Hash oil 'dabbing' a popular but dangerous trend

SEATTLE -- As Washington adjusts to accepting marijuana as legal, it's still grappling with issues accepting other forms of pot that have been used for decades.

Dabbing is just a new term for an old practice of smoking hash, but modern equipment is illuminating the "smoking" in lieu of "inhaling."

A dab is a concentrated form of marijuana often called BHO, or butane honey oil or hash oil. What makes it different from your grandfather's hash is the technique used to get high and how it's made.

Making it improperly is leading to more explosion in homes, garages and apartments. Last year FEMA put out an alert to law enforcement to be on the look out for more explosions as dabbing gains in popularity.

A dab is usually placed on a very hot surface, sometimes a nail or a piece of titanium that's been super heated by a small blow torch. The user inhales the BHO vapor through a pipe.

BHO concentrates called shatter, budder or wax are becoming the preferred method of using marijuana by a younger generation because one puff can be five times as strong as taking one hit off a marijuana cigarette.

"Right now in Washington, if you are in mid twenties and younger, you prefer hash oils and vaporization as opposed to smoking," said Randy Simmons, Program Director for I-502 for the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

The WSLCB is under a directive by the state legislature to bring the medical marijuana industry more in line with I-502, the state's new recreation marijuana law passed by the voters. The WSLCB could eventually set limits and BHO production on possession in the state.

But it's the making of BHO that's been in the news recently. It's a tricky process that is very dangerous. When thing go bad, houses and apartments blow up and people get injured. YouTube is full of do-it-yourselfers producing BHO with sometimes explosive consequences.

"When someone makes on dab safely it doesn't make the news when one kid blows himself up it does," said Jonah Tacoma, editor of Dabstars, an online community of dabbing enthusiasts.

Open blasting is a method where marijuana is often stuffed into a glass tube and butane gas is poured through it to extract THC, the active ingredient that gets people high.

The THC laced butane is strained to remove plant material but it has to be heated to remove the butane. What's left over is BHO, often a golden brown honey-like compound that is used for dabbing.

"Open blasting is pretty much how thinks are done for people around America," Tacoma said. "The reality is if you don't do this properly, that's where they danger comes in".

Amateur BHO makers sometime forget that butane is highly flammable and that just a spark inside a room could ignite the vapors causing an explosion.

Professional BHO makers in the medical marijuana community like Joe Parker used a closed loop system that prevents butane fumes from escaping into the air. It's the preferred method by the state for the recreational marijuana producers it will eventually oversee.

"From a medical point of view, as you smoke flowers you take in more carcinogens and things because you are actually smoking, that's not the case with BHO," Parker said.

But BHO makers are worried the state will force BHO to go underground if it requires that BHO to be infused into products like brownies and other edibles, as it stands now.

"The reality is that dabbing has in such demand, and there is such a demand for these extracts because they are so simple to make," Tacoma said.

He says the state needs to find a way to safely regulate BHO in portions users want and not require BHO to be infused into other products.

"If you take that away you'll instantly create a black market," he said.

Simmons agrees that BHO and alternative forms of marijuana other than flowers were neglected in I-502.

"It did not allow for anything else which is an oversight with the writing of the initiative," Simmons said.

He recognizes that dabbing and BHO is gaining popularity.

"It's what's happening in the market place, to not address would be foolishness," Simmons said.

He believes state lawmakers will address BHO in greater detail as everyone gets educated on all the alternative uses of marijuana.

"Liquor laws have changed every year for the last 80 years and cannabis laws won't be any different," he said.