Pubdate: Fri, 13 May 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Sarah Maslin Nir


On a recent bright afternoon, two teenage boys in boat shoes and 
shorts strolled up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in a crowd of 
passers-by. At 56th Street they paused as one pulled an electronic 
pipe out of his pocket and held it to his friend's lips. Inside was a 
potent and little-studied drug made from distilled marijuana; they 
were emboldened, they said, by the fact that the gooey wax hardly has 
a smell, and is so novel in New York that, even if discovered, 
parents, teachers or even the authorities hardly seem to know what it is.

As throngs walked by, the boys stood in front of the diamond-filled 
windows of Harry Winston, getting high.

The practice of consuming marijuana extract - a yellow, waxy 
substance that can contain high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or 
THC, the chemical in unprocessed marijuana that produces a high - 
appears to have risen rapidly in New York City over the past few 
years, according to federal law enforcement officials as well as 
people who use and sell the drug. Its rise crosses social lines, from 
experimenting teenagers to workers on Wall Street. And it is driven 
by many factors, including the Eastward-trickling effects of a much 
more permissive marijuana culture in the West, where it is now 
dispensed legally in some states.

Medical experts have begun to raise alarms, saying the substance is 
too new to be fully understood and could pose unknown health risks. 
Critics cite its largely unregulated production, in a process that 
often involves home cooks who douse marijuana with volatile butane, 
which can lead to explosions.

The New York Fire Department did not have information on whether 
there had been fires linked to local production, but in 2013 a 
teenage boy was killed and a girl badly injured while allegedly 
making the substance inside a home in Marine Park, Brooklyn.

A spokeswoman for the Police Department said there were no records of 
any officers even encountering the extract; last year, 15,000 
summonses were issued for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Federal law enforcement officials, however, say the drug, also known 
as shatter, butter and honey, is now on their radar. "We monitor any 
type of new twist on drug use in order to warn the public of its 
danger," James J. Hunt, special agent in charge of the federal Drug 
Enforcement Administration's New York division, said in an email. 
Referring to the marijuana extract, he said, "Not only is the method 
of production explosive, but the use has serious physical and 
psychological side effects."

Underscoring the drug's rise is a profound cultural shift: As social 
mores regarding marijuana have loosened, there is a sense among some 
that dabbing, as the practice of using the extract is popularly 
known, titillates because plain old pot has lost its edge.

"A lot of it is, we're doing it in disguise," said one of the 
teenagers on Fifth Avenue, both students at the Masters School, a 
private boarding school in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The two asked that 
their names not be used because they did not want get in trouble with 
the police or school administrators. The advent of vaporizers and the 
smaller "vape pen," a device similar to an e-cigarette, users say, is 
also increasing the popularity of dabbing. Just squeeze the extract 
into a chamber inside the pen, one teenager said, and inhale. "And we 
can do it so freely," he said.

His classmate says the appeal is the ferocity of the high. Users can 
sometimes pass out after inhaling, and the stupefying effects can 
last for hours, and border on the hallucinatory. Marijuana, in its 
traditional plant form, has a THC concentration of about 20 percent, 
according to information distributed by the Drug Enforcement 
Administration. The wax used for dabbing can have a concentration of 
up to 80 percent.

"Marijuana," the teenager said, "is the beer of THC, as dabbing is to vodka."

The extract is typically made by pouring a solvent over marijuana 
plants to extract the THC, then letting the solvent evaporate. The 
waxy substance that remains, and its variants, now make up a booming 
sector of the marijuana economy, according to the ArcView Group, a 
company that studies and invests in the cannabis industry.

The product is so new that even in states where marijuana is 
permitted to some degree, there is frequently no regulation 
concerning its labeling or how it is made. "The laws haven't caught 
up with this part of the marketplace," said Paul Armentano, the 
deputy director of Norml, a national organization that advocates the 
legalization of marijuana.

There has been little research on marijuana concentrates and whether 
they affect the body differently than other forms of marijuana. But 
what is known is cause for concern, according to Emily Feinstein, the 
director of health law and policy for the National Center on 
Addiction and Substance Abuse. "There is some evidence to suggest 
that the outcomes, like the effects, may be supercharged," Ms. 
Feinstein said in an email. "Side effects can include: a rapid 
heartbeat, blackouts, psychosis, paranoia and hallucinations that 
cause people to end up in psychiatric facilities."

Even among marijuana proponents, dabbing is a polarizing topic. On 
message boards and online forums, some say it is just another way to 
consume the drug, while others fear that it could be misused. "When a 
product is more potent, and when the root of administration is 
conducive to people experiencing a very strong high very quickly," 
Mr. Armentano said, "then one can argue that the risk of abuse goes up."

A man who sells marijuana on Craigslist, who identified himself as 
Tony Holl, said in an interview that his business had risen 
dramatically. "I was surprised; once one person asked, then a whole 
bunch of people asked," he said. "It's definitely a trend."

In New York, users say there is a heightened appeal: the ease of 
evasion. Videos are traded among teenagers that show off brazen 
dabbing in public, in the bleachers at high school sports games, or 
even in school.

One user, a 27-year-old man who lives in Midwood, drew a parallel 
with the technological advances that have shrunk computers into 
palm-size smartphones and as driving the fad for a smaller, more 
powerful punch. "Back in the day, people had to find a way to smoke 
weed, to roll it into something," he said, adding that to do so now, 
in this era of concentrates, seems archaic.

On a recent afternoon in SoHo, Mr. Holl, who is 40, produced manila 
envelopes he said he was on his way to deliver. A police officer 
walked nearby, but Mr. Holl said he was not concerned as he displayed 
his wares: white paper smeared with brownish wax. He said most people 
would not recognize it as a drug.

One thing Mr. Holl says he will not do, however, is use his product. 
The high, he said, is too intense. "That's the only dangerous thing 
about it," he said. "Opportunities can pass you by."
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