Smoke rolls off the end of a dab rig during the High Times Cannabis Cup at the Denver Mart in Denver, Colorado on April 19, 2015. The High Times Cannabis Cup runs through Monday at the Denver Mart. (Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
The rise of dabbing in popular culture has prompted many publications to stoke fear around cannabis concentrates, some even calling dabs “the new crack”.
Dabbing has quickly become one of the most popular methods of consuming cannabis, and it seems that as more states choose to legalize more consumers are choosing to dab. Oddly enough, that trend has left those outside of the cannabis community more paranoid than those within it. That fear has resulted in articles which have popped up all over the internet suggesting dabbing is bad for you with some even calling it, “the new crack.”
First, it’s important to understand that dabbing refers to the method of smoking cannabis which includes a wide range of cannabis concentrates and extracts. It can involve anything from kief to rosin, but Butane Hash Oils or BHOs seem to be the most highly cited for being dangerous.
That being said, the most common reasons cited for the danger behind dabbing has nothing to do with the substance itself. Most of the paranoia revolves around burn warnings which are a result of the torches used to heat up the dabbing rigs. In short, as long as you know how to safely use a kitchen stove or light a BBQ, the process itself shouldn’t cause any health issues.
The origin of this gripping fear of dabbing seems to be a study, which reads more like an anti-drug PSA, published in the journal Pediatrics by John Stogner, a professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina.
In the study Stogner cites recent policy changes as the inspiration for his investigation, claiming legalized marijuana could result in more children dabbing – something which is not substantiated by the evidence. But that’s beside the point, what was here to discover is whether dabbing itself is bad for you. This is a question Stogner never really get’s around to answering, as his review of the dabbing phenomenon mostly revolves around the danger behind producing BHOs illegally.
The most common method of creating a BHO, known as ‘blasting,’ appears to be the most dangerous thing about dabbing because of the highly flammable chemicals, i.e., butane, used in the extraction process.
“The process of creating these products is extremely dangerous,” Stonger’s report states, “because butane is flammable and volatile, and a number of fires, explosions, and severe burns have been attributed to home blasting.”
In this case, Stogner makes a good point, the open-loop process used in illegal extraction rigs is highly dangerous because it could expose highly flammable chemicals to flames. Mishaps in the extraction process have given rise to stories of explosions caused my makeshift home rigs. But that applies almost exclusively to the illegal process; while the closed-loop systems used in professional extraction by licensed producers are much safer. Even still, this has nothing to do with dabbing.
Stogner also expresses concerns that ingesting the chemicals that could still be present in the final product as a potential health risk to consumers. Also, he says that the potency of dabs, which can reach levels of 80 percent TCH (and higher in some cases) causes consumers to green out, pass out and in some extreme cases fall over.
But aside from getting you higher than you’ve ever been, is there anything behind the claim that the chemicals used to create BHOs are still present in the final product?
This is certainly a concern. After all, these are chemicals which have been associated with everything from nausea to heart problems and even cancer. That’s where the health risks of dabbing become more complicated, only because there is a serious lack of research in the area. Some of the limited research that’s out there warns that there may be a reason to cut down on dabbing, while others suggest its no more harmful than smoking cannabis.
One of the only real studies on the health effects of dabbing out of the University of Albany, New York, concluded that dabbing, “created no more problems or accidents than using flower cannabis.” That may be because of the residual butane found in concentrates (500 PPM) is usually no more than a consumer would receive from the lighter they use to light a joint. The Centers for Disease Control sets occupational exposure limits anywhere from 800-1,000 PPM.
States like California set limits of acceptable butane residue in their as low as 400 PPM. While in Washington state that limit is the previously mentioned 500PPM (though they have been advised to increase that limit).
The strictest guidelines have come from Canada, where federal regulations ban the use of any explosive material in the extraction process, “including petroleum naphtha and compressed liquid hydrocarbons such as butane, isobutane, propane, and propylene.”
Other states like Oregon and Colorado have made some serious changes to their standards recently. According to Colorado’s newest regulations under Rule R605 which determines the acceptable amount of contaminants in concentrates, the acceptable level in that state was raised significantly in 2017. For butane, the allowable limit has increased from 800 PPM to 5,000 PPM, and though that number seems excessively high, those in charge of setting the standards in Colorado have cited research which claims it’s entirely safe.
In essence, we still don’t have enough information available to determine whether dabbing is dangerous. In cases where lower levels of toxic chemicals are found in the product, it stands to reason and past research that dabbing would be perfectly safe. So the answer may come down to where your dabbing or at least where your product is from. But until more information is available, it may be a good idea to shop around.