Most Colorado High School Marijuana Users Dab Ultra-Potent Pot Concentrates

Smart Colorado calls on Gov. Jared Polis to reinstate marijuana youth prevention funding

DENVER — Six years after adult-use marijuana commercialization began in Colorado, teens report an alarming increase in their use of ultra-potent pot products in the form of dabs and vapes, according to official state data released today (Aug. 3, 2020).

More than half of high school students who use marijuana reported that they dab marijuana to get high. Among students who reported using marijuana in the past 30 days, 52% said they dabbed it, up from 34.4% just two years ago— a 50% increase, according to the new bi-annual Healthy Kids Colorado Survey results, based on surveys of over 53,000 middle and high school students statewide last year.

“Dabbing” is a method of inhaling highly concentrated THC (commonly referred to as hash oil, wax or shatter) using a blow torch-heated delivery system commonly referred to as a dab rig. THC is the main high-inducing chemical in marijuana. (To download high-quality, free-to-publish photos of marijuana concentrates bought in Colorado, go to THCphotos.org.)

The survey results also show a 69% increase in students vaping marijuana in two years. Among high school students who used marijuana in the past 30 days, 34.3% reported vaping it, up from 20.3% in 2017. 

Denver, the epicenter of commercialization in the state, likewise experienced dramatic increases. High school dabbing increased over 80% in two years and vaping increased almost 50%.

Colorado has no limits on marijuana potency and has seen levels of THC steadily rise in commercial products. Some concentrates, which make up an increasingly large share of the market, can exceed 90% THC. Those potency increases have been documented in a state funded study. 

At the request of the Colorado General Assembly, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment just completed a comprehensive analysis of the health effects of marijuana potency that acknowledged that almost 93% of products sold in Colorado are greater than 15% THC.

In the early 1990s, the average THC content in confiscated marijuana samples was less than 4%. Marijuana potency has accelerated in the past decade as marijuana commercialization expanded.

Rachel O’Bryan, one of Smart Colorado’s co-founders and an expert in the field of marijuana commercialization and the impacts on kids, said, “It’s no surprise that kids are switching to easily concealed ultra-potent pot when they are bombarded with images and marketing for these high-THC products that have proliferated since legalization. This is not the much milder marijuana of their parents’ generation.”

Peer-reviewed scientific studies show that marijuana harms developing brains yet researchers haven’t been able to fully explore the effects of these new ultra-potent products. A recent study found a significant association between using marijuana concentrates and progressing to more frequent use among adolescents. The study found that the rate of persistence of use and progression of use is greater with concentrated THC than with other marijuana products.

When nationwide high school use of e-cigarettes soared by 78% in a single year and 26% of Colorado students, twice the national average, reported current e-cigarette use, then-Gov. John Hickenlooper and public health officials sounded the alarm, laws to ban flavored nicotine vaping liquid were passed and states, including Colorado, sued the e-cigarette manufacturer Juul for illegally marketing to children.

O’Bryan said she hopes these latest figures will finally shock the state into action.

“Commercialized marijuana in Colorado, and the way our state has chosen to leave the industry largely unregulated, is setting our children up for future addiction,” she said. “I hope this news is a wake up call to policymakers that a serious discussion and immediate action on rampant pot potency is needed. Our children have only one chance to grow up and we as a community are failing them.”

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Smart Colorado is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting the health, safety, and well-being of Colorado youth as marijuana becomes increasingly available and commercialized. Smart Colorado is a project of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center.

To learn more about Smart Colorado’s work on ultra-potent pot, please visit www.notthesamepot.org.

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