The Amateur's Guide to Dabs

Dabs, wax, earwax, honey, honey oil, shatter—whatever you want to call Butane Hash Oil, it's how people are getting stronger, faster, more expensive, and arguably more dangerous THC highs. All the talk also reminds us how far out of the wake-and-bake loop we are. Here's what you need to know about them:

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Dabs, wax, earwax, honey, honey oil, shatter—whatever you want to call Butane Hash Oil, it's how people are getting stronger, faster, more expensive, and arguably more dangerous THC highs. All the talk also reminds us how far out of the wake-and-bake loop we are.

Dabs have gotten to the point that local evening news reports, like they did with Lil Wayne and the great sizzurp scare of 2013, are beginning to frighten parents into thinking their kids are getting high off of "weed oil". A local report from Fox Philadelphia earlier this month reads: 

Parents, listen up: A drug popular back in the 70s is making a very big comeback, and your teens are taking notice ... However, as you're about to see in the special video report from FOX 29's Thomas Drayton, cooking up this high can be a recipe for disaster. Weed oil, known on the streets as "honey," comes from the dangerous process of turning marijuana plants into oil.

Fair warning: if you run into your kid's room or your friend's kid's room screaming about hidden "weed oil"  you may get laughed at (more than usual). Either way, it's high time (get it? get it?) we get familiar with dabs or weed oil or honey, or whatever you want to call it.

So what are dabs? Dabbing? Is it like dabbling? Beause I dabble, but I don't think I'm dabbing. 

Well, hmmm. Dab(s) is just one of the slang names for a solid, waxy substance of concentrated butane hash oil (we'll get to this in a minute). Philly420 columnist Chris Goldstein had an article this morning, explaining how "dabs" came to be: 

The term derives from the most common method used today: a piece of metal resembling a large nail is held at the end of a curved glass pipe then heated until glowing with a lighter or kitchen torch; a small 'dab' of the thick hash oil (greasy and thicker than cold honey) is placed on the end of a thin glass rod and then touched to the hot nail. The smoker inhales the instantly vaporized concentrate through the glass pipe -- and gets seriously stoned.

Dab is much more palatable than the other names concentrated hash oil goes by, like earwax or shatter. Sometimes it's also called honey oil, which may sound like something you might put on a baguette or feature in a spa treatment, but refrain for eating and/or smearing the stuff on your face.

Got it. So what's butane hash oil? 

Well, it looks a little like cookie dough, and melted down it looks a little like caramel or honey. According to Animal New York's Matt Harvey, it's "most commonly created by a technique in which high quality pot is blasted with butane that is then extracted, these cannabis concentrates approach 70 to 90 percent THC."

The last part made no sense to me. 

For your premium strains of high-grade pot (Harvey mentions OG Ghost Train Haze, Headband, Lemon Diesel) the THC levels approach 25 percent. So, you're talking around three times as strong. The takeaway: if getting high is like driving, dabbing is cruising around in a Tesla and making every other car ever made look like a stagecoach.

Oh, got it. So this is a new thing? 

Not really. Harvey points the origin of hash oils to the early 1970s. And, as you might guess when learning about a drug culture development from the local news, dabs were already stale news to West Coast pot enthusiasts last year. "Johnny Green" at the self-explanatory The Weed Blog wrote in February 2012 that these things were just catching on in Oregon, but had been around for a while in California. Green writes: 

California was the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana, and the first to have dispensaries. Combine that with a 'cutting edge' minded population and LOTS of people, and you have a recipe for excellence. If you live in an area that does not have a burgeoning dabs industry, just wait, because it’s coming. As with almost anything these days, it has started in California, and the popularity will spread sooner than later.

Goldstein at Philly420 points out that dabs were gaining in popularity at the NORML conference in Denver more than two years ago and this past February FEMA issued an alert about a rash of "hash oil explosions."

"BHO has been gaining in popularity in the past three years," High Times senior editor Bobby Black told Wired's Alison Hallett in February. "It’s been done for decades, but it was only done by a few people and it was very underground. Even at High Times we didn’t really talk about it or cover it because it was so rare," Black added, giving credence to Green's theory that pot innovation starts in California and trickles down after.

So, dabs have been around longer than "Call Me Maybe." Besides their high THC levels, is there any other reason people use them? 

Well, think about it. Because they're so potent, you don't need a large amount to get high. That makes it easier to transport without being caught. The other advantage of dabs is that they don't give off a noticeable odor in both their solid and vaporized forms as Haslett and others report. And Harvey, referencing a dabs smoker, wrote:

... he’ll fortify himself throughout the day with nail-sized hits from a small vaporizer that resembles an e-cigarette. This delivery-system has a built in advantage to weed: near invisibility to law-enforcement.

So the major drawback is that you will look like one of those dorks who takes drags off of an e-cigarette—

—but didn't FEMA ...

Oh yeah, that. Well, there are videos like this one which make it seem like you need to be an octopus to avoid setting yourself on fire while trying to enjoy dabs:

The problem and the reason FEMA issued an alert, as Haslett points out, is people have blown up their houses while making dabs. It's not an inherently dangerous process (like the way making crystal meth can be), but according to Wired proper ventilation appears to be vital:

Butane is highly flammable and it tends to sink, meaning that if you use it indoors or don’t ventilate well, you’ll run into serious trouble. Let some butane puddle in your living room, throw in a thoughtless spark from a cigarette, stove, or — dare I suggest — bong hit, and suddenly your apartment is missing a wall.

Right. So, you don't condone making BHO/dabs/honey oil, but if people are going to do it, please do it outside? Are there any other side effects?

Aside from being quite possibly too stoned? The current science shows that inhaling butane doesn't seem to be harmful. And as The High Times pointed out in October, there was one freak occurrence when someone was "blowing nails" of BHO suffered from epiglottitis, a condition where the smoker's throat was so irritated that the BHO user had trouble breathing. "The only real negative would be overdosing, which might make you uncomfortable for a while, maybe a little anxious or paranoid ... but as far as a long-lasting physiological danger? I don’t think so," a doctor told The High Times.

Anything else? 

"If you don’t like smoking pot, 'concentrates' definitely aren’t for you," Kyle Tracey, CEO of GrowLife Inc. and pot zealot told Harvey.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.