The use of butane hash oil and the inhalation of concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol created through butane extraction, otherwise known as “dabbing,” seems to be on the rise in the United States, and might carry risks beyond that of traditional marijuana, according to John M. Stogner, Ph.D., and Bryan Lee Miller, Ph.D.

Butane hash oil (BHO) is produced by passing butane through a tube filled with cannabis trimmings. The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) dissolves in the butane, and the mixture is collected. The butane evaporates off, leaving crystals that can be up to 80% THC. This process, known as blasting, can be done at home. However, butane is a dangerous and flammable substance, and the risks tied to blasting are similar to those of methamphetamine production.

Dabbing itself involves inhaling vaporized THC crystals through a glass water pipe using a hollow titanium rod heated by a blowtorch. Aside from the obvious health risk of using a blowtorch while mentally impaired, dabbing also can involve inhalation of off-gassing solder, rust from oxidized metal, and benzene.

There has been little research into the health effects of dabbing. Some sources suggest that substances that cause lung damage are not smoked and there is no risk of bacterial or fungal infection; others suggest that adverse side effects such as loss of consciousness and falls are more common, and that dabbing carries an increased risk of addiction.

Primary care physicians should inform patients of potential risk, but they “should avoid hyperbolic arguments like those of the media that describe dabbing as ‘the crack of pot,’ and instead urge caution. Patients should be advised that research is lacking, information is still largely anecdotal, and the safest option is to refrain from use when definitive answers are absent,” Dr. Stogner and Dr. Miller noted.

Find the full perspective in Pediatrics (doi:10.1542/peds.2015-0454).

lfranki@frontlinemedcom.com

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