Why Did Police Retract Warnings About "Shatter?"

By May Wilkerson 11/30/15

Warnings about the "dangerous" drug were apparently premature.

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The latest drug to create a media-fueled panic is called “shatter.” Police in Illinois and Vancouver warned the public about the drug, which they claimed can “cause users to disconnect from reality” and may even lead to "hallucinations and other types of psychosis."

But the drug has turned out to be less scary than it sounds when you learn that it’s actually just a concentrated form of marijuana.

Also known as “wax,” “sap” or “budder,” the concentrate resembles honey or taffy and can be inhaled for a more powerful high than traditional marijuana buds. The substance is typically created using the chemical solvent butane, and is often called butane hash oil or “BHO.”

The Illinois State Police sent out a warning earlier this month that the high from shatter can be "up to six times stronger than the average marijuana cigarette" after they seized more than 100 pounds of the drug and arrested three people for possession.

A similar warning was issued in Vancouver, when local police tweeted: “Parents!!!! Please educate your children on the dangers of ‘Shatter’. We cannot lose any more young people to senseless overdoses.”

However, the Vancouver police retracted the warning upon learning that shatter is pot concentrate, and cannot lead to an overdose. “While well-intentioned, our tweets about #Shatter weren’t accurate & have been deleted. Our apologies. We will do better in future.” they tweeted last week.

Meanwhile, the Illinois State Police directed questions about shatter to Mark Piccoli, director of the DuPage Metropolitan Enforcement Group, which enforces drug laws in the suburbs of Chicago. Piccoli said his agency has seen about five cases of BHO possession in his area this year. The drug sells for about twice the street price of pot, and contains 80% to 90% THC, as compared to 15% in the average marijuana bud. BHO is typically heated up with a special apparatus involving a blowtorch and then inhaled, in a process called “dabbing.”

Though overdoses are nearly impossible, Piccoli warns that “dabbing” can be dangerous because of the high potency. "It's very strong compared to smoking marijuana or smoking a joint," he said. "You don't see overdoses from marijuana. They're extremely rare, it almost never happens, but I imagine there's a higher potential for that to happen along with hallucinations and other types of psychosis."

The biggest danger of shatter could be in how the drug is produced, rather than its effects, since it’s often concocted in home labs, said Dana Larsen, director of the marijuana reform organization Sensible BC in British Columbia.

“These kind of products that are very potent should not be the first way you enter into cannabis use, but parents do not have to be worried about children dying from marijuana overdose. That is not a legitimate concern at all,” he said. “Shatter or dabs or wax or butter, or whatever you want to call it, these products are very pure and very potent, but they don’t cause anybody to die.”

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.