORE: Is driving high the new drinking and driving for Ontario teens?

“I have a very few minutes with my adolescent patients during their yearly visits and I am going to hit on subjects that are actually injuring them: texting while driving, alcohol binging, unprotected sex, and diverted prescription opiate pain medications,” Dr. Gary Emmett, of Philadelphia’s Jeffersons University Hospital, said in an opinion piece.

“Although I disagree with the article’s approach, ‘dabbing’ is a real problem and the next big thing in drug abuse. It’s something parents should discuss with their children,” he said.

Stogner’s full findings were published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

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