About a quarter of Arizona teens have used cannabis concentrate, which has high levels of psychoactive chemicals, according to a new study.
“Overall, the high rates of concentrate use in adolescents are concerning, because some evidence in adults suggests that exposure to cannabis with higher THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) content could increase a person’s risk for cannabis use disorder, cognitive impairment, and psychosis,” authors wrote in the study “Cannabis Concentrate Use in Adolescents,” (Meier MH, et al. Pediatrics. Aug. 26, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2019-0338).
Marijuana has a THC concentration of about 12%-20%, according to the study. Cannabis concentrates, which are cannabis plant extracts, average about 39%-69% and can top 80%.
Researchers from Arizona State University set out to look at how many teens are using concentrates, using survey data on 47,142 students in eighth, 10th and 12th grades in Arizona, where medical marijuana is legal. Students were asked about their use of cannabis, cannabis concentrates and other substances as well as family and school life factors that could put them at risk of substance use.
About 33% of the students had used cannabis and 24% also had used concentrates, according to the study. Among cannabis users, 72% had used concentrates. Girls were more likely to try each of the substances.
The team also found that cannabis concentrate users were more likely to use other substances. About 82% had used e-cigarettes, which some may be using to vaporize cannabis. That finding comes amid reports of 193 cases of severe pulmonary illness in 22 states among people who had vaped, many of whom had used products containing THC .
The study also showed teens who used concentrate had more risk factors for substance use such as substance use by family members and peers.
This finding suggests “that broad interventions that target multiple risk factors are needed,” authors wrote. They also suggested legal limits for THC concentration in cannabis.
Sheryl Ryan, M.D., FAAP, past chair of the AAP Committee on Substance Use and Prevention, wrote in a related commentary that as concentration levels increase, so do the health impacts.
"These concerning trends argue for renewed efforts to provide better prevention and education regarding the consequences of both marijuana and e-cigarette and/or vaporizer use," Dr. Ryan wrote. "Increased efforts to regulate tetrahydrocannabinol concentrates and the delivery systems that teens are using to vape nicotine, flavorings, and marijuana, increase the minimum mandatory age to purchase all e-cigarette products to 21 years, and restrict marketing and advertising aimed at adolescents are clearly warranted.