In recent years cannabis oil extraction and the consumption high concentrate cannabis oils or “dabs” has become increasingly popular. This has brought with it a variety of new and unforeseen risks that we aim to make you aware of. The rise of dabbing has created a world of misinformation with advocates promoting dabbing as healthier alternative to smoking. In theory this is correct however there are variety of health risks surrounding dabbing and amateur extraction.  

Most recently the use of highly pressured butane has become an increasingly popular method of extracting concentrated cannabinoids. This produces what is know as butane hash oil (BHO) or “dab” oil. Quite often these oils are found to contain a variety of unwanted chemicals and fungal spores. These may have been inadvertently concentrated alongside the cannabinoids. Though most common concerns are centred around the consumption of highly concentrated THC, the greatest risks are often overlooked. One of the key issues with this method is the presence of residual unpurged butane. This may end up in the body of the user. This increase in BHO production has also resulted in a series of explosions and fires involving amateur producers.

A research study by Jeffrey Raber and his team at the university of Southern California aimed to address and highlight the increasingly apparent issue surrounding contamination. The study tested 57 concentrates from across the Californian medical cannabis market and made several startling discoveries. Considerable amounts of solvent and pesticide contamination was found in 80% of concentrate samples in some form. These contaminants included Isopentane, butane, heptane, hexane, isobutene, isopropyl alcohol and propane. Pesticides such as paclobutrazol and bifenthrin were also present. THC concentration varied from between 23.7% to 75.9% with the exception of one outlier containing 2.7% THC and 47.7% CBD.  The study also found that just up to 40% of the theoretically available THC in a vapor stream of a dab during inhalation experiments.

The study concluded that dabbing offered patients immediate physiological relief but may also be prone to abuse by recreational users seeking more rapid and intense physiological effects. Though dabbing may have its benefits, it is extremely important for users and amateur producers to be aware of the worryingly toxic potential of improperly prepared extracts. Given the current lack of regulation in the UK, the British public is at particular risk and should be made aware of the contamination risks. The papers referenced in this work suggest that ideally users should ask to see any testing or analytic reference documents before consumption. Should anyone you know be affected by this information please ensure they are aware of the risks potential posed to their health.  

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Articles Referenced:

Al-Zouabi, I. et al. (2018) ‘Butane hash oil and dabbing: insights into use, amateur production techniques, and potential harm mitigation.’, Substance abuse and rehabilitation. Dove Press, 9, pp. 91–101. doi: 10.2147/SAR.S135252.

Raber, J. C., Elzinga, S. and Kaplan, C. (2015) ‘Understanding dabs: contamination concerns of cannabis concentrates and cannabinoid transfer during the act of dabbing’, The Journal of Toxicological Sciences, 40(6), pp. 797–803. doi: 10.2131/jts.40.797.