Many cannabis consumers require a product with greater potency, just as some folks need stronger pain relievers. "Dabs," a term popular in the western medical marijuana states, refers to the smoking of butane hash oil—also known as "butane honey oil" or simply "BHO"—and many medical marijuana patients and cannabis fans swear by it.
The "butane" part refers to the use of that solvent to extract the cannabis resin from the plant, leaving a very potent form of hash oil. Butane, of course, is an extremely flammable gas that can be stored as a liquid under high pressure.
The danger? A hashmaker working behind closed doors in an unventilated space may not be aware that butane is a heavier-than-air gas that likes to pool on the floor near pilot lights, switches and discarded cigarette butts. Last year, a young man carelessly making hash oil blew up his hotel room in Oregon. His girlfriend and two-year-old child, also in the room, were unharmed, but he suffered burns.
That incident captures in a nutshell the public relations problems that the dawn of BHO can produce for cannabis law reformers. The simple fact is that butane hash oil can be made safely, so long as it's produced in a ventilated area far from ignition sources. Unfortunately, just as with alcohol prohibition, cannabis prohibition has led to unsafe and unregulated production of hash oil.
The favored new talking point for opponents of marijuana legalization has become "This is not your father's Woodstock weed!" They maintain that the weed of the 1960s had a low THC potency, while today's cannabis is a bazillion times stronger.
Of course, this is pure bullshit. For one thing, a test for THC potency didn't exist until the 1970s. For another, high-potency sinsemilla has always been around.
BHO is certainly more potent than what the average baby boomer may have encountered—indeed, experienced pot smokers can pass out after a dab or suffer intense coughing fits. But
The increased potency of BHO simply means that less of the product is required to achieve the same effect.
remember, BHO is merely a purified form of cannabis; as such, it is still as nontoxic as smoking pot. The increased potency of BHO—or even some elite strains of cannabis—simply means that less of the product is required to achieve the same effect. This translates into less inhalation of burning plant material and hot gases.
The manufacture and use of BHO pose little danger if done responsibly. And some of the dangers aren't even real; they are dangers of perception only. BHO provides your local "Action News" team with a marijuana story that shows crack-pipe-style torches used on golden, sticky, heroin-looking goo made from a process that can cause meth lab-like explosions.
These days, even most non-tokers recognize joints and pipes as relatively benign—but not metal skillets or titanium nails being heated up with Coleman-stove propane torches. As a result, the public can easily be encouraged to associate BHO with crack, heroin and crystal meth. Bongs looked scary and unfamiliar back in 1980, but we helped people understand that this new device actually cooled and filtered marijuana smoke for the benefit of the user. And since human ingenuity is always on the move, new products will eventually be developed that utilize flameless ways to heat the oil (and a lot sooner without the burdens of prohibition).
The bottom line? No matter where the discussion of BHO takes us, we must always refer back to the basics: BHO is still just cannabis, and cannabis is nontoxic, with a low risk of dependence in any form. Additionally, any problem with BHO is caused by cannabis prohibition, which makes regulation and inspection impossible, increased potency more desirable, manufacture and selling more profitable, and proper education of consumers and the public more difficult.