Powerful forms of marijuana that deliver a quicker and stronger high than the traditional leafy variety are turning up at an alarming rate in Minnesota, authorities say, noting that seizures of the potent and illegal drug have risen dramatically in the past five years.
With street names such as skittlez, shatter and wax, the marijuana concentrates come in the form of powders, oils and solid concoctions that look somewhat like peanut brittle or honeycombs, and they are as dangerous to ingest as they are to make, authorities said.
“We are extremely concerned about the rise in marijuana wax,” Plymouth Police Chief Mike Goldstein said during a Friday news conference held by the Northwest Metro Violent Crime Enforcement Team. “We need the public, and especially parents, to recognize marijuana wax as it looks nothing like traditional marijuana.
“We also need to understand how incredibly dangerous this byproduct is.”
In the first three months of 2016, the team — composed of eight law enforcement agencies in the northwest suburbs of Hennepin County — has seized more than 12 pounds of marijuana concentrates with a street value of more than $300,000. The team seized just a quarter of a pound in all of last year.
Statewide, the 23 law enforcement teams that focus on weapons offenses and felony-level narcotic crimes seized 27 pounds of wax last year, up from 0.4 pounds in 2011.
Cmdr. Robert Topp said the wax is making its way to Minnesota from states such as Colorado, Washington and California, where marijuana is legal in some form. “It’s becoming more pervasive,” Topp said. “We see it at every marijuana search warrant we execute.”
Marijuana wax has a higher concentration of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — 30 to 90 percent, compared with 1 to 5 percent in traditional cannabis form, said Dr. JoAn Laes, an addiction medicine expert at Hennepin County Medical Center. With its high levels of THC, wax can cause hallucinations, paranoia, psychosis and impaired judgment.
“People don’t understand that the high THC content can lead to the intense psychological and physical effects, more than what they are expecting,” she said. She noted that the long-term effects of marijuana wax usage is not known.
In the past year, the Minnesota Poison Control System at HCMC has received nine inquiries from health care facilities treating patients — mostly ages 14 to 18 — who had used marijuana wax. Laes said the number of patients being treated is greatly underreported.
Making the drug can be just as dangerous and deadly as smoking it, said Brian Marquart, statewide gang and drug coordinator for the Department of Public Safety’s Office of Justice Programs. Butane is used to extract the THC from the leafy plant, and it is highly flammable. A spark could cause an explosion, which is what happened last year in St. Cloud when an elderly woman’s grandson and his friend were manufacturing marijuana wax in her basement. Their hot plate ignited the butane gas, starting a fire that killed the grandmother.