August 22, 2018 Article

High Concentration: Potential Health Risks of Cannabis Extractables

By James Rice and Tom Lewandowski

Cannabis extractables include a range of products that are produced by treating the raw cannabis vegetable matter with a solvent to isolate (and concentrate) the chemical components of interest—not only delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main psychoactive ingredient) but also a large number of other cannabis chemicals such as terpenes (associated with flavor) and cannabidiol (ingredient with several purported health benefits). The process has the benefit of allowing the use of cannabis plant components other than the buds, which have lower concentrations of these chemicals and would otherwise be considered of low value. Extractables are referred to by various names, such as wax, dabs, shatter, and budder, which identify the consistency rather than the chemical content of the product.

Studies have shown that consumers’ preference for cannabis extractables is driven by the desire for a stronger, longer-lasting high. Mallory Loflin & Mitch Earleywine, “A New Method of Cannabi Ingestion: The Dangers of Dabs?”, 39 Addictive Behav. (2014). Not surprisingly, extractables are a rapidly growing sector of the cannabis industry. For example, sales of cannabis concentrates intended for inhalation in Washington state grew 146 percent between 2014 and 2016, recently comprising 21percent of all cannabis sales. Rosanna Smart et al., “Variation in Cannabis Potency and Prices in a Newly Legal Market: Evidence from 30 Million Cannabis Sales in Washington State,” 112 Addiction (Dec. 2017).

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