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Will Marijuana “Dabbing” Harm the Legalization Movement?

Posted Jun 02 2013 6:01pm

“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: http://www.hightimes.com/

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