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The Potential Dangers of Highly-Concentrated Marijuana Wax

As marijuana abuse gains popularity across the country, with more states legalizing not just medical but also recreational ingestion of the substance, concentrated forms of cannabis are also gaining popularity. Called marijuana wax, budder, 710, ear wax, thc wax, weed wax, cannabis wax, honey oil, butane honey oil (BHO), honeycomb, shatter, dab, or black glass, these various forms of cooked, concentrated marijuana are not edible, but designed to be smoked or vaporized (vaped).

Their extreme concentration through the manufacturing process means that they are at least twice as potent as dried marijuana leaf. As a result, they can cause nearly instant highs, hallucinations, extreme changes to behavior, and even overdoses. Prior to the widespread use of these concentrated forms of the drug, marijuana has not been known for overdose.

The above names for marijuana concentrates have some overlap, but there are subtle differences between all of them. Marijuana wax is one of the more concentrated varieties of cannabis, and it can cause serious problems when abused.Woman sitting behind a bong after smoking wax

What Is Marijuana Wax?

Wax is a highly concentrated form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main intoxicating drug found in cannabis. THC wax has 40-80 percent more THC per dose than more traditional, dried forms of cannabis. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found that, in 2013, the THC concentrations in wax or oil measured around 54 percent. In the years since, the process has likely become refined enough that there are higher levels of THC present, which can cause severe side effects. The DEA has reported that some wax samples contain 99 percent THC, which is a dangerous level for most people.

Allegedly, one “hit” of wax, which is about the size of the head of a pin, is roughly equal to one or two joints, depending on the THC concentration. Dried marijuana leaves rolled into joints, cigarettes, or vaporized typically contain 5 to 28 percent THC

How Is Marijuana Wax Made?

Although some states that regulate recreational cannabis sales provide “professional” services to make marijuana wax, there are few regulations around how much-concentrated THC wax can be. Creating hash oil, wax, or butter in these high concentrations typically involves butane, an inflammatory agent. Other solvents may be used, but butane is the most common and the most dangerous. The solvent is filtered through a tube containing marijuana leaves, stripping the THC out of the leaves. Butane is then burned off, or allowed to evaporate, leaving behind a sticky residue containing high concentrations of THC.

The medical cannabis movement sometimes promotes marijuana wax to rapidly stimulate appetite for those whose illness suppresses appetite or causes nausea. However, many of those who originally supported marijuana wax as a safe product no longer approve of it. The process was developed to extract as much THC from leftover, unsellable pieces of marijuana as possible. Because the process involves materials that can be ignited, it is extremely dangerous. Inhaling solvent vapors is very bad for the lungs, and working with these materials can cause explosions.

Side Effects of Smoking Marijuana Wax:

Marijuana leaves that are dried and smoked can be addictive enough. Growers have cultivated numerous strains over the decades to focus on specific chemicals, including THC, so many varieties of marijuana have high concentrations of THC anyway. These can be very addictive, leading to long-term abuse, and can even trigger mood disorders like anxiety or depression. Since wax has a much higher concentration of THC, it is likely much more addictive; however, it is a relatively new product, so it is hard to know for sure.

While cannabis can induce psychedelic experiences and have a negative impact on mood, marijuana wax intensifies these experiences due to the greater concentration of THC in the product.

Side effects often associated with smoking wax include:

  • Increased anxiety
  • Changes in sensory perception
  • Poor memory
  • Paranoia or panic attacks
  • Hallucinations, both auditory and visual
  • Temporary psychotic breaks (may require hospitalization)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Formication, or feeling like there are bugs on or under the skin

People who have existing mental health concerns, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, can make these conditions worse when they smoke traditional marijuana. Wax increases the negative symptoms associated with these mental disorders worse, more frequent, and more disruptive.

Because oil, budder, and wax are fairly new substances, long-term side effects are unknown. However, it is likely that they are similar to side effects of smoking dried, leaf marijuana, but more harmful. Addiction, withdrawal symptoms, and chronic health issues are all risks of abusing marijuana wax.

As wax is manufactured with butane, molecules of the solvent can remain in the wax. When smoked, these molecules will move into the lungs, causing harm. Some people who abuse marijuana wax have been found with lung conditions similar to “black lung.”

How Dangerous Is It?Man is too high and having hallucinations from smoking highly concentrated THC wax

While there are no reports of the standard version of cannabis leading to overdose or death, marijuana wax has been known to put people in the hospital and killed at least one person. As a central nervous system (CNS) depressant, cannabis typically induces a sense of calm, relaxation, and slowed time; high concentrations of THC found in marijuana wax have caused people to pass out almost immediately, which led to one man falling and hitting his head on the floor. He died from head trauma. There have been several reports of nonfatal overdoses as well.

Marijuana wax can cause serious problems for those who consume it, and even creating the drug is dangerous. THC labs are appearing all over the US, especially in western states, where cannabis laws have been relaxed. These labs are nearly as dangerous as meth labs because the process of creating wax involves explosive materials. Fires and explosions in THC labs have become so common that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) warned about potential explosions associated with these drug production facilities.

People who abuse marijuana regularly may struggle with addiction; however, the growing cultural popularity of cannabis has made the drug seem safer than it actually is. Like alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is addictive, and it can cause chronic health problems when abused. Unfortunately, people who struggle with addiction are likely to escalate their abuse of substances like cannabis, which may lead them to abuse concentrated forms, such as marijuana wax.

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About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More