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As with many types of drugs, marijuana comes in multiple forms that are used in different ways.
However, individuals who use these drugs may not be aware of the various forms and how they differ, particularly the differences in how they react in the brain and how they can affect an individual.
Marijuana buds and extracts make up the most basic division between how marijuana is processed and used. However, a person who is using marijuana may not understand how these forms differ and the resulting effects they may have on the individual during use, in withdrawal, or during recovery. The ways in which these forms of marijuana differ can have a serious effect on the individual’s physical and mental response to the drug, as well as the recovery process.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) describes marijuana as the elements of a certain plant – also known as Cannabis sativa or the hemp plant – that are used to produce a mind-altering response. This response occurs because the plant naturally contains a psychoactive compound, called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); this compound binds with parts of the brain that then cause a euphoric response, or high. Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the US, although multiple states have made it legal to use for medical or recreational purposes in recent years.
While it is not described in detail, NIDA mentions that the plant can be used in two different ways: either by drying and smoking or consuming parts of the plant directly, or by creating extracts from the plant that contain higher concentrations of THC, making them more potent. The extracts may also be smoked through a water pipe or e-cigarette, or put in foods.
While they are used in similar ways, these two forms of drugs made from the marijuana plant can have vastly different effects on the brain and body.
How Buds Affect the Brain
The marijuana high is the result of the drugs effect on the brain’s natural endocannabinoid system, which helps to regulate the way brain cells communicate with each other. An article from Scholastic describes that when THC is introduced into this system, it overwhelms the normal chemical response, resulting in the following changes in the person’s behavior and physical responses:
With buds, this response is usually obtained either by consuming elements of the plant directly or by smoking the dried flower, leaves, seeds, or other plant parts. As explained in an article from Forbes, eating the plant can be a little bit more dangerous than smoking it, simply because it takes longer for the body to react. As a result, the individual may eat too much while waiting for the body’s reaction. Barring an overdose, the way the body responds isn’t really different between the two.
The Risks of Using Extracts
Consuming THC through marijuana extracts is a different story. These compounds are made by extracting the potent chemicals from the plant using substances like alcohol or butane. The butane extraction process, which in itself can be dangerous and result in severe burns, is called “blasting.” The US Drug Enforcement Agency states that the result of extraction can be a compound of about 80 percent THC, much stronger than the usual 10-20 percent found in buds.
The burn risk of blasting is only one of the risks of marijuana extracts, which, depending on how concentrated or solid they are, may be referred to as honey oil, wax, earwax, shatter, butane hash oil (BHO), oil, or 710, among other street names. These highly concentrated substances can also cause some of the following dangerous reactions:
Again, these are not the only issues with using marijuana extracts. An article from Pediatrics states that using these extracts in a technique known as “dabbing,” which involves heating the substance to a high temperature and inhaling the vapor, can be harmful both by delivering a highly concentrated amount of THC into the system and by potentially causing the smoking paraphernalia to release toxic chemicals that are then inhaled along with the drug. Even using e-cigarettes, a popular method of easily creating and inhaling this vapor, can result in off-gassing of materials inside the e-cigarettes, causing an additional health risk.
Because of the higher THC concentration in extracts, it can safely be assumed that whatever response occurs in using buds, the response to extract will be more intense. This includes not only the high but also the side effects described by NIDA, which can include:
As described above, using extracts can also more easily result in overdose. Also, if the person is not accustomed to high amounts of THC, a sudden high can result in the person passing out, which could cause an accidental injury.Stopping use of extract can be just as problematic. A study from Addictive Behaviors indicated that people who used extracts reported developing higher levels of tolerance to the drug, which means more and more of the drug is needed to achieve the same effect. They also reported more severe withdrawal symptoms. Both of these reactions can indicate a higher potential for addiction to the drug.
Because of the higher concentration of THC in marijuana extracts compared to the unprocessed plant, and the resulting reactions and risks described above, it may be more challenging to stop using extracts than buds. The discomfort of withdrawal, as well as the associated high tolerance, may make it easier for the individual to relapse to substance abuse. However, with the right information, experienced professionals can help individuals who want to quit marijuana to achieve and maintain recovery.
For this reason, it is important to be upfront with treatment professionals and describe the type of marijuana use that has occurred. Whether it is buds or extracts, professional treatment programs can help individuals find the right path to quitting marijuana use for good.