A method of marijuana consumption known as dabbing has led to more emergency room visits and a new treatment protocol at Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.
The hospital reports it sees an average of one to two people a day who are suffering from psychosis linked to dabbing. The process involves smoking a form of concentrated cannabis, such as hash oil, that delivers a single powerful dose of THC equivalent to smoking multiple joints.
In some people, that sudden blast of cannabis can trigger extreme paranoia, hallucinations or delusions — often a few days or even weeks after consumption, according to those seeking medical treatment.
TJ LaRocque, who oversees the crisis services department at Providence St. Peter Hospital, said these symptoms are evident when screening patients who admit to dabbing.
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“We have definitely seen an increase since marijuana was legalized in Washington,” LaRocque said. “It’s very interesting to see folks who are may be newer to marijuana, but it’s also folks who are very conditioned to smoking marijuana regularly.”
The hospital’s protocol includes treatment with an anti-psychotic medicine called risperidone. Nearly all patients are discharged from the crisis services unit within a couple of hours.
“This is something some folks are more susceptible to than others. Many people can dab and not have any major negative consequences,” said LaRocque, noting that the hospital still considers cannabis as a controlled substance. “We do counsel people not to use hash oil or dab again in the future.”
Much like legal marijuana itself, dabbing largely exists within uncharted territory and has grown in popularity in recent years.
Research is limited on the risks of dabbing, but some reports link the practice with more intense withdrawal symptoms. Online forums contain posts from users who experienced psychosis or an otherwise uncomfortable high after dabbing, which can cause a user to vomit or pass out.
The THC content in some of the concentrated products such as hash oil, rosin and other extracts can exceed 90 percent.
That’s why beginning dabbers need to be careful and learn how to do it right, said Patrick Seifert, a medical marijuana activist who runs the Rainier Xpress dispensary in downtown Olympia. He said the dispensary plans to hold classes that teach safe and proper dabbing techniques.
Seifert said a proper dabbing dose for a concentrated cannabis product such as rosin, for example, is about the size of a grain of rice.
One dabbing method involves a water filtration pipe commonly referred to as an oil rig. Using a butane torch, the dabber heats a small “nail” made of quartz or titanium, then applies the cannabis product to the red-hot nail and inhales the smoke.
For people who get too high from dabbing, Seifert recommends eating something with sugar or smoking a floral strain of cannabis that’s high in CBD, a compound that reportedly reduces the intoxicating effects of THC.
“You have to start out small,” Seifert said about first-time dabbers. “You’ve got to know what you’re doing. It’s nothing to play with.”
The public health sector also is paying attention to dabbing and marijuana use, especially among youths. In one example, the True North Student Assistance Center in Olympia, which focuses on substance abuse, reports that 70 percent of youth undergoing treatment have admitted to dabbing.
Dr. Rachel Wood, public health officer for Thurston and Lewis counties, recommends that parents learn more about electronic smoking devices that can be used to consume hash oil.
“I’m just dismayed that our youth are using these products,” Wood said. “There’s a lot of education that needs to go on.”