Sunday, June 2, 2013

Will Marijuana “Dabbing” Harm the Legalization Movement?

“Relax, bro—it’s just a blowtorch.”

It is called dabbing, and it is something the marijuana legalization movement would rather you didn’t know about. As crack is to powdered cocaine, so a dab is to a joint of marijuana: the same drug, in a much more concentrated form. But butane hash oil, or BHO, the end product of dabbing, is seen by many in the movement as a potential public relations disaster.

It’s easy to find instructions on the Internet for making butane hash oil. (Not to be confused with the hash oil of the 1970s produced, most commonly, using sieves, ice, naphtha, or acetone to separate the THC-rich trichomes from the rest of the plant material.) Butane hash oil, produced by “blasting”  butane through top-quality marijuana, then “purging” away the butane, looks a bit like beeswax and allegedly boosts THC content to a mind-blowing 70 to 90 per cent. The most potent of today’s varietals rarely reach or exceed 20 per cent. The result is known as wax, shatter, honey oil, and about a dozen other monikers. It is smoked using a glass tube and a red-hot piece of metal, not unlike the hippie “hot knives” method of smoking.

As Andrew Sullivan wrote at his blog, The Dish: “Going on the basis of such super high purity alone, even the funkiest colored trichome crystal encased high-grade leaf starts to look like steam punk technology in a fossil fuel world.”

Or, in the pithy phrasing favored by High Times: “A quantum leap forward in stoner evolution.”

In a High Times magazine article last year, author Bobby Black wrote about the central problem, namely that “the techniques used to make and consume BHO bear an eerie resemblance to those used for harder drugs like meth and crack.” This creates “a fear that seeing teenagers wielding blowtorches or blowing themselves up on the evening news might incite a new anti-pot paranoia that could set the legalization movement back decades.”

It happened when wine and ale became whiskey and gin, according to one school of thought. It happened again when hand dried, hand rolled tobacco became the machine rolled cigarette. And it happened when powdered cocaine became crack. Increasingly concentrated forms of plant drugs became more potent, more addictive, more expensive—and more socially disruptive. Has it happened in a high-tech way with good old friendly organic backyard marijuana?

And is BHO any more dangerous to users than regular weed? The butane technique is controversial, and the effects of ingesting marijuana that has previously been supersaturated with that particular solvent are intensely debated in the weed world. Marijuana collectives in California have been selling “butane honey oil” to qualified medical marijuana customers for some time now. There are tasting parties called “Wax Wednesdays.” But the state has made it illegal to produce BHO. David Downs, writing last month in Oakland’s East Bay Express, reported on a state appellate courting hearing in San Francisco, “in which an attorney for defendant Ryan Schultz worked to overturn the San Francisco resident’s three-year probation sentence for operating a BHO ‘drug lab.’ Meanwhile, several blocks away at permitted pot dispensaries, the fruits of such drug labs are on sale for upwards of $50 per gram.”

The defendant’s case was not helped when, in January, “two blasters blew themselves up in a San Diego motel, resulting in hospitalization, followed by drug lab charges.” And just to confuse the matter a bit more, BHO production is legal in Colorado, and other medical marijuana states are considering it.

The health verdict on all this isn’t in yet. The primary danger of BHO may be its manufacture, and in all the Richard Pryor-type explosions that lie ahead. Even High Times seems to be a bit wary of it. The magazine “strongly discourages anyone who has not been professionally trained from making BHO on their own.” Ventilation, it seems, is the key.

It’s unlikely, but not impossible, that the amount of residual butane inhaled could constitute a health threat. Cheap butane contains various impurities, and there has been at least one reported case of chemical epiglottitis, a condition in which inflammation caused by a chemical blocks off the windpipe. But as one marijuana backer told High Times, “you can actually get epiglottitis from hot coffee if you swallow it incorrectly.”

In February, The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was moved to issue a formal bulletin on the matter: “Butane is highly explosive, colorless, odorless and heaver than air and therefore can travel along the floor until it encounters an ignition source…. Reported fires and explosions have blown out windows, walls, and caused numerous burn injuries.”

Bob Melamede, an associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado and the CEO of Cannabis Science Inc., told High Times: “If you have contaminants (i.e., pesticides, herbicides, fungi) on your plant, that’s going to come off into the extract. Then, when you evaporate the solvent, you’ll actually be concentrating those things—and THAT’S the real danger.”

Photo Credit:


Morpheus said...

I've smoked BTO and its really nothing to get worked up over. I enjoy cannabis as much as the next guy but I'm not a heavy (everyday) smoker. I would describe BHO as similar to a really strong strain or good hash.

The real danger as the article notes is in manufacturing BTO. It should be done only by qualified chemists in a lab. But thanks to drug prohibition we have people making meth in their kitchens so are we really surprised when some inventive and unlucky potheads blow themselves up looking for the next big thing? The answer of course is to manufacture BTO by those who know how to do so safely.

As an aside, how is BTO different than hash oil? Extracting the cannabiniods using different solvents can make some pretty potent oils. It seems to me that BHO is merely a different extraction using butane as the non-polar solvent.

Anonymous said...

The writer seems very ill informed on the creation process of bho "blasting super heated butane using a blow torch"? Lol sounds like a 100% surefire way to blow yourself up. Butane evaporates (boils off) at low room temp, no need to "super heat" it lol. More research is needed here.

Dirk Hanson said...

More a difference of degree than kind, but you're saying not even much difference in degree. Are the tales of 90% THC mere urban folklore? Why blast unless there are advantages?

Dirk Hanson said...

Anonymous: Thanks for flagging a sentence that mistakenly conflated manufacture with consumption. Note to BHO fans: Lose the blowtorch.

Morpheus said...


I've only tried it a couple times, qualitatively the experience was not much different than smoking potent pot. In a blind test I doubt I would be able to distinguish BTO from very strong strains or hash.
Maybe if you smoked potent weed all day everyday the experience would be different, IDK.

I haven't seen any chemical analyses of BTO, but it sure is potent. A very small amount is heated on the end of a pin and the fumes inhaled, it doesn't take much. Although even if the THC was upwards of 90% would that necessarily be all that different than say 20% THC nuggs? The dose-response curve with THC is steep, but is being very high up on the curve that much different than being moderately high on the curve? (pardon the pun - not intended) Put another way there is a big difference between 5 ng/mL of THC in the blood and 40 ng/mL, but is there a big difference between 40 ng/mL and 100 ng/mL? In my experience cannabis intoxication plateau's out after a certain point, you get to a point where no matter how much more you smoke you just won't get higher.

(just making up numbers for the sake of argument, no idea if those blood levels are accurate).

ned said...

The ONLY reason this raises red flags, is that it isn't something that's being done at a commercial industrial facility. The medical exception still hasn't provided the ability for established processors to feel safe to add this to all the other herbal extractions they do daily. The marijuana world didn't invent these processes, they simply spotted them being used for legal herbal extraction products and applied them to their plant of interest.

Let's also get over the fear of high purity, otherwise known by fear mongers as the scary "high potency". High purity is just that, which by any normal standard is a good thing. It means the smallest possible amount is needed to achieve the desired effect. Ingesting fewer impurities reduces possible negative health impacts. It does not mean the effect of the drug morphs into something beyond what lower purities do. Something mysterious and scary and worthy of being categorized entirely differently. Sure, the onset is speeded up, but that's exactly comparable to how a strong martini acts as compared to a glass of wine, only THC is non toxic.

Ingesting a high purity cannabis IS NOT more addictive because cannabinoids are not addictive. They are habit forming. Even powerfully so, but they aren't toxic. You still cannot OD and die even if it was 100% THC.

Across America, extremely high purity alcohol products are available, and they DO have the potential to kill is one episode. So stop trying to establish a double standard where the LESS dangerous substance has a higher standard to meet.

Dirk Hanson said...

Thanks for the comments. BTW, I'm not trying to establish any standards, just trying to report the story.

Dirk Hanson said...

Morpheus: Agree with you about dose-response curve, and whether you can somehow sustain a higher high with that level of THC in the product. Or whether you just get as high as you're going to get a lot faster.

Anonymous said...

The fact is BHO is being manufactured using state of the art, custom built recirculating extractions. I know because I own one in and use it at our infused products company. It has been inspected by the fire department. Professionals have evolved past blowing tubes.

Dirk Hanson said...

There's no doubting the professional high end of the market, where knowledgeable people are using state-of-the-art equipment and pure butane. But that doesn't obviate the reality of amateur basement setups all over the country.

Anonymous said...

One of the main problems is getting pure unperfumed butane. An HELL ye loose the blow torch!

Anonymous said...

Butane is chemically similar to hexane which is an industry standard for extraction of commercial plant oils. You see it a lot in cooking oil and in vitamin plant oil capsules. Butane is cheap and readily available in small quantities, unlike hexane. This is likely why the underground bho producers use it. However recently even underground bho producers are using vacuum systems to purge their products of additional impurities. It would seem as though the ones who cause explosions are outliers.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to weed, articles of this type are filed under "The boy who cried addiction". People use your stories of a few to justify countless lives destroyed by weed laws (not our president, but others).

Dirk Hanson said...

I'm confused by that last comment. Marijuana addiction was never mentioned in the blog post.

Unknown said...

It is dishonest to distance yourself from the issue of addiction when the blog is the 'Addiction Inbox'. Nice try, the debate version of the 'slide of hand' thing

Dirk Hanson said...

There's no dishonesty, and I'm not attempting to distance myself from anything. There are plenty of posts on this blog pertaining to marijuana addiction and withdrawal, and I invite you to read them.

This one has more than 1,000 comments:

Jim Diz said...

1. I have seen 90% THC hashish for sale at Harborside Dispensary. This was several years ago, before the dabbing craze, and a full melt, not a wax.

2. Dry ice based extraction is quickly becoming popular, so much so that I could see it replacing BHO in the long term future. It makes tangibly better product, that charges a premium.

Dabbing and concentrates are certainly being abused, but there's no denying the health benefits of their use over the smoking of regular cannabis: much less material is burned, and much less smoke is inhaled. I can no longer smoke regular cannabis - it's just too rough on the throat.

However, the butane is certainly in counterbalance to that. I stick to CO2 extractions, myself.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...