As more states legalize cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, the association between excessive cannabis consumption and psychosis is getting more research attention. An increasing number of states plan to conduct research on the mental health risks associated with high potency cannabis products such as concentrates.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports an increase in psychosis associated with cannabis use. Products such as wax, butter, and shatter are made with extracted THC and other cannabinoids, and they are usually “dabbed” or vaporized for a quick and powerful psychoactive or pain-relieving effect. NIDA warns that the higher the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) potency of the cannabis wax, shatter, or vape increases the risk of experiencing a psychotic episode. Some concentrates can have THC levels as high as 85-90%, so many states including Colorado and Washington are considering potency caps and product warnings.
There is little existing research on concentrates despite their increasing availability in legal states, and studies have resulted in conflicting findings. For example, a study published in JAMA found that those using high potency products were at greater risk for psychotic experiences. Another research study published in Nature found that concentrate users had comparable decision-making performance to those in the sober control group but did exhibit memory impairments in the areas of free recall, source memory and false memories.
Although high potency concentrates are widely available in legal states, the research on their benefits and risks is limited. According to Washington State University lead researcher Dr. Carrie Cuttler, “There’s been a lot of speculation that these really high-potency cannabis concentrates might magnify detrimental consequences, but there’s been almost zero research on cannabis concentrates which are freely available for people to use. I want to see way more research before we come to any general conclusion.” Future research will identify patterns of use and potency levels that are associated with increased mental health risks.
The Alcohol and Drug Foundation identifies some factors that contribute to a person’s susceptibility to psychosis triggered by high THC products; factors include the amount and frequency of use, the type of cannabis product, the mental and physical health of the individual (including size, weight, fitness level, etc.), environment, and the individual’s personality. Most cannabis industry experts and medical professionals agree that proper testing and labeling is critical to promoting safer cannabis use.