Wax pens: Increased use of high-concentration cannabis in some Quebec high schools

Drug addiction specialists are warning parents about a new and strong cannabis drug available online that is increasing in popularity among Quebec high school students.

The vaping cylinder, known as a 'wax pen,' contains wax that is a highly concentrated cannabis liquid with high levels of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

"We're talking about 97-99 per cent of THC [in the 'wax pens'], said Audrey-Ann Lecours, a clinical supervisor at drug prevention organization Action Toxicomanie.

"It's considerable if we consider that the products available at the Societe Quebecoise du Cannabis (SQDC), contain maximum concentrations of 30 per cent," she said.

Deeply inhaling higher concentrations of THC can cause serious side effects because of the way it acts on the brain and can create dependence more quickly than a low dose, Lecours explained.

"We've been hearing about them for about two, three years, but it was a marginal product," she said.

Over the last year, however, there's been a significant increase in consumption in high schools, a phenomenon witnessed firsthand by members of their prevention teams working in the field.

The 'wax pens' also go by other names, as detailed by Quebec's health ministry in 2019.

By any name, they seem to appeal to teenagers, experts say, because they come in different flavours, fruit or cotton candy, for instance, and come in packaging that makes them look like boxes of candy.

"One reason why it’s liked by kids is it’s discreet, you can smoke almost everywhere, it doesn’t smell, there’s no smoke," said Jean-Sebastien Fallu, an associate professor of psychoeducation at Universite de Montreal and a specialist in addiction.


Experts are also concerned about a type of game kids are playing with 'wax-pens' which have a light that turns on when someone has taken a big puff.

"To be part of the gang, to show them I got my dose, I'll take the biggest puff possible," Lecours said, "and then between the students, there is the competition to see who will turn on the light the most."

But that intense dose can trigger serious side effects, including loss of consciousness, dizziness and vomiting, the organization's social workers and psychologists have reported.

Along with the immediate physical reactions, the student is also at risk of developing mental health problems.

"People assume the long-term problems that can develop for youth are only illnesses like schizophrenia, but "it also has an impact on brain development and can cause anxiety and depression, and we don't hear as much about that," said Lecours.

"It’s not black and white," said Fallu, noting the wax pens are legal in some parts of the United States for adults "and are probably better for the lungs and respiratory system because there's no smoke or tar," he said.

But he agrees with Lecours that because the small cannabis vapes are easy to hide and to use "and it’s so potent, you might quickly develop some tolerance," and with increased use, risk becoming addicted.

"One puff gets you high," he said, so the "new fad" here, needs some discussion at schools and in the home.


The slim devices, which are illegal in Quebec, can be easily purchased online through an Interac transaction after the teenager has clicked a box saying they're at least 21 years old.

For that reason, Action Toxicomanie has launched an awareness campaign for parents in the Mauricie and Centre-Quebec regions where they focus their prevention work.

"They should know that when teens have these products delivered by mail, they should pay attention to the contents because it might not just be a new video game," said Lecours.

"The business model for drug transactions today is not the same. They used to meet a drug dealer far from home."

"Now it's delivered right to your door," she said.


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