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6 Health Risks Of Doing Dabs

Other than the traditional act of smoking marijuana, these days, users can vape, bake edibles, and use topicals or tonics to get high in states where THC consumption is legal. Body lotion and chapstick with cannabidiol (CBD) exist, too, to deliver purported relaxing effects without the high. But not all methods of getting stoned are as good as others. In fact, there are some that might be outright dangerous. Ever heard of dabbing?

Dabs are highly concentrated doses of cannabis, and they’re often made at home by by placing marijuana trimmings into a glass or metal pipe and blasting them with butane to extract THC from the plant. The result is a thick, sticky substance that resembles hardened candle wax. This substance, also called butane hash oil (BHO), is then smoked using a bong or pipe, giving an extremely potent high. Because of this high and the possible danger of extracting it, experts urge caution when creating and using dabs.

“The number one reason amongst users of dabs of why they prefer to regular marijuana inhalation is because it gives them a faster more intense euphoria or ‘high,'” Dr. Niket Sonpal, an internist, gastroenterologist, and adjunct assistant professor of clinical medicine at Touro College, tells Bustle. “It carries the same risks as smoking, only more pronounced, and the effects can happen quicker.”

Basically, dabbing carries a lot of health risks that potential users should know about before considering it.

1. You Could Severely Burn Yourself During The Extraction Process

The extraction process requires everyday folks to use butane, which is a highly volatile, unpredictable, and dangerous gas. A 2015 study about the health risks of dabbing published in the journal Pediatrics, found that it’s all too easy to obtain severe burns and injuries in the creation process. Butane can heat up the metal or glass used to extract THC so high that any body parts that come into contact with the materials can be burned in the blink of an eye.

“This can lead to other concerns besides the increased THC exposure, namely intense burns and even fires,” Dr. Sonpal says.

2. It Could Harm Other People As Well

Not only is the primary user subject to getting injured by using butane to turn marijuana into dabs, but they also run the risk of starting a fire. In November 2013, a man caused an explosion in his apartment building while using butane to extract dabs, and was ultimately sentenced to nine years in prison.

3. The High Is Extremely Powerful

To give you a sense of how strong dabs are, two nicknames for dabs are “shatter” and “pot on steroids.” Dr. Dustin Sulak, a licensed osteopathic physician in Maine who legally dispenses marijuana, told Healthline, “A single inhalation of concentrate delivers the THC and other cannabinoids equivalent to three to 10 inhalations of herbal cannabis, depending on the potency.” The danger lies in the fact that doing dabs slams your system with this concentrated high in one fell swoop.

4. It May Increase Your Tolerance To Marijuana

Dr. Sulak actually thinks that the potency of dabs is more of a concern than potentially blowing up your house during the extraction process. Dabs have such a strong dose of THC, administered so suddenly, that your body becomes accustomed to high levels of THC and your tolerance increases rapidly.

“This is because the cannabinoid receptors are saturated by the increased concentrations and thus your next intake will be more difficult to achieve the same high,” Dr. Sonpal says. “In other words, patients will need large amounts to feel any high at all and, even worse, they may fail to get high from herbal cannabis at all after your body gets used to dabs.”

5. You Might Experience Side Effects

You might also experience more of the potential side effects that come with THC and frequently getting high.

“Paranoia, psychosis, anxiety, and hallucinations are well-known side effects of inhaling weed,” Dr. Sonpal says. “Symptoms of vomiting can also occur and I have seen patients with cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS). It can occur with chronic marijuana use, and more specifically, after someone has quit. However, with dabs I have had patients who develop the withdrawal-like symptoms of CHS only after a short exposure.”

6. You May Be Unknowingly Ingesting Other Hazardous Chemicals

The equipment used for the extraction process may contain nasty ingredients that will eventually make their way into your system. For example, the metal in the rig utilized to make dabs could have rust and solder in it, which will inevitably end up in your BHO and into your body. Smoking these unknown chemical contaminants could cause health hazards, such as respiratory issues, in the future.

At the end of the day, dabbing can be risky. “The only true way to mitigate these effects is the avoidance of dabs,” Dr. Sonpal says, adding that more research needs to be done to full understand the effects of THC and other cannabinoids on the body. “When it comes to dabs, it is just simply too hard to moderate as the concentrations are very very high.” Moderation and safety is key, Dr. Sonpal says, which is sound advice no matter the activity.

Readers should note that the regulations and data surrounding marijuana, CBD, and other related products are still developing. As such, the information contained in this post should not be construed as medical or legal advice. Always consult with your doctor before trying any substance or supplement.

This post was originally published on August 3, 2016. It was updated on June 11, 2019.

This article was originally published on Aug. 3, 2016

Other than the traditional act of smoking marijuana, these days, users can vape, bake edibles, and use topicals or tonics to get high in states where THC consumption is legal. Body lotion and chapstick with cannabidiol (CBD) exist, too, to deliver…

Should Hash-Oil Smokers Worry About Vape-Related Lung Disease?

MIKE SAGER ON WEED: After years searching for clues to why some hash-oil products make me cough and other’s don’t, here’s what I’ve learned.

By Mike Sager , Patch Contributing Writer
Sep 8, 2019 11:13 a m PT | Updated Sep 11, 2019 10:27 a m PT

LA JOLLA — I’m pretty sure the first time I smoked hash oil was 2012, when my kid was in high school. He came home with a fancy glass water pipe, a butane torch and a flat, hard, sticky chunk of amber-colored material that kind of resembled sea glass.

He called it “dabs.” Others, I would learn, called it wax or extract. There were a bunch of different forms — shatter (as in broken glass), budda (like butter), honeycomb (like a bee hive), crumble (like crack). If it was really strong, you said it was dank or fire.

Though legally sold in California dispensaries, at the time, hash-oil manufacturing was illegal, and so was transporting it across state lines. “Arguably the extracts are legal when they fall from the sky,” a friend from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said. It wouldn’t be until 2014 that Colorado would be the first state to permit manufacture.

Smart kid that he is, my son and his best pal came to me with the request to occupy my office/smoking lounge (as previously arranged) and test the new product. Lord knows where they’d copped it. Because I live in Southern California and was kind of afraid he’d set the office and the whole canyon on fire with that scary torch-thing, I went along to check it out.

Like all drugs, there was a sensuous and detailed ritual. This one was pretty elaborate and required a lot of expensive accessories.

You heated up the bowl of the surgical-grade glass pipe with a butane blowtorch. Then you let it cool a bit. Then you stabbed a small chunk of the sticky wax with a miniature spear-like tool made of stainless steel — aka “the dab.” Finally, you swished the dab around the inside of the super-hot bowl. The solid material would instantly liquify and bubble, and then vaporize. The smoke was clean and white. It was beautiful, really, the swirl of white vapor moving through the glass pipe like a spirit. It tasted pollinated and resin-y. Surprising was the hint of citrus.

Unlike smoke from a cigarette or a joint, the vapor was so light you hardly perceived it filling your lungs.

Until you started hacking.

Dabs are a particular form of a product more widely known as hash oil, a modern version of hashish, the use of which dates back at least to the 3rd-century Middle East. Today, various grades of equipment — from illegal backyard butane stills to half-million-dollar C02 extractors — have replaced the labor-intensive patting, sifting, and compressing of marijuana flowers that go into the traditional method of creating hash.

When smoked — in pre-loaded cartridges, self-loaded cartridges, or dabs pipes — hash oil lacks the pungent odor of marijuana flower; marketeers like to use the word “discreet.” Many companies are also experimenting with adding natural flavor molecules, called terpenes. More important to today’s market, hash oil is easily adaptable for use in food and drink recipes, cosmetics, tinctures, etc. (CBD oil is created in the same way, most often using hemp, which will not get you high.)

Sounds perfect, right?

Except for one thing. For years I’ve been searching for a clue to the whole issue of the cough that often accompanies hash-oil products. Why do some types make me hack and feel short of breath, while others don’t?

In theory, by eliminating actual carbon combustion, vaping or dabbing is supposed to be better for your lungs than smoking. But according to my extensive personal research, vaping hash oil makes you cough more than smoking marijuana flower. If you smoke a reasonably sized hit of flower, you will sometimes experience the need to cough. If you smoke a similar dab, you will almost definitely cough and experience some temporary shortness of breath.

Some experts I’ve read or consulted have opined that vape-coughing has to do with the temperature of the vape smoke. Others have said that the high concentration of THC is the culprit. Others blame impurities present in the hash oil due to the extraction process.

Generally, what the science tells us at this point is that, yes, many cannabis consumers will cough after a session, no matter if it’s smoking or vaping. Lung irritation — to a greater or lesser degree with use — is a possible side effect for some. But according to studies, it causes no long-term damage. Once you quit — or take a hiatus from smoking or vaping— your long-term lung function should not be affected.

A landmark 2006 UCLA study conducted by Donald Tashkin, a pulmonologist who has studied marijuana for 30 years, found no connection between cannabis use and lung cancer, even with heavy use. “What we found instead was no association at all, and even a suggestion of some protective effect,” Tashkin has said.

Another interesting point of science: coughing does NOT make you higher.

Coughing is by definition a rapid expelling of air from the lungs. It’s the body’s way of clearing out particles like microbes, fluids, mucus, and other irritants . . . including smoke. If you cough after a hit, you’re cleansing yourself of the smoke or vapor you’ve just taken in, reducing greatly the concentration of THC that is reaching your alveoli, the little sacs in your lungs that absorb oxygen (and THC) and speeds the active ingredients into your bloodstream and toward your brain.

Coughing might make you feel high, but it is a different sort of high. When you cough, the brain is briefly deprived of oxygen, leading to a feeling of lightheadedness. Lack of oxygen can lead to the death of brain cells. So, you’re not really getting higher. Frequent users should be able to tell the difference between “high” and “lightheaded.” Basically, the latter makes you feel slow and stupid and out of it. Weed shouldn’t do that, unless it’s heavy indica. Most weed products, in fact, cause an initial feeling of clarity and energy when consumed via smoke or vape.

Complicating the issue of hash oil and health are a number of cases of acute lung disease seen in e-cigarette users across 25 states.

In mid-August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched an investigation after receiving more than 150 reports of serious respiratory distress among e-cigarette users, many of them kids and young adults. Within a couple of weeks, dozens more cases were reported, including three deaths, one of them an e-cigarette user in Illinois, which prompted the governor to push for banning flavored vape e-cigs. (Popcorn lung, also frequently discussed, is something different, usually associated with the nicotine additive diacetyl, a flavoring that gives microwave popcorn a buttery taste. There is no diacetyl in any popular brands of weed vape.)

Many believe, as was stated in a recent Los Angeles Times editorial, that the true culprit in the e-cig mystery is bootleg hash oil. “It may turn out that the outbreak of lung disease is caused by the unsanctioned use of cannabis or hash oil in altered or modified e-cigarette devices. Many of those interviewed by public health officials, according to reports, have acknowledged using altered electronic cigarettes or makeshift cartridges.

The CDC added: “If you do use e-cigarette products, you should not buy these products off the street.”

Which brings us back to our lungs.

According to the laws in all 44 states (and the District of Columbia) that allow some form of legal weed, all commercially available flower and hash oil must be tested before it can be sold. Stringent regulations outlaw impurities. Growers with contaminated weed find their product rejected by officials. But that doesn’t mean the contaminated weed doesn’t get into black-market hash oil, especially in prohibition states.

“When you start looking at these people with the acute lung damage, they’re buying vapes off the street basically, there’s no regulation at all,” says Cameron Forni, the 33-year-old CEO of Cura Cannabis Solutions and founder of Select, the best-selling cannabis brand on the West Coast.

As it happens, when Forni first entered the business, he says, he had a friend who coughed a lot. “Every time he would smoke or we would smoke, or other people would smoke, he would start kind of hacking.”

For answers, Forni consulted an ear, nose and throat doctor, who pointed out that combustion happens at somewhere between 750 degrees and 1200 degrees, which irritates the throat and lungs. Vaping happens between 400-700 degrees, lessening the irritation. Doing dabs, blowtorch-style, is obviously hotter than vaping.

The other culprit, Forni says, is most likely noxious chemicals or other impurities — for instance, some cheaper companies employ coated brass instead of stainless steel, another source of impurities. In the years since its founding, Select has pioneered what is now an industry-standard vape cartridge, with medical-grade stainless, free of silica fiberglass.

In the end, Forni says, the coughing mystery may be easy to solve.

“Testing, testing, testing, testing, testing, testing, is the most important thing,” he says.

My advice? If you live in a state that allows recreational weed, pay the extra 25 percent or so in taxes and buy only legally available, tested products. And if you don’t live in a legal-weed state, never buy black-market hash oil.

We’re trying to get a little high. Not dead.

Mike Sager is a bestselling author and award-winning reporter. His work has appeared in Esquire, Rolling Stone, GQ and the Washington Post. Many of his stories have been optioned for or have inspired films or documentaries. He has been called “the Beat poet of American journalism, that rare reporter who can make literature out of shabby reality.”


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Should Hash-Oil Smokers Worry About Vape-Related Lung Disease? – La Jolla, CA – MIKE SAGER ON WEED: After years searching for clues to why some hash-oil products make me cough and other's don't, here's what I've learned. ]]>