Dabbing has become a major trend over the last few years. It’s also proving to be an important sector of the legal cannabis industry. In jurisdictions where it’s legal, there has been a surge of new products and gear hitting the market. A lot of cannabis businesses and accessory brands are getting in on the trend. Great, but what are the effects of dabbing on the brain?
Unfortunately, it has also sparked something of a backlash as well. Researchers have noted that dabbing is a unique form of cannabis consumption that may be having detrimental effects on the brain. We explore the effects of dabbing on the brain in this short read.
Here’s what we know about the research so far.
Dabbing Vs Other Consumption Methods
Dabbing might have a distinct neurological effect on the brain. To understand why we need to know what makes it unique to other consumption methods available.
For those unaware, a “dab hit” involves taking concentrated cannabis in through the lungs. These concentrates come in many different forms, waxes, and resins as examples. While you can consume some forms of concentrate through a live resin pen, here we’re referring to the use of a dab rig. The cannabis concentrate gets heated on a nail, often with a torch, and then inhaled through the lungs.
Dabs are more concentrated and pack quite a bit more THC than smoking a joint or vaping. These concentrates can be anywhere from 60-90% THC. The flower in a joint is usually well below 30% THC. It’s easy to see why dabs and concentrates have become a cause for concern – particularly when it comes to the effects of dabbing on the brain.
Here are a few of the possible neurological effects and consequences that dabbing may have.
Paranoia And Anxiety
One of the peculiar aspects of THC is that, depending on the person, it can both reduce and promote anxiety. A lot of this has to do with the endocannabinoid system, which THC works on. The endocannabinoid system connects to parts of the brain related to anxiety. This all helps to regulate certain networks involving stress and reward.
So how is it that THC seems to be able to calm some people down but get others worked up? There are many factors involved, including personality and genetic predisposition. One of the major factors observed that you can control is the dosage.
According to one paper from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Institute at the University of Washington which reviewed relevant studies on the topic, “all other things being equal, THC appears to decrease anxiety at lower doses and increase anxiety at higher doses. The effect was observed in participants who were exposed to a well-validated psychosocial stress task. A low dose of THC (7.5 mg) reduced the duration of negative emotional responses to the task and post-task appraisals of how threatening and challenging the stressor was. In contrast, a higher dose of THC (12.5 mg) produced small but significant increases in anxiety, negative mood and subjective distress at baseline before and during the psychosocial stress task.”
Dabbing is so much more potent and packs much more THC than other methods. It stands to reason then, that it could trigger anxiety in certain people much more than conventional consumption methods. Even proponents of dabbing admit that if not done at controlled dosages, it can lead to major issues. According to Justin Kandor, a research coordinator for a concentrate manufacturer in California, “concentrates are not like crack or heroin, because you’re not going to die and it doesn’t damage your organs, but there are drawbacks.” Noting that he believes longterm overuse can lead to permanent issues with anxiety.
One of the interesting debates that have emerged since legalization in various parts of North America has been cannabis’s potential for abuse. There’s been a lot of concern that newfound access could lead to spikes in cannabis use disorder (CUD), a condition characterized by problematic use.
Although there’s always been some speculation that this would happen, one particular study conducted recently found that cannabis legalization has indeed led to more problematic use and possible addiction (at least in certain populations). And as the study’s researchers noted, the problem has less to do with light, infrequent use and more to do with longterm, habitual and heavy users.
Many researchers worry that dabbing may be a particularly habit-forming method of consumption. According to Dr. Michael Miller at the Herrington Recovery Center, “if you have a predisposition for addiction, the more potent rewards are more likely to kick in the addictive process in the brain. Very strong exposures to very intense rewards trigger a preoccupation and craving and cues to use again. That results in addiction.”
It is important to note that a lot more research is needed when it comes to the topic of cannabis and addiction. According to one paper on the topic, “researchers know that prolonged and heavy cannabis use can alter brain circuitry. However, the specific pathophysiological mechanisms are yet unclear. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the primary molecule responsible for the reinforcing properties of marijuana. Interestingly, despite the striatal dopamine system typically being involved with substances of abuse such as alcohol and opioids, meta-analysis reveals insufficient evidence at this time to support such a conclusion for cannabis.”
While the effects of dabbing on the brain aren’t clear-cut, good or bad, there is evidence to suggest over-consumption has a negative effect. So does eating too many cheeseburgers.
Key Takeaways For Users
Some of this new research condemns dabbing as a problematic form of cannabis consumption. So what does that mean for the average user? Should everyone be throwing away their waxes and dab rigs? Not yet. The research on dabbing, and cannabis use in general, is still in its infancy. Add to that, that the condemnation seems to center around the irresponsible use of these products, not method or compound.
It’s also worth pointing out that dabbing does have its proponents. For people who are able to manage their doses without going overboard, taking a hit from a dab rig can reduce the risk of lung damage. The fact that it’s cleaner than smoking flower and also a concentrated form means less inhaling. Its efficiency may also be useful for certain conditions, and for those who need high doses of THC, immediately.