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What Parents Need to Know About Wax, Dabbing, and Vaping Marijuana

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

This is Not the Marijuana Hippies Smoked at Woodstock

After alcohol and tobacco, marijuana is the most commonly used and abused drug among teenagers in the United States. Teen marijuana use became widespread in the 70s, dipped in the 80s, and steadily increased through the 90s, the 2000s, and 2010s. When marijuana vaping products became available several years ago, they became popular among high school students. Rates of use for high school students increased dramatically from 2017-2019, but began to drop for 10th and 12th graders after a flurry of high-profile stories in the national media about the dangers of vaping.

This article is about the use of marijuana concentrates, which is the form of the drug used when vaping. There are several forms of concentrates. Oils are the most common, and typically used in the most widely available vape pens. Wax is the next most commonly used concentrate, and has a soft, malleable texture similar to lip balm. Shatter is the least commonly used concentrate, and comes in hard, amber-colored form similar to peanut brittle.

These concentrates are manufactured using various processes. Since the legalization of marijuana in several states, the production of concentrates shifted to legal labs with advanced technologies and well-regulated safety protocols. However, many people – teens included – still produce wax in home labs, which can be dangerous. Home production of the concentrate known as butane hash oil (BHO) – a.k.a. wax – is known as blasting, and the people who produce it are called blasters.

Here are the various names teens use for marijuana concentrates:

  • Earwax
  • Wax
  • Honeycomb
  • Honey
  • Honey Oil
  • 710
  • Butter
  • Amber
  • Nectar
  • Shatter
  • Errl

All marijuana concentrates are far more potent than marijuana in leaf or flower form. Data shows that while the average THC content in leaf marijuana is around 14 percent, the average THC content in concentrates is anywhere from 54-99 percent.

That’s between four and seven times more potent than the marijuana in common use as recently as the 2000s.

How Many Teens Smoke Marijuana or Use Marijuana Concentrates?

The annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey, published in collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the University of Michigan, collects data from over forty thousand students in 8th, 10th, and 12th grade each year to establish a reliable evidence base for the prevalence of drug use among teenagers.

The 2020 MTF offers the following statistics on marijuana use among U.S. teens. The percentages indicate “yes” answers to the question “Have you (smoked or vaped marijuana) in (your life, the past year, the past month, the past day)?”

Smoking Marijuana: 8th, 10th, and 12th Graders

  • At least once in their lives:
    • 8th graders: 14.8%
    • 10th graders: 33.3%
    • 12th graders: 43.7%
  • At least once in the past year:
    • 8th graders: 11.4%
    • 10th graders: 28.0
    • 12th graders: 35.2%
  • At least once in the past month:
    • 8th graders: 6.5%
    • 10th graders: 16.6%
    • 12th graders: 21.1%

Vaping Marijuana: 8th, 10th, and 12th Graders

  • At least once in their lives:
    • 8th graders: 10.2% (4.0% in 2017, 5.5% in 2018, 9.0% in 2019)
    • 10th graders: 22.7% (9.8% in 2017, 14.2% in 2018, 21.8% in 2019)
    • 12th graders: 27.9% (11.9% in 2017, 15.6% in 2018, 23.7% in 2019)
  • At least once in the past year:
    • 8th graders: 8.1 (3.0% in 2017, 4.4% in 2018, 7.0% in 2019)
    • 10th graders: 19.1% (19.3% in 2017, 24.7% in 2018, 20.8% in 2019)
    • 12th graders: 22.1% (20.6% in 2017, 25.7% in 2018, 20.3% in 2019)
  • At least once in the past month:
    • 8th graders: 4.2% (1.6% in 2017, 2.6% in 2018, 3.9% in 2019)
    • 10th graders: 11.3% (4.3% in 2017, 7.0% in 2018, 12.6% in 2019)
    • 12th graders: 12.2% (4.9% in 2017, 7.5% in 2018, 14.0% in 2019)

This set of data on vaping is interesting. Lifetime, past-year, and past-month vaping more than doubled for 8th graders from 2017-2020, but past-year and past-month vaping decreased for 10th and 12th graders from 2019-2020. One possible explanation is the significant media attention on vaping-related lung disease mentioned above. Another is an increased awareness of the dangers of vaping, which have also received significant media attention over the past two years.

Let’s talk about those dangers now.

The Dangers of Wax, Dabbing, and Vaping Marijuana Concentrates

One thing that makes vaping concentrates appealing to teenagers is that they’re easy to conceal. Homemade wax does not look like a drug of abuse. As mentioned above, it resembles chapstick or lip balm. And the devices used to vape oils and other concentrates can also look innocent. Some designs are identical to flash drives, while others are designed with stealth in mind, and look like pens, pencils, or sharpies. An out-of-touch adult can easily mistake the most common vaping devices and forms of marijuana concentrate for something else.

There’s also the practice of zeroing, which you can read about here:

With This New Method, Teens Are Now Smoking Marijuana Everywhere – Even in Class

Now, about the various dangers associated with wax, dabbing, and vaping marijuana concentrates.

Physical Dangers of Blasting (Making Wax at Home):

  • Producing wax in a home lab can lead to explosions, which can cause serious injury and death. Here’s an excerpt from a story in Reuters published in 2019 about an explosion that occurred in a home wax lab:

“On the afternoon of May 5, college student John Nothdurft was watching TV at his suburban San Diego home when a series of explosions shook the house. Around the corner, on Sunny Meadow Street, flames billowed from a neighbor’s garage. A man was running down the street. He was on fire. Nothdurft, 18, tried to comfort the man as a neighbor sprayed him with a garden hose.

‘His skin kind of looked like it had melted off,’ he recalled.”

Legal Consequences of Blasting:

  • Most states have strict laws regarding home drug labs. While lawmakers passed most of these laws to prevent the production of drugs like crack and methamphetamine, the same laws apply to labs where people produce wax. Depending on the state, a conviction for operating a drug lab carries penalties such as:
    • Sentences range from one year to ten years or more.
    • Fines can be as little as $2,000 and as large as $50,000.
    • Terms begin at around one year, but can be longer.
    • Courts can order the convicted operator of a drug lab to pay for any damage resulting from accidents or explosions and/or the costs incurred by law enforcement for cleaning up the lab.

Health Consequences of Marijuana Use:

  • The Brain. Long-term exposure to marijuana can lead to impaired:
    • Memory
    • Cognition (thinking)
    • Attention
    • Learning
  • The Lungs. Long-term exposure to marijuana smoke can cause:
    • Scarring of lung tissue
    • Damage to cilia and small blood vessels
    • Increased risk of bronchitis
  • The Heart. Long-term marijuana use can increase or lead to:
    • Risk of stroke
    • Risk of heart attack
    • Cardiotoxicity
    • Tachycardia

Psychological Consequences of Marijuana Use:

  • Long-term use of marijuana can lead to:

The negative health and psychological consequences of long-term marijuana use are widely known. The recent change in the method of ingestion – i.e. from smoking to vaping – does not change any of those risks. In fact, the presence of additives and byproducts of the concentrate extraction process are legitimate causes for concern. Although the recent uproar in the media about extreme lung damage – popcorn lung – caused by the chemicals diacetyl, formaldehyde, and acrolein appear to have been confined to cases of black market cannabis extracts, those chemicals are also known to appear in commercially produced cannabis concentrates as well.

Vaping, Marijuana, and Common Sense

In addition, simple logic tells us that intentionally inhaling anything hot – smoke, vapor, whatever – cannot be good for the lungs. Most of us remember learning about how the lungs work: tiny hair-like structures called cilia are responsible for exchanging gases in the lungs. They’re designed to process common molecules like oxygen and carbon dioxide at body temperature. While the lungs are capable of processing more complex molecules than oxygen and carbon dioxide, they’re not designed to tolerate extreme heat or the tar and other byproducts common to inhaling marijuana smoke or marijuana vapor: anyone who tells you any different is, as the saying goes, either lying or selling you something.

For more information on marijuana concentrates, please have a look at this page on the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website, and this downloadable fact sheet published by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

One last note: the recent trend towards legalization may cause some parents and families to take a more relaxed view toward marijuana than they had previously. With that in mind, we’d like to remind everyone that making marijuana legal does not make it a good choice for teens. Alcohol is legal for adults: not a good choice for teens. Cigarettes are legal for adults: also not a good choice for teens. The same goes for marijuana and marijuana vaping products: they’re now legal for adults in many states, but they’re still not a good choice for teens.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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