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A “Little Dab’ll Do Ya” - and, I Don’t Mean Brylcreem!

July 24, 2015  |  Falmouth Enterprise

Dr. Michael Bihari

Many of you might remember (especially if you came of age in the 50s and 60s) the hair product Brylcreem and its catchy radio and TV jingle, “Brylcreem, a little dab’ll do ya. Brylcreem, you’ll look so debonair.” 

These days “dab” and “dabbing” has a whole different meaning. “Dabbing” is a new way to use marijuana that is quickly proliferating in the United States, including on Cape Cod among teens and young adults. Dabbing is the inhalation of a concentrated and highly potent form of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active product in the marijuana plant. A Google search for “dabbing equipment” resulted in more than 120,000 hits and a YouTube search for “dabbing” resulted in access to more than 25,000 videos.  

Marijuana Concentrates (Dabs)

Marijuana concentrate is a highly potent THC substance that is similar in appearance to either honey or butter. Various forms of these concentrates include:

  • hash oil or honey oil—a gooey liquid
  • wax or budder—a soft solid with a texture like lip balm
  • shatter—a hard, amber-colored solid

According to the DEA these concentrates contain extraordinarily high THC levels that could range from 40% to 80%. This form of marijuana can be up to four times stronger than regular marijuana, which normally has a THC level of about 20%.

THC Extraction Process Using Butane

Several methods are used to convert or "manufacture" marijuana concentrates. One common process extracts the THC using butane (lighter fluid) creating a product known as Butane Hash Oil or BHO.

Because production of BHO is relatively simple, requires few resources, and is the subject of numerous instructional videos on social media websites, many recreational marijuana users “manufacture” BHO at home in a process known on the street as “blasting.” Blasting involves passing butane through a steel or glass tube packed with dried cannabis trimmings. THC and other chemicals in the marijuana plant dissolve within the butane; the butane–THC solution then leaves the tube through a filter and is collected in a dish or tray. Because butane is very volatile, it evaporates (or is removed using a device known as a vacuum oven), leaving a crystalized resin that can have a THC concentration of up to 80%.

Given the extremely volatile nature of heating butane and creating a flammable gas, the “blasting” process has resulted in fires, explosions and severe burns.

Dabbing-Related Street Terms

Street or "slang" terms change often and vary regionally across the country and from state to state. Marijuana concentrates are often referred to as 710 (the word "OIL" flipped and spelled backwards), wax, ear wax, honey oil, budder, butane hash oil/butane honey oil (BHO), shatter, dabs, black glass, and errl.

Other street lingo refers to the equipment someone who is “dabbing” carries around to smoke “dabs”:

  • An "oil slick" - a small container lined with or made of silicone to hold THC oil  
  • A "dabber" - a dentistry-like tool for scraping the oil out of the oil slick. 
  • An "oil rig" - a special pipe to smoke THC oil  
  • A "nail" - a part made of titanium, quartz, or glass that is attached to the "oil rig" to vaporize the oil so it can be inhaled

How THC Concentrates Are Used

Although one form of use is the infusion of marijuana concentrates into various foods (especially cookies and candy) or drinks, smoking/vaping using special dabbing equipment remains the most popular form of ingestion.

Of concern is the ingestion of marijuana concentrates using e-cigarettes, which are not regulated and are readily available online and in local “vaping” stores on the Cape. Many users of THC concentrates prefer the e-cigarette because it's smokeless, odorless and easy to hide or conceal. The user takes a small amount of marijuana concentrate then heats the substance using the e-cigarette producing vapors that ensure an instant high. 

Medical Researchers Comment

According to the article, Assessing the Dangers of ‘Dabbing’: Mere Marijuana or Harmful New Trend?, reported in the July 2015 edition of Pediatrics (the medical research journal published by the American Academy of Pediatrics), “Physicians and other health care professionals need to be prepared for discussions about the effects of dabbing to minimize potential harms, particularly because recent marijuana policy changes likely has facilitated youth access to dabs.”

In an interview, the author of the article, John M. Stogner, PhD (University of North Carolina) noted that there are no firm numbers on how common the practice of dabbing is. In states where marijuana is legal, some surveys of regular marijuana users suggest many of them may have tried it at least once, he said. And, he “suspects the people experimenting with it may likely mirror the age range and demographic breakdown associated with marijuana use.”

Stogner also said that “dabbing's rise in popularity can be attributed to the commercial development of medical marijuana and the legalization of pot in a few states. Both of these factors have facilitated the spread of information about dabbing on social media and in instructional videos on YouTube. In states with medical marijuana laws or where marijuana is legal, it's possible to purchase butane hash oil extracts, which have been made in a commercial process where butane — a flammable and volatile gas — can be properly ventilated.”

Referring to the only other published research study of dabbing — a survey of about 350 frequent marijuana users — Stogner noted that the researchers found that the users “viewed dabbing as more dangerous than other forms of cannabis use because they reported it led to a higher tolerance for the drug and worse withdrawal symptoms, suggesting a possibility of addiction or dependence. 

Although dabbing has become popular only recently on the Cape, and solid research on the practice is limited, it would be a mistake for parents and teens to assume that dabbing is not more worrisome or worse than smoking pot.

Many teens and young adults (and their parents!) think that smoking pot is benign and safe; however, it’s dangerous to assume the risks of dabbing are akin to smoking marijuana.

Marijuana Resources

MedlinePlus: Marijuana

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Marijuana Facts for Teens 

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