Dangerous marijuana 'dabbing' drug trend emerges

Posted at 4:22 PM, Jun 22, 2015
and last updated 2015-06-22 17:46:13-04

A lab-concentrated form of marijuana is exploding homes and the drug scene.

The trend is called dabbing, which uses flammable butane to concentrate marijuana plants into an amber, gooey substance called Butane Honey Oil.

The process to make BHO is called “blasting.” It can be done at home by following instructional videos online. While the complexity of cooking up BHO it is low, the risk isn’t.

John Stogner, a criminologist at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said dabbing is exploding onto the drug scene — literally.

“It may seem simple to someone who watches a YouTube video. And it is simple. But as simple it is, it’s also dangerous,” he said.

Stogner published a study on the emergence of dabbing last week in the journal “Pediatrics.”

To make BHO, butane is passed through cannabis trimmings. THC, marijuana’s high-inducing active ingredient, dissolves into the butane. The liquid passes through a filter and is collected in a dish.

Once the butane evaporates, what remains is a crystal of up to 80 percent THC. It's often called “honeycomb, ”earwax," "shatter" or "dabs." The sell price is about $25 to $40 a gram, according to the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Trafficking Area.

So why go through all that trouble when it’s easy enough to just smoke a joint?

Part of the reason is efficiency — dabbing allows low-THC parts of the marijuana plant to be used. Then there’s the novelty of it. The semi-solid amber substance can be shaped into various designs.

“They take a lot of pride in their various creative techniques,” Stogner said.

But producing dabs is dangerous. The butane creates a highly flammable vapor. Without proper ventilation, that can cause an explosion with a tiny spark.

“Although blasting may be an appealing project for a young cannabis user, the safety risks have been described as comparable to those of manufacturing methamphetamine,” the study said.

Information on the number of fires and injuries is limited, in part because people are not be forthcoming about how they got burned. Cooking up dabs is illegal, even in legalization states.

Dabs are often much more concentrated than typical marijuana. Stogner said dabs are usually about 4- or 5-times stronger than a joint, but there’s much more variability. He likened it to throwing back multiple shots of vodka compared to a drinking a beer.

Some reports have called dabbing “the crack of marijuana.” Stogner rejects that term.

“That’s not a term we’ve applied to dabbing,” he said.

Dabs are smoked using an “oil rig” in which a titanium rod is heated with a blowtorch. It can also be vaporized with an e-cigarette or added to solid candy.

“We don’t know if dabbing is akin to or equally safe to flower cannabis and many users are assuming it is,” Stogner said. “That may not be the case.”

Gavin Stern is a national digital producer for the Scripps National Desk.