Researchers found that concentrate users had higher THC levels in their blood, but flower and concentrate use ultimately caused the same level of “being high.”
Potent myths around cannabis concentrates have discouraged some patients that could benefit from their use. Popular misconceptions include: one hit will leave you high for days, some concentrates are akin to “crack,” and smoking concentrates can have fatal outcomes.
A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry examined how smoking traditional cannabis flower versus concentrates affected users. Researchers concluded that consuming concentrates will boost THC levels in your blood, but won’t cause you to become significantly more “high” compared to conventional marijuana.
“Surprisingly, we found that potency did not track with intoxication levels,” the study’s lead author Cinnamon Bidwell said. “While we saw striking differences in blood levels between the two groups, they were similarly impaired.”
University of Colorado-Boulder researchers recruited 121 participants who regularly consumed legal marijuana flower or concentrate products. They were then randomly divided into a high-THC group and a low-THC group. Four types of marijuana products in total were used for the study: 1) high-THC concentrates (90% THC), 2) low-THC concentrates (70% THC), 3) high-THC flower (24%), and 4) low-THC flower (16%). All products used were purchased at legal marijuana stores, making this one of the first cannabis studies to use real-world products in their assessment.
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On the day of testing, researchers drew blood from participants and asked them to complete a baseline assessment. Measurements for mood, intoxication level, cognitive function, and balance were made at three junctures: before smoking, right after smoking, and then an hour post-smoking. Regular concentrate users had higher THC levels at all points in the study. Regardless of potency, however, all participants had similar intoxication levels, balance coordination, and cognitive impairment.
Researchers found that balance was about 11% worse after cannabis use among all groups, and memory was compromised. But the impairment faded within an hour.
“People in the high concentration group were much less compromised than we thought they were going to be,” study coauthor Kent Hutchison, who also studies alcohol addiction, said. “If we gave people that high a concentration of alcohol it would have been a different story.”
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These results, researchers emphasized, came from normal cannabis users who have varying degrees of tolerance. Inexperienced or novice consumers could experience different outcomes, and should approach concentrates with caution. Based on their results, scientists added that more research into how the body metabolizes marijuana is needed. It could be, they suggested, that intoxication has diminishing returns after someone smokes their first hit.
“Does long-term, concentrated exposure mess with your cannabinoid receptors in a way that could have long-term repercussions? Does it make it harder to quit when you want to?” Hutchison said. “We just don’t know yet.”