A new powerful form of marijuana has popped up in New Brunswick, and police are warning about the dangers of using and producing the drug.
Shatter, named for its often peanut brittle-like texture and tendency to break into glass-like shards, is a concentrated derivative of marijuana.
It has a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) level of between 70 and 99 per cent, said Const. Dylan Lisson, of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force. THC is the ingredient in marijuana that produces a high.
By comparison, the THC level of standard marijuana is about five to 18 per cent, said Lisson.
Kennebecasis police seized a small amount of shatter — 0.25 grams — from an 18-year-old Quispamsis man a few weeks ago, along with some marijuana, LSD, MDMA and magic mushrooms, following an undercover investigation.
The shatter in that case was in a sticky, taffy-like form, said Lisson. Both types are typically smoked in a pipe or bong, he said.
But the amount required to get high is much less than standard marijuana because it's so potent, which could catch even regular users off guard, said Lisson.
"This is something that could knock you off your feet if you're not used to it, or send you into, you know, a complete high where you're not aware of your surroundings at all. So that's the risk that we run," he said.
"People may be using it where they're not in a position where they're comfortable to be in physically – like they're not at home, they're behind a wheel, they're at a party, they're in a field somewhere, trying it for the first time.
'If you smoke something that's seven times more potent, you're going to have, most likely seven times the high, so chasing that high … it's hard to go back to the regular means of smoking marijuana.' - Dylan Lisson, Kennebecasis Regional Police Force
"So that's a bit of our fear. It's not necessarily lethal in itself, it's just the things that happen to somebody should they be using it and then do something that could cause them to harm themselves."
Lisson also worries that once someone starts using shatter, it may be hard to stop.
"If you smoke something that's seven times more potent, you're going to have, most likely seven times the high, so chasing that high … it's hard to go back to the regular means of smoking marijuana."
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, about nine per cent of people who use marijuana become dependent on it. The higher the concentration of THC, the greater the risk of mental health problems for drug users, the centre says.
'It is on the radar'
Lisson says shatter is new to the region and still relatively rare. "It's not epidemic proportions, by any means."
But it is becoming more prevalent in other areas, such as Ontario, so police in New Brunswick are keeping their eyes open, he said.
"It is on the radar in Saint John," agreed Sgt. Michael McCaig, of the Saint John Police Force's street crime unit.
The RCMP haven't come across any shatter in their operations yet, said Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh. "But we're certainly aware of it," she said.
"We're working with other agencies, sharing information."
The Fredericton Police Force has had at least one seizure of shatter earlier this year, said Sgt. Scott MacKenzie, of the drug crimes unit.
He suspects part of the reason the drug hasn't become prevalent yet could be the cost. A gram of shatter sells for about $60 or $70, whereas marijuana costs between $10 and $20 per gram, depending on the quality, he said.
Risk of explosions
Another reason could be that it's dangerous to produce, said MacKenzie.
Solvents, such as butane, are used to extract the THC from marijuana, and if the area isn't properly vented, the fumes can build up and cause an explosion, he said.
Fredericton emergency crews dealt with such a case in February, said MacKenzie. An explosion and fire forced the evacuation of an apartment building on Aberdeen Street, he said. A man, who was badly burned, is expected to face charges of drug production and arson in November.
Earlier this year, the New Brunswick Association of Fire Prevention Officers tweeted that there had been at least two explosions in the province caused by the process of making shatter.
The NBFPOA did not state where the explosions had occurred.
But clandestine lab experts were called in to investigate the possibility that an explosion and fire in Sussex on Feb. 21 was linked to drug production.
Six people were forced from an apartment building. Two 23-year-old men had severe burns to their hands and one apartment was extensively damaged.
MacKenzie says drug trends tend to travel west to east, starting in areas with larger population bases that could prove financially lucrative.
So if shatter is growing in popularity elsewhere, it could be just a matter of time before it gains hold in New Brunswick, which is historically a large producer of marijuana, given its rural nature.
"That helps, you can grow a large crop in an area no one has access to," he said.
As it stands, a lot of the marijuana is exported, said MacKenzie.
He says other drugs, such as cocaine and prescription drugs, are still the bigger concern.
A month-long investigation by police in Newfoundland and Labrador yielded kilograms of shatter in May.