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I first became aware of this trend some years ago when I saw a friend using a weird clear pipe heating up resin and inhaling it.  It shocked me to learn that it was marijuana and that this was a growing trend in users because of the great “high” it provided. These “dab” resins are now available at nearly all dispensaries and are often seen as being “clean” and “cost-efficient.” But what is the physical cost?

First off, let’s get clear on terminology.  Dabbing uses butane hash oil (BHO), a highly concentrated form of cannabis/marijuana.  THC levels in these products range between 50-90%!  Even with legalization there is still a lot of variation to production methods and purification processes along with multiple means of heating and deliver the. The oil is heated but there is no combustion, which results in minimal/no smell.  It was previously thought that there were no dangerous vapors and was a “clean” high, but as you will see below, that is probably not the case. 

These concentrates are 3-5 stronger than the flowering plant at 50-90% THC purity, delivering 600-900 mg of THC per gram.  For many, that leaves a dose of between 60-100 mg of THC immediately delivered to the system per dab. Most edible packages contain a total of 50 mg of THC in the entire package.  These high doses of THC cause a massive release of dopamine into the system, depleting your body’s neurotransmitters and contributing to quicker and more thorough dependency formation. This is a slippery slope because the quicker you deplete your dopamine, the more you want the THC, and the more it takes to give you the same effect or ‘high.” 

A recent study done here at PSU looked more at the chemicals that are used in the production of these oils and what folks are actually inhaling.  There is a wide variety of chemicals to study, but as this is a preliminary look they focused on Methacrolein (MC) and benzenes.  It was found that both of these chemicals were found within samples, more so when lower temperatures for heating the oil were used. 

So what do these chemicals do? MC is a noxious irritant that causes pulmonary inflammation (lung issues). Benzene is highly carcinogenic and considered to be the “largest single known cancer-risk air toxin.”  Do you really want to be inhaling that into your lungs?

In this time of ongoing COVID infections, this is one area where you can reduce your risk and work to limit your use of dabbing and use of e-cigarettes and vape pens. If you need help with this, there are many tools that can be helpful. 

Sources: 

https://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/acsomega.7b01130; PMID: 28983528

https://www.analyticalcannabis.com/articles/revealing-the-potential-risks-of-cannabis-dabbing-306016

https://www.leafbuyer.com/blog/average-dab-size/

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