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Teens Who Use Cannabis Concentrates Are More Likely To Keep Using Cannabis, Study Finds

By Alexander Beadle

Published: Jan 31, 2020   
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Teens who experiment with dabbing cannabis concentrates are the most likely to continue using cannabis and to do so frequently, say researchers at the University of Southern California.

The results of their study, published in JAMA Network Open, could help to direct cannabis control efforts and shape future public education campaigns, they say.

Cannabis concentrate users six times more likely to continue use

To obtain their data, the researchers surveyed 2,685 students in 11th grade in the spring on 2016. All of the students were based in southern California and reported no history of heavy cannabis use.

The students were quizzed on their use of five categories of cannabis products:

  • Combustible cannabis
  • Blunts (cannabis rolled in tobacco leaf or cigar casings)
  • Cannabis or cannabis oil vape products
  • Cannabis or THC-infused food or drinks
  • Cannabis concentrates (dabbing using cannabis wax, shatter, butane hash oil, etc.)

Follow-up surveys were conducted after six and after twelve months.

“We really wanted to understand whether the type of cannabis that youth experiment with influences the likelihood that they will continue to use cannabis and use more heavily,” said Jessica Barrington-Trimis, an assistant professor of preventative medicine at USC, and the first author of the new study, in a press statement.

“When we started this research, we were especially interested in the role of cannabis concentrates, which generally contain very high levels of THC.”

The researchers found that while the total number of high schoolers using cannabis tinctures and isolates was low, these students were seen to be nearly six times more likely to continue using the concentrates. After accounting for students who used multiple cannabis products, the students that used concentrates reported using cannabis an average of 9 more days in the past 30 days, compared to students who consumed cannabis in other ways.

Is potency linked to continued or frequent use?

Teens who reported experimenting with combustible cannabis also had around a six times greater likelihood of continuing to use combustible cannabis, the researchers say. But, by comparison, the students using combustible cannabis used the products far less frequently – about three more days per month – compared to those not using these products.

This could be down to a difference in the deliverable THC levels between these difference consumption methods, the researchers hypothesize.

Dabbing cannabis concentrates is generally less discreet and a far more involved process than simply lighting up a cannabis cigarette or vaping some cannabis oil in an e-vape pen. It’s a form of cannabis vaporization, but instead of relying on the circuitry of a vape device, users heat a small amount of cannabis concentrate on a hot surface (normally a heated nail) and then inhaled through a dab rig.

In exchange for the special equipment needed, users often report feeling a ‘cleaner high.’ Cannabis concentrates also contain two-to-four-fold higher THC levels than traditional cannabis products, so a user will likely receive a higher overall THC dose.

“It’s early exposure to the dose of THC used in adolescence that may be likely to drive continued use and increases in the frequency of use,” Barrington-Trimis said. “If someone picks up a vaporizer with a low level of THC, they may not be likely to keep using it. But with concentrates, the high level of THC may increase the likelihood that they continue to use and use more frequently."

Teens, cannabis use, and support services

The driving factors behind this continued, frequent cannabis use are important to study for many reasons. As the researchers themselves point out, a better understanding of cannabis use patterns can help in the directing of cannabis control efforts and messaging used in future public education campaigns.

But it’s also important from a safety perspective. Previous research has found that teenagers are more likely to use cannabis problematically in states where recreational cannabis use is legal. With additional understanding of what consumption methods are more likely to drive continued use, or increasing frequency of use, it might be possible to draw together a more complete picture of teenage cannabis use patterns and any associated risks.

Ian Hamilton, a senior lecturer in addiction at the University of York, spoke to Analytical Cannabis last year about the need to better study cannabis use and associated misuse.

“Even a small percentage increase in regular cannabis users can increase the risk of developing problems like cannabis dependence, which services would be unlikely to have the capacity to support,” he said.

“For the small proportion of users who develop problems, support services need to be adequately funded and available – something other states and countries should factor in when thinking of changing their cannabis policies.”

Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds a Master's in Materials Chemistry from the University of St. Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie scholarship, and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.


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