What Is The Drug “Shatter”?
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What Is The Drug “Shatter”?

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ted Bender, Ph.D., LCDC

January 24, 2019

Shatter is a term used to describe an extremely potent type of cannabis concentrate, known as butane hash oil (BHO). BHO is made by using butane to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis plant matter. These chemical compounds are secreted by cannabis plants and interact with receptors in the brain to relieve pain and cause a sense of euphoria and relaxation.

Cannabis concentrates are typically named based on their color and texture. Shatter is amber in color and gets its name from its translucent glass-like texture that “shatters” when it is broken up to be used.

Contrary to popular belief, the translucency of shatter does not signify its purity but instead is the result of how it is made. During the heating process, as the cannabinoids and terpenes are extracted from the plant the liquid is not agitated, resulting in a smooth, translucent texture. Unlike other concentrates, which are continually agitated during the heating process, causing them to have more of an opaque color and waxy texture.

Is Shatter More Addictive Than Non-Concentrated Marijuana?

Shatter is not considered to be more addictive than non-concentrated marijuana, but it can contain higher amounts of cannabinoids, such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Marijuana flower can contain anywhere from three to 30 percent THC, whereas concentrates such as shatter may contain between 30 to 90 percent THC.

Like other cannabis concentrates, shatter may be addictive in some cases. Addiction to marijuana concentrates often depends on the personality type of the individual and if they have a co-occurring substance or mental disorder.

Unlike flower cannabis, shatter is consumed by inhaling the vapors produced by placing a small amount of cannabis extract on a heated surface, which is connected to a water pipe. This process is called “dabbing” and can be extremely dangerous.

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How Dangerous Is Shatter?

There has been much debate about the relative safety of marijuana concentrates, including shatter, since they started growing in popularity. Butane hash oil (BHO) production started out as dangerous “backyard-chemist” operations that are infamous for causing numerous explosions and fatalities.

When BHO is purchased illegally, it often comes from makeshift labs, where it may or may not be made properly. As shatter is made, butane gas is removed by heating the mixture. However, if it is not heated long enough and at the correct temperature, excess amounts of butane can remain in the mixture. This can be extremely toxic to individuals who smoke or “dab” the concentrate.

Some studies have also noted that the temperature of the heated surface, or “nail,” used when dabbing may result in more toxins being released and inhaled, but further research is needed to determine the degree of harm these toxins may cause.

Marijuana concentrates from reputable manufacturers, in states where marijuana use is legalized, can be much safer, as they only contain as much butane as their specific regulations will allow.

In some cases, individuals may bind shatter to butter or oil and use it to make “edibles.” Edibles made with concentrates such as shatter can contain such extreme concentrations of THC that they may result in a short-term poisoning when digested.

Although marijuana overdose is unlikely, negative side effects can occur. This is especially true of extracts like shatter, due to its increased potency. It only takes a small amount of shatter to feel the same sensations flower cannabis would produce.

Side Effects Of Shatter

The exact side effects of shatter are still unknown. What is known is that shatter can produce similar side effects to marijuana flower but can be more intense due to its increased levels of cannabinoids and terpenes.

Possible side effects of shatter include:

  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • possible infections, including sinusitis, bronchitis, and asthma in heavy users
  • irritation of the airways causing narrowing and spasms
  • a sore throat
  • a weakening of the immune system
  • bloodshot eyes

Cannabis concentrates can also affect an individual’s mood, causing them to feel excessively panicked or anxious. Shatter can impact the brain and make it difficult to concentrate, weaken the ability to remember things, and decrease coordination.

Withdrawing From Shatter

Some people can become mentally dependent on marijuana and its concentrates. They may feel that they are not able to control the urge to use the drug, or that they need it to get through everyday life.

Physical dependence on cannabis concentrates can lead to tolerance, meaning larger and more frequent doses of shatter will be needed to feel the same effects.

Possible withdrawal symptoms of marijuana concentrate include:

  • feeling fearful, uneasy, and anxious
  • feeling excited, tense, confused, or irritable
  • difficulty falling or staying asleep

Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main cannabinoid in cannabis plants is structurally similar to anandamide, a chemical produced naturally in the brain. This similarity in structure allows the brain to recognize THC and alter normal brain communication.

Heavy, chronic use of cannabis can cause the brain to reduce its production of anandamide. This can cause issues within the brain’s communication network which uses these cannabinoid receptors, also referred to as the endocannabinoid system.

The endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in the nervous system and interfering with it can cause serious side effects. For example, THC has the ability to alter how parts of the brain, including the hippocampus and orbitofrontal cortex, function. These brain structures enable people to learn, form new memories, and shift their focus from one thing to another.

Because of this, when someone experiences withdrawals from shatter that contains a large percentage of THC, they can sometimes experience strange withdrawal symptoms.

Treating Shatter Dependence

Individuals experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms may benefit from an inpatient treatment program. Inpatient or residential treatment can provide the psychological services that may be needed when someone is going through shatter withdrawal.

There are not currently any FDA-approved medications to help treat marijuana use disorders. However, a combination of detoxification and behavioral therapies can help individuals break their dependence to shatter.

For more information on shatter and other cannabis concentrates, contact a specialist today.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - How Does Marijuana Produce Its Effects?

National Center for Biotechnology Information - A New Method Of Cannabis Ingestion: The Dangers Of Dabs?

U.S. National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus - Substance Use - Marijuana

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