Concentrated marijuana rolls in as new drug threat

WASHINGTON — Drug abuse experts in the Mid-Atlantic are keeping a close eye on a new trend out West where a concentrated form of marijuana is raising concerns.

“They are smoking this plant concentrate — this kind of waxy or oily resin that has been taken out of the plant,” says Matthew Johnson, an addiction specialist with Johns Hopkins.

On the street, this concentrated pot is known as “dabs” — as in a little dab is all one needs to get high. The product is also sold as “hash oil” or “butane hash oil.”

Some call it “pot on steroids” or liken it to crack cocaine. Johnson says it is too soon to know exactly how dangerous dabs could be to certain users, but he notes some things are already very clear.

First, this concentrated marijuana is manufactured through a process that uses highly volatile chemicals that can result in explosions much like the ones that have occurred at the site of methamphetamine labs.

Buyers purchasing dabs have no way of knowing if any other chemicals have been added after production. And some states that permit medical and recreational marijuana use, are now looking at restricting concentrates.

Johnson says the most likely person to use dabs is a young male, in part because they tend to be bigger risk-takers.

And while the use of these drugs is largely — though not totally — restricted to western states, he says parents here need to be aware. It is now a novelty in the D.C. region, he warns, but that could change.

There is particular concern that these drugs could end up in the hands of school-age kids. That’s because dabs can be smoked in an e-cigarette device, using these concentrates instead of nicotine-laced fluids.

When smoked this way, there is no telltale odor. Johnson says that means “the potential for kids at school to get high in the men’s room with no one knowing about it — that is probably higher.”

Earlier this year, recreational use of marijuana became legal in the District. The law changes allow an individual to possess 2 ounces or less of marijuana or to grow up to six plants. The law focuses on personal use and confines the use of marijuana to private property. Marijuana sales are not allowed accept for medicinal use.

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