A novel form of marijuana involving the inhalation of highly potent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) created via butane extraction is becoming increasingly common, placing both producers and users at risk for fires and burns, warn US researchers.
The practice, known as dabbing, uses less potent parts of the cannabis plant to create concentrated butane hash oils (BHO), which are crystalized, then heated with a blowtorch so that the vapors can be inhaled.
John M. Stogner, PhD, from the University of North Carolina, at Charlotte, and Bryan Lee Miller, PhD, from Georgia Southern University, in Statesboro, warn that there is a lack of research into the practice, although a number of accidents and injuries have been reported.
“Health care professionals have the responsibility to remind their patients, particularly those who have used marijuana, of the dangers that may be associated with a stronger product,” the investigators write.
“They serve a key role in educating young people that BHO extract use potentially carries risks beyond that of flower cannabis smoking,” they add.
The researchers also advise that “primary care physicians avoid hyperbolic arguments like those of the media that describe dabbing as ‘the crack of pot,’ and instead urge caution.”
“Patients should be advised that research is lacking, information is still largely anecdotal, and the safest option is to refrain from use when definitive answers are absent.”
The article was published online June 15 in the journal Pediatrics.
The investigators explain that BHO can be produced at home in a process called “blasting,” because it is relatively uncomplicated, needs few resources, and there are a number of instructional videos available on the Internet.
THC and other hydrophobic compounds within the cannabis dissolve into the butane, and once it has evaporated, it leaves behind crystalized resins that can have a THC concentration of up to 80%. This means that less potent parts of the cannabis plant can be salvaged.
However, the authors describe the process as “extremely dangerous” because of the flammable and volatile nature of the butane. This has led to a number of fires, explosions, and severe burns, with the risks comparable to that of producing methamphetamine.
Once the crystals have been created, what is termed as an “oil rig” is set up, in which a titanium rod is heated with a blowtorch to vaporize small amounts of crystals, or “dabs,” which are then inhaled through a glass water pipe.
Alongside the risks of using a blowtorch to heat the titanium rod to over 400º C, there are long-term health risks associated with inhaling solder, rust from oxidized metal parts, and benzene.
The authors stress that there is a lack of research into dabbing. Proponents suggest that it is safer than smoking marijuana, but others believe that there are greater acute risks from inhaling a more potent form of the drug.