Marijuana derivative ‘shatter’ poses risks, policy challenges


Use of butane to extract THC from pot plant material can cause explosions

The marijuana derivative drug shatter can have a consistency resembling peanut brittle. (Brennan Linsley/Associated Press)


It’s been called “marijuana on steroids.”

And it comes with a THC concentration far beyond anything a run-of-the-mill joint would offer.

With that potency, along with the dangers from its production, shatter is offering police and policy makers a new set of challenges, perhaps particularly as the federal government moves toward legalizing marijuana.

“It’s the highly variable [tetrahydrocannabinol] concentration that you see where a lot of people get into dangers,” says Matthew Young, a senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

“They don’t really know how much they’re taking. Without knowing how much they’re taking, they don’t necessarily know the effects it’s going to have on their mind and body.”

Strong marijuana derivatives like shatter are nothing new. But shatter has been drawing more public and police attention in recent months because of the potential for explosion as it is made, using the volatile solvent butane to extract the THC from the marijuana “shake” or plant leftovers.

“The risks and the hazards related to the production of shatter are as high if not higher than a methamphetamine lab because of the amount of solvents that’s being used,” says Luc Chicoine, the RCMP’s national drug program co-ordinator.

“Those solvents go in the air. Often it’s being done in residences and in enclosed areas, and then you’re increasing the risk for explosion.”

Hard to get the numbers

Tracking shatter — which can have a consistency like hard caramel or peanut brittle — across Canada is not that easy. Police reports don’t necessarily break out shatter separately from other forms of marijuana, although news releases sometimes mention its seizure.

“Typically shatter won’t be found by itself,” says Mike Serr, deputy chief constable of the Abbotsford Police Department and chair of the drug abuse committee for the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

Shatter drug
Shatter is sometimes produced using the solvent butane to extract the THC from the ‘shake’ or leftovers of the marijuana plant. (CBC)
While shatter has been turning up in police reports across the country, it has emerged in particular in B.C.

Going back to 2013, police have come across seven marijuana oil extraction labs in the Lower Mainland. Six of those discoveries were the result of an explosion, says Serr, In most cases, there was at least one person injured. In one instance, it led to a death.

Serr sees several reasons for the increasing attention being paid to shatter.

“I think the culture around marijuana is changing. People are always looking for new products, derivatives, edibles and those kinds of things,” he says, noting also a “change in the culture” because of all the talk about the possible medical uses of marijuana and legalization.


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Written by: Janet Davison

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