Marijuana is often referred to as the “gateway drug” for being very accessible with effects that are considered milder than other more dangerous drugs and narcotics on the streets. However, the use of marijuana for a variety of purposes—recreational to medicinal—has been documented as far back as almost 5,000 years ago.
The first written evidence of the use of cannabis is in the writing of Chinese emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BCE, describing cannabis as an effective treatment for things like gout, rheumatism, malaria, and even things like absent-mindedness and inability to concentrate. Although its ability to offer intoxicating euphoria was documented, marijuana was considered invaluable for therapeutic purposes more so than recreational.
However, it was commonly used recreationally by Muslims and throughout India. In fact, it was the Muslims that introduced hashish, which is a more potent derivative a marijuana made of the compressed, concentrated trichomes, or pollen, of cannabis plants.
Despite the widespread rates of addiction to opiates, narcotics, and other dangerous stimulants, marijuana use has persisted through the centuries and continues today. Due to the long history of both medicinal and recreational cannabis consumption, periodically we find that a derivative form of marijuana will be developed, often intended to amplify the intoxicating effects of marijuana by distilling the plant’s natural psychoactive compounds. Hashish is an example of such a process, being the somewhat simple and straightforward collecting and compressing of cannabis pollen into a sticky resin that can even be further refined into hash oil.
Over the past couple years, a new cannabis by-product has become increasingly available on the street, a product that effectively multiplies marijuana’s strength while being much more dangerous than traditional cannabis. In order to fully understand this new substance, it’s important to learn a bit more about marijuana and the natural compounds it contains that make it valuable to recreational users and as a treatment for certain medical conditions.
What is Marijuana?
Often considered the entry-level or beginner’s street drug, marijuana—colloquially known as weed, pot, herb, grass, reefer, Mary Jane, ganja, and a number of other creative slang expressions—is most familiar in the form of dried, green-to-gray shredded leaves and flowerless buds of the plant Cannabis sativa, which is also known for being the source of hemp. The primary mind-altering, psychoactive component found in marijuana, the substance from which cannabis derives its value, is delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC for short.
This psychoactive chemical is found in the resin produced in the leaves and buds of the female cannabis plant, which is why marijuana tends to be the dried, shredded leaves and buds. Of the 500 chemicals found in cannabis, about 100 of them are derivatives or chemically related to THC, which is why they’re called cannabinoids.
The desired effects of marijuana include euphoria, relaxation, heightened sensory perception, distorted perception of time, laughter, and increased appetite, but some users have reported feeling paranoid, anxious, panicked, and fearful while experiencing marijuana intoxication. At very high doses, marijuana intoxication has been reported to cause acute psychosis, which includes loss of a sense of personal identity, delusions, and hallucinations.
When obtained in its most common street form, marijuana can be consumed in a number of different ways, primarily ways that involve preparing the plant for smoking. Individuals often create hand-rolled cigarettes using marijuana instead of tobacco, which are called “joints”, or by using a similar process with cigars, replacing the tobacco with dried cannabis leaves to smoke what’s called a “blunt”.
It’s also popular to smoke marijuana using a variety of pipes and water pipes, often called “bongs”, and even hookahs. Some states have legalized the consumption of marijuana for medicinal purposes, often involving the use of marijuana to brew tea or prepared in a number of different foods to create what are called “edibles”. In recent years, people have begun to experiment with ways to amplify the effects of the cannabis plant by isolating and concentrating the resin the plant produces, which is the main source for THC. In addition to hashish and hash oil, a wax-like substance has been produced as well as a harder product referred to as “shatter”.
Marijuana is identified as the most widely-used illicit drug in the world. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) of 2013, as many as 19.8 million Americans use marijuana on a monthly basis. Additionally, marijuana tends to be used either as the sole drug of choice or among other substances by 81 percent of all illicit drug users; of those individuals, more than 64 percent of them reported that marijuana was the only drug they used.
The use of marijuana tends to be most common and widespread among adolescents and teens as perceptions of risk involved with the use of marijuana have continued to decline over the years, possibly as a result of recent policy changes related to legalization and what seems to be a steadily increasing tolerance of the use of marijuana for medicinal and even recreational purposes in some states.
What Shatter is: The ‘Hard Candy’ of Cannabis Extracts
The extraction of psychoactive compounds from cannabis isn’t exactly new. As mentioned above, Muslims have been making hashish for centuries at this point. However, every now and again a new form of cannabis extract will hit the streets, promising even higher concentrations of THC and cannabidiol (CBD), which is another very potent THC-like cannabinoid.
We’ve been seeing a cannabis extract on the streets for some time that takes a wax-like consistency, earning its street name “earwax”. However, a newer cannabis extract called “shatter” is becoming popular and has been discovered in a number of raids, searches, and busts across the country.
Like some hash oils and wax, shatter is derived from a butane hash oil (BHO), which is a process that begins with the grinding of marijuana that’s placed into a closed-loop tube system so that butane can be run through it, leaving behind a very potent oil containing almost pure THC. There are a number of consistencies that can be achieved with butane hash oil, from the wax-like product on one end of the spectrum to the hard candy-like shatter on the other end.
The main danger that comes from shatter isn’t necessary from the product itself as there are a number of cannabis extracts available on the streets that can offer comparable strengths of THC and intensity of high. With shatter, the case seems to be that, much like the process of making crystal methamphetamine in a makeshift meth lab, individuals are at risk of setting off dangerous explosions while using butane and other flammable substances in the production of shatter.
For example, an Oregon man who was trying to produce butane hash oil in order to make shatter or wax ended up dying in an explosion after losing control of the butane he was using, receiving severe burns that covered 90 percent of his body in the process. Law enforcement officials have reported that explosions related to the production of BHO and shatter are on the rise, raising concern as to how the increasing rate of such incidents can be curbed.
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