High-THC Cannabis Concentrates and Their (Scary) Effect on the Teenage Brain

There’s no shortage of sensational, hide-the-children, marijuana-is-the-devil’s-lettuce stories on the internet. This is not one of those stories. Colorado is, after all, the cradle of recreational cannabis in this country, and by most accounts, the destruction of civilized society wreaked by commercialized medical and recreational pot was greatly exaggerated. Given the opportunity to comment, most Coloradans—roughly 71 percent, according to a 2020 survey—say legalization has been mostly or completely successful. However, that number leaves plenty of room for dissent, and in that remaining 29 percent lies a contingent that believes Centennial Staters were naive about what kinds of products would be lining dispensary shelves, what their health effects could be, and what might happen when kids got their hands on them.

For those who haven’t ventured inside one of the state’s 1,047 dispensaries—that’s probably most of us, since only about 19 percent of Colorado adults say they’ve used marijuana in the past 30 days—the diversity of merchandise might be surprising. Although shoppers in Colorado still overwhelmingly choose to smoke flower, the fuzzy green bud we’re all familiar with, there are dozens of other versions of cannabis that don’t look or perform anything like the four percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) grass you toked in college. There are things with names like shatter, budder, wax, crumble, and live rosin, all of which fall under the umbrella of cannabis concentrates and can contain more than 90 percent THC, pot’s primary psychoactive compound.

Cannabis concentrates are not new; some evidence suggests concentrates have been around in some form since the 1940s. What is relatively new is that commercialization, which started in Colorado in 2009 with medical dispensaries, has allowed the marijuana industry to safely produce concentrates in high-tech labs, perfect old-school iterations and invent new ones, and wrap them all up in slick, convenient, discreet packaging that’s often messaged as medicine.

Commercialization did something else, too: It allowed 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds in Colorado to apply for medical marijuana red cards without caregiver supervision. And since 2012, people 21 and older have been able to walk into a recreational dispensary and walk out with 28 grams of flower or eight grams of concentrates in whatever strengths they desire every day.

So what’s the problem? The truth is that the human brain continues experiencing huge jumps in development up until the age of 25, and while cannabis of any sort can impact neural pathways, high con