Mention “dabbing” these days, and you might get an invitation either to dance or to get high.
In some communities, “dabbing” is a popular hip-hop dance, and several YouTube videos show viewers how to do it.
But in other communities, the term means something completely different, and its popularity is about getting high on marijuana—without the joint.
This kind of “dabbing” involves ingesting cannabis in a way that is stronger than smoking or eating the traditional form, and its emergence has raised concerns in the medical and law enforcement communities.
While the method is not new and has reportedly been around since at least the 1970s, its use is reportedly increasing because of its potency and its ability to go undetected.
“We have been seeing an emergence of dabs over the last three years,” John Stogner, co-author of a 2015 paper on the subject and an assistant professor of criminal justice and criminology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told LiveScience. “It is really exploding onto the drug-use scene.”
The New York Times reported in May 2016 that dabbing’s popularity has crossed social lines and has risen rapidly in New York City during the past few years, according to federal law enforcement officials as well as those who dab and people who sell the drug.
And, the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration’s 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary reports that “marijuana concentrates are gaining in popularity in the US, as indicated by the increasing volume of law enforcement and open source reporting.”
‘Four Times as Strong as a Joint’
Dabs, also known as butane hash oil (BHO), go by the street names of “budder,” “honeycomb,” or “earwax” because of its yellow color. It may also be referred to as “shatter” and “crumble.” While marijuana concentrates are found in other forms, such as edibles, capsules, patches and tinctures and topicals, the ones that are inhaled have stronger effects. Medical website HelloMD says users “consume the highly concentrated marijuana in a vaporized form from cannabis oil, a wax-like oil extracted from marijuana plants using butane.”
Stogner, who studies emerging drug-use trends, told LiveScience that, “at a minimum, dabs are four times as strong as a joint, and the high is administered all at once.”
L.A. Weekly reports that the practice “produces a kind of euphoric high that is more intense than other methods of ingesting THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). Its intensity can be compared to cocaine users who shifted from snorting the substance to smoking it.”
HelloMD says most marijuana joints have about 15 percent THC. By comparison, hash oils have a concentration of 60 percent to 90 percent.
The high from the yellow, waxy substance is short-lived, lasting only a few minutes. But apparently, a little goes a long way.
“Dabbing can cause extreme paranoia, listlessness, despondency, and anxiety. And some say it can fuel an addiction, too,” L.A. Weekly goes on to say.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that higher THC levels may explain the rise in emergency room visits that are linked to marijuana use.
“Higher THC levels may mean a greater risk for addiction if users are regularly exposing themselves to high doses,” it says.
Marijuana has short-term and long-term effects on the brain. Increased heart rate, respiratory problems, impaired body movement, impaired memory and thinking, altered senses (such as seeing colors and hallucinating) and an altered sense of time are among the effects, though this list is hardly conclusive.
Flammable Butane Gas a Risk
The website Leafly explains that dabs are concentrated doses of cannabis that are made by extracting THC and other cannabinoids using butane or carbon dioxide as a solvent.
Makers of the substance use a blowtorch to heat the surface, called a “nail,” which is usually made of glass or titanium materials. When the nail is heated, the concentrated, sticky wax is put onto the surface so users can inhale the rising vapors.
Other users may put the hash oil in a vaping device, such as a vape pen, or an e-cigarette and inhale the substance that way. Or, they may “dab” by using modified water pipes.
The spike in use of marijuana using this method has raised concern for several reasons.
Butane extraction is the most used, according to the US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and potentially, the most dangerous. Production of butane hash is largely unregulated, meaning just about anyone who cooks the marijuana with butane is at risk of causing explosions and being seriously burned.
“The butane extraction method uses highly flammable butane gas and has resulted in numerous explosions and injuries, particularly on the West Coast, where production is most common,” it said in its 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment Summary. It also reports that “as the use of marijuana concentrates has increased, the number of laboratory-related explosions has increased.”
THC extraction laboratory Increases have been noted in California, Colorado, and Washington state. Medicinal marijuana has been legalized in California, and medical/recreational marijuana use has been legalized in Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, and Alaska.
HelloMDreports that in November 2014, the Los Angeles Division of the DEA reported 49 explosions related to marijuana administration processes like dabbing.
The substance’s lack of smell makes it easy to go undetected, which appeals to young users who can disguise getting high.
The New York Times interviewed two teenage students at a private boarding school who talked about the ease with which they dab. “A lot of it is, we’re doing it in disguise,” said one of the teenagers, whose names were withheld. “And we can do it so freely,” he said.
Some teenage dabbers are so drawn to the method that they are bold enough to do it in front of others in public settings. “Videos are traded among teenagers that show off brazen dabbing in public, in the bleachers at high school sports games, or even in school,” the NY Times article said.
Debate Over Dabbing
The risks and effects of dabbing and how they affect users differently from marijuana in its other forms are still under study. “At this point, not enough conclusive studies have been conducted about the risks and benefits of dabbing for medical administration,” HelloMD says.
However, that doesn’t mean its effects are harmless or nothing to be worried about.
Emily Feinstein, the director of health law and policy for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse told The New York Times via email that the effects of dabbing “may be supercharged.”
“Side effects can include: a rapid heartbeat, blackouts, psychosis, paranoia, and hallucinations that cause people to end up in psychiatric facilities,” Feinstein said.
Leafly reports that medical marijuana users may benefit from the concentrates in dabbing because they give a powerful dose of medicine to people who have chronic pain or severe nausea and need relief in higher doses.
The site does go on to report that, “One of the most unsettling facts about dabs is that thanks to the super-concentrated power of BHO, for the first time it seems possible to ‘overdose’ on cannabis. While still not lethal, taking more than your personal limit of dabs can lead to uncomfortable highs and, in some cases, passing out.”
It also reports that while information is limited, intense withdrawal symptoms have been reported for dabbers.
Whether consumed via dabbing or traditional methods, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the US, according to results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. And NIDA cites research that shows the number of young people who believe marijuana use is risky is decreasing.
Addiction is possible for long-term users, especially because, according to NIDA, THC amounts in marijuana have been increasing steadily, which raises the risks of harmful effects for those who use it.
“Research suggests that 30 percent of users may develop some degree of problem use, which can lead to dependence and in severe cases takes the form of addiction,” reports NIDA. And, “People who begin using marijuana before age 18 are 4 to 7 times more likely than adults to develop problem use.”
Treatment for a marijuana addiction includes forms of behavioral therapy, NIDA says. If you, or someone you know, is struggling with addiction to marijuana, call one of our specialists now at 1-855-619-8070, and they can help you find the right treatment program for you. They are standing by 24-7 ready to help you start your road to recovery.