Shatter is a concentrate of marijuana that usually contains very high amounts of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana that produces its signature high. Shatter is only one of many different names that are used to refer to THC concentrates. Known as a butane hash oil, it is made through a butane extraction process that extracts THC from the cannabis buds and may introduce toxicants and other biologically volatile compounds into the end product. Butane extraction is only one method out of many that is used to make these extracts. While the effects of THC are well known, the fact that shatter is still illegal on a federal level means that the FDA is unable to review and approve patents for the extraction process. This makes it very difficult to ensure that the process does not introduce unwanted compounds into shatter that may be detrimental to someone’s health. Additionally, the intense competition in the THC concentrate production market encourages the cheapest means of production possible. Cost-cutting measures plus a lack of regulation produces an environment of high risk in those who use shatter, as there is little to no governmental oversight and regulatory measures performed in the shatter production process. 1, 2, 19
While it is possible to make CBD butane hash oils, the most common compound is THC since this produces the high that is often the main reason someone uses cannabis. THC can be found in shatter at much higher concentrations than in cannabis buds themselves. While the highest THC concentrations found in cannabis buds seem to peak at around 20%, the THC levels found in shatter are, on average, around 80% or higher. This means that shatter is at least 4 times more potent than the strongest strains of marijuana plant found today. While it has always been possible to overdose on THC, although this is extremely rare, the relatively low potencies that are found in the cannabis plant meant that it would be extremely difficult or even impossible for someone to smoke enough of the plant to overdose. This is not necessarily the case anymore, as potencies have risen dramatically with the introduction of concentrates, and specifically butane hash oils. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7
The way shatter works is almost identical to classical cannabis, as they share the same psychoactive ingredient. That being said, another component of cannabis plants, CBD, is often present at very low levels in shatter and other THC concentrates, at least at a lower proportion than is found in the marijuana plants themselves, and this could increase certain risks. THC is the compound that produces the mental high associated with cannabis use, but it is also closely correlated to an increased risk of precipitating mental health issues. This can include psychosis and schizophrenia, and while THC does not cause these effects, it seems to accelerate or amplify any underlying tendency toward psychotic states. It has been suggested, and continuing research seems to support this claim, that CBD may have neuroprotective properties that can help reduce some of these negative effects that THC use produces. Because CBD is found alongside THC when smoking cannabis plants, the detrimental effects of THC may be minimized, but this is not the case in extracts such as shatter. The extremely high levels of THC with an almost total absence of CBD can increase the risk of precipitated psychosis when someone uses shatter. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 19, 25
The main mechanism of action that shatter utilizes to produce its effects is through stimulation of the endocannabinoid system. Endocannabinoids are compounds that the body produces to moderate a variety of physiological functions. Cannabinoid drugs can activate the natural cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body to a much stronger degree than endocannabinoid compounds are able, thereby producing strong effects in a variety of systems. Through interactions at certain cannabinoid receptors, in particular the CB-1 and CB-2 receptors, shatter can produce a range of downstream effects in the serotonin, dopamine, and opioid neurotransmitter systems among others. Through chronic use of shatter, the brain will undergo changes in the cannabinoid system, and possibly some downstream neurotransmitter systems as well, through a regulation process. This could be downregulation when the brain reduces sensitivity at certain neurotransmitter receptors or upregulation which is increasing receptor sensitivity. After these regulatory processes have begun, a further process of remodeling will begin, although this process can take some time to produce noticeable effects. Once these neurological changes have begun, someone will begin to experience symptoms of shatter withdrawal when they go too long without using the drug. 15, 16, 17, 18, 19
The symptoms of shatter withdrawal are rarely dangerous on their own, but in certain individuals, both cannabis use and withdrawal may present significant risks. We will discuss this in-depth a little later, but for now, we will focus on the most generalized and widely applicable symptoms of shatter withdrawal. These symptoms can be both psychological and physical and are usually quite long-lasting compared to most other drug withdrawal syndromes.
Some of the symptoms of shatter withdrawal include:
These symptoms are not usually life-threatening, even at their peak severity. They can be very uncomfortable, however, and are often the reason someone will continue to use shatter. While the acute, or most intense, symptoms of shatter withdrawal may last a week or two, the post-acute, or less intense psychological symptoms, may persist for months or even years in some cases. Medications and therapy may be able to help reduce the severity of these symptoms, but permanent relief requires continued abstinence from shatter or other THC-containing drugs. 20, 21, 22, 23, 24
The post-acute symptoms of shatter withdrawal are usually much less intense than the acute symptoms, although they can still present difficulties, challenges, and possibly indirect risks as well. Depression can be one of the longest-lasting post-acute symptoms of shatter withdrawal and may increase the risk of relapse or even suicide in severe cases. These symptoms can be reduced through medications as well, but therapy may be especially effective at treating the symptoms and also helping someone to develop new coping skills.
Some of the common post-acute symptoms of shatter withdrawal include:
The duration of these symptoms can vary substantially between individuals, with some people making a quick and complete recovery in just a few weeks. Other people may experience persistent symptoms for months or years, and there are many factors that can contribute to this variable duration. Some of these contributors include someone’s shatter use history, such as the amounts used and duration of use, and co-occurring mental health issues. Regardless of the duration in an individual, medications and therapy may be able to improve their subjective experience of these post-acute withdrawal symptoms.
While the timeline of shatter withdrawal symptoms can vary quite a bit, we will examine a generalized version in the absence of complications. While there is not a clear delineation or distinction between an acute and post-acute phase, it seems to be that the worst symptoms will be resolved within two weeks. Once the physical symptoms have resolved, this could be considered the transition to post-acute withdrawal which is characterized by strictly psychological symptoms.
The half-life of THC, the psychoactive component of shatter, can show some variability depending on how frequently someone used shatter. For a one-time user, the half-life is around 30 hours, while for a chronic user the half-life can be 96 hours or more. These half-lives are specifically for THC itself, even though it may produce metabolites that have shorter or longer half-lives. Depending on someone’s shatter use habits, withdrawal symptoms may begin to appear in between a day to a week after the last time someone used the drug. 26, 27, 28
The progression of shatter withdrawal symptoms over the first month after quitting may look something like this:
The first symptoms to appear are usually an increase in anxiety and a headache. These may remain mild for a day or so, but will soon be joined by sweating and stomach cramps. Insomnia may appear several days after symptoms began and appetite will decrease. Depression, cravings for shatter, and fatigue will slowly increase over the next few days as well. Nausea and vomiting may begin to emerge around the middle of the first week since symptoms began. Mood swings may begin around this time as well as increased irritability and aggression. Hot flashes and tremors may start between the middle to end of the first week, and all of these symptoms are usually near their peak intensity by the seventh day after they began.
The beginning of the second week is often a very unpleasant time. While not commonly dangerous, the symptoms are often at their most severe during this time and can be quite uncomfortable. A few days into the second week, symptoms may begin to resolve. The first symptoms to resolve are usually tremors, hot flashes, vomiting, and stomach pain. Insomnia may begin to improve next, although when someone is able to sleep, their rest can exhibit very vivid dreams or even nightmares. Towards the end of the week, someone’s appetite may begin to return and headaches may lessen or resolve completely. While the physical symptoms may begin improvement, the psychological symptoms are usually still present at a fairly intense level.
The third week will usually mark a significant improvement in the physical symptoms of shatter withdrawal. These symptoms are commonly well on their way to resolution if they have not resolved already. That being said, the psychological symptoms are usually still present, and as the physical symptoms fade, these may seem more intense. This is usually perceptual in nature, as the physical symptoms are no longer able to distract from the psychological symptoms, they may feel more intense.
While the most intense symptoms of shatter withdrawal may be passed, there may still be lingering symptoms. These may sometimes persist for quite some time, and treatment is often recommended to help reduce the severity of these symptoms. In particular, depression may be especially problematic, as it is not unheard of for people to have thoughts of suicide during shatter withdrawal. If someone were to act on these thoughts, they could suffer irreparable or even fatal consequences. Even after detox has been completed, it is often recommended to continue treatment until someone is able to develop new habits and healthier coping skills. There may still be challenges ahead, but continued effort and support can help give someone the best possible chances of achieving successful, long-term recovery.
The physical effects of shatter detox are relatively minimal when compared with other drug withdrawal syndromes. That being said, the few physical effects that do emerge can be uncomfortable and some, such as vomiting may contribute to a slightly increased risk of dehydration during shatter withdrawal.
The endocannabinoid system plays an important, and quite complex, role in gastrointestinal function. Cannabinoid receptors in gastrointestinal tissues and the enteric nervous system can produce a calming and braking effect on certain digestive functions, allowing them to function smoothly. Through chronic shatter use, the CB-1 and CB-2 cannabinoid receptors can become downregulated. This means that their sensitivity is turned down and, subsequently, the endocannabinoids produced by the body have a reduced ability to stimulate them. When these GI cannabinoid receptors are not stimulated to the required degree, hyperactive digestive function can be the result. This may result in nausea, vomiting, and stomach cramps and these are some of the most common effects of shatter detox. 29, 30, 31
The psychological effects of shatter detox are often more severe and disruptive than the physical effects. These can produce complications and increase risks, especially if someone had a pre-existing mental health condition. Depression, anxiety, cravings, psychosis, and the risk of suicide are very real dangers, and these risks need to be addressed and treated appropriately.
Here, we will look at some of the psychological effects of shatter detox including their causes and manifestations:
These are some of the most commonly experienced effects of shatter detox and they have related causes. The endocannabinoid system is responsible, in part, for nociception, or the perception of unpleasant stimuli. This could include pain, bad smells, and even psychological stimuli such as sadness and dysphoria. While it’s exact role is unclear, there is a tendency for those with depressive and anxiety disorder to exhibit dysregulation of endocannabinoid receptors. During shatter detox, the endocannabinoid system is downregulated, meaning it is activated less frequently or less intensely. This can result in a bleak and depressed outlook on life and states of hypervigilance or increased stress. 32, 33, 34, 35
Cravings are another very common effect of shatter detox, and these can often persist for many months after the last time someone used shatter. Similar to other drug cravings, the neurotransmitter dopamine, and changes to dopamine systems, is to blame for these cravings. Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. One of the downstream effects of the cannabinoid system stimulation that shatter produces is an increase in dopamine signaling in certain brain areas, specifically the limbic system. This is sometimes referred to as the “reward center” of the brain and is a major center for reinforcing behaviors that produce feelings of reward. While the exact way that THC can impact the dopamine system is unclear, it is known that dopamine sensitivity can be reduced for prolonged periods even after THC use stops, especially in long term users. When dopamine sensitivity is reduced, it becomes more difficult to experience positive feelings of any kind, and the memory of the euphoria and pleasure produced through shatter use can seem extremely attractive. This can be especially pronounced while the psychological effects of shatter detox are causing someone to feel depressed and anxious, as they will often crave relief from these symptoms. 36, 37, 38
While the symptoms of shatter withdrawal may not always be dangerous, there are certain situations when entering a shatter detox center may be highly recommended. Depending on someone’s use history and possible co-occurring mental health issues, there may be substantial risks associated with self-detox, and medications, medical supervision, and psychiatric care may be necessary.
Some situations when a shatter detox center is especially recommended includes:
The psychological effects of shatter detox very often include depression and anxiety as some of the more intense effects. If someone had a pre-existing history of depression or anxiety, then they may experience more intense symptoms. Depression, in particular, could subsequently increase the risk for suicidal ideation or suicide attempts, so in these cases, it may be beneficial for someone to enter a shatter detox center.
The endocannabinoid system has a somewhat mysterious influence on states of psychosis and other mental health conditions. This could include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia and while the exact relationships between these mental health issues and the endocannabinoid system are unclear, there is almost certainly a close relationship. It is commonly seen that people suffering from these conditions have dysregulated endocannabinoid receptors, and there is a correlation of first-time psychotic episodes resulting from THC use. This has been evidenced by potent marijuana use, and the much higher potency of shatter can make this more a[pparent. The relative newness of shatter makes comparisons difficult, as there simply hasn’t been enough time for a significant number of these events to have been reported. If someone has a history of mental health issues, or if they have a close family member that has serious mental health issues, it is highly recommended that they enter a shatter detox center. 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45
Shatter addiction can be difficult enough to overcome on it’s own, but when other drugs are abused in tandem, this difficulty increases. Similarly, the risks of negative outcomes increase as the symptoms are more intense and, depending on which drug is abused, there may be more diverse and potentially dangerous symptoms. Drug withdrawal symptoms can compound each other and lead to worse symptoms than those produced by withdrawal from any one drug alone. In cases of poly-drug addiction, it is highly recommended for someone to enter a shatter detox center.
Addiction to shatter may seem like a harmless past-time, but it is often just a matter of time before problems will begin to arise in someone’s life due to their shatter use. A life without shatter is possible, but it takes work and oftentimes the help of others. If someone has the courage to ask for help and the willingness to accept help, then recovery is possible.
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