Manufacture of emerging drug ‘shatter’ on Canadian market poses dangers to users and makers: police

Glenn Johnson
Manufacture of emerging drug ‘shatter’ on Canadian market poses dangers to users and makers: police

eds: Images can be obtained from pamphlet

A drug being introduced to Canadian streets has an explosive potential — one that police and authorities are worried could cause dangerous consequences for innocent bystanders.

The drug itself is extremely potent, but there is a great deal of concern about the danger of explosions or fires from methods used to convert or “manufacture” marijuana into highly potent concentrates.

The new drug is called “shatter”; it looks like maple syrup or thin toffee on wax paper. But its looks are deceiving. The drug is similar to hash oil, is also known as honey oil or budder and contains a THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) level of up to 80 per cent, which can give hallucinations. Top grade marijuana on the streets usually measures about 20 per cent.

It sells for about $100 a gram and it takes about eight grams of marijuana to make one gram of the concentrate.

Shatter is a hardened extract made from marijuana resin that is processed with highly flammable materials that have caused an untold number of fires in the U.S., where it started making an appearance a couple of years ago. A scan of media reports in the last two years shows incidents mostly reported in parts of California and Colorado. In those two states, it is sometimes processed for legal marijuana dispensaries or for the black market.

One method is butane extraction — an extremely dangerous process because of the highly explosive butane used to extract the THC from the marijuana plant.

The shredded or ground plant materials are stuffed into a pipe made of glass, metal, or plastic. At the other end is a filter which allows the butane to pass through from one end to the other. The butane — a common fuel for cigarette lighters many years ago — is forced through the pipe where it extracts the THC, goes through a filter and into a glass pan or similar vessel.  

What makes the process even more dangerous is that the extract then has to be “cooked.”  The container is put on a heat source to get rid of the butane by converting it into an easily ignited gas vapour. The heat source, or even a spark from a nearby light switch or a cellphone can be enough to cause violent explosions.

“THC extraction labs are being reported nationwide, particularly in the western states and in states where local and state marijuana laws are more relaxed,” The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency states in a pamphlet for law enforcement officials.

Canadian media reported last week that the drug is now being seen in some communities, like Stratford, Ontario, which issued a warning about it.

Toronto Police Service told Yahoo Canada News that they are also aware of shatter.

“In our experience, it is relatively new to the streets here, and we have encountered it (albeit few) on the drug level, and on the manufacturing level,” Const. Victor Kwong said in an interview.

“The specific dangers with shatter is that a natural plant is mixed with chemical. This provides a health concern. But the bigger danger is the manufacturing process which can be explosive. It not only endangers the manufacturer, but their neighbours as well.”

An RCMP spokesman told Yahoo Canada News that because the drug is so new to Canada, the police force does not have data on shatter nationally. He added that it will likely show up in their data a year from now. 

To date, the RCMP say that no large-scale seizures of shatter have been reported, but police in Stratford recently arrested two men for possession of the potent drug, Stratford police Insp. Sam Theocharis  told CTV News in Kitchener.

“You don’t need a lot of quantity to get high on this drug,” he said.

Stratford police say they are now on the lookout for the drug and trying to educate parents and students in the area about the dangers of the drug.

Police say in addition to the danger from manufacturing, it is highly addictive and its strength can overwhelm users.