They are practical, odorless, less expensive, easy to get and more discreet. Electronic cigarettes have become ubiquitous in Canadian society and among young people in just a few years. Though they may seem slightly less harmful than tobacco, e-cigarettes are fraught with several known risks and hazards still poorly understood.
The e-cigarette device heats a liquid which produces an aerosol that contains propylene glycol with additives. This aerosol is then inhaled. Although the term “e-cigarette” primarily refers to a device used for nicotine, it can also be used for other drugs.
Wax Pens, Vaping, Dabbing: E-Cannabis
After e-cigarettes, technology brought on new ways of consuming cannabis. These new methods of consumption exacerbate the harmful effects of THC and pose new risks from illegally sold products.
These products often target teenagers, with brightly coloured packaging and fruit or candy flavours. These accessories are easy to use, discreet and odourless. They can easily be mistaken for e-cigarettes. Certain signs of drug use by teenagers may then go unnoticed: the smell of cannabis, items related to using such as rolling paper, grinders, etc.
Electronic consumption devices heat concentrated cannabis extract rather than the natural flower. This drug is 15 times stronger than in the 1970s. Packaging lists THC levels at 97% to 99%. Whereas SQDC cannabis products with THC levels higher than 20% are considered high strength.
“THC is the main psychoactive compound in cannabis. It causes most of the psychotropic and physical effects sought by users, including a feeling of euphoria. Experiencing these effects is often referred to as being stoned, high or buzzed. The higher the percentage of THC, the more strongly the effects will be felt.” 
The name changes depending on the component: oil concentrates (dabbing), solids (wax, shatter) or liquids of uncertain composition (wax pen).
Although cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2018, wax is illegal given its THC level is not controlled. However, it is sold on the Internet and readily available to young people.
Wax Pens: A Higher Risk Among Young People
There is little research in young people when it comes to effects due to very high THC doses (up to 90% compared to 30% for cannabis flower) contained in vaping products. However, observations by the Canadian Paediatric Society show that the negative psychiatric effects of cannabis may be exacerbated when using a wax pen as opposed to a traditional joint. Users are therefore at increased risk of developing a depressive disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The high concentration can also lead to overdoses and panic attacks. Increased dependence is more likely due to wax pens being easily accessible: indeed, users carry their vaping device in their pocket all day and can discreetly take one or two puffs several times a day.
There is also a higher risk for accidents. For now, little is known about the effects of high THC levels on cognitive functions and brain development, but we already know that lower doses have a lasting effect on memory, cognitive functions and thus, on academic performance. We can therefore logically assume that high doses exacerbate these issues.
Moving Towards Electronic Consumption Methods for Other Drugs?
After nicotine and cannabis THC, other cannabis products are now being sold as concentrated liquids such as CBD, without psychotropic effects. Some designer drug products are also used to bypass drug laws and mimic street drugs (such as bath salts). What makes up these mixtures is often unknown, which again exposes users to overdoses or unexpected effects.
Street drugs have been tested in liquid cartridges, including LSD, DMT (a powerful hallucinogen with dissociative effects), ketamine and fentanyl. Users often make their own mixtures by including one or more drugs in the liquid, which creates new challenges for public health and risks of overdose, in addition to exposing users to unknown drugs with significant risks.
Clarification of the Law: On its website, the SQDC reminds us that all cannabis vaping products sold in Quebec are illegally sourced, with uncontrolled qualities that pose health risks. Their users are therefore subject to criminal prosecution. In Ontario and New Brunswick, selling cannabis vaping products to people of statutory age is legal. The Ontario Cannabis Store and Cannabis NB advise users to avoid the black market.
If you have any questions or concerns about your own consumption habits or a loved one’s, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to listen and guide you through it.
*Picture credit: https://unsplash.com/photos/PMf9FvSUMQg