Vancouver marijuana users embrace the super highs of dabbing

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      The average marijuana bud one finds on the streets of Vancouver has a THC concentration in the neighbourhood of 25 percent. That’s a lot stronger than what people were smoking back in the ’60s, but it’s got nothing on the high that “dabbing” can deliver.

      Dabbing, an old technique that’s seeing a surge in popularity, involves smoking cannabis products with THC concentrations above 90 percent.

      “When you take it to that level, there can be heart palpitations—it’s very, very strong,” said Terry Roycroft, CEO of Medicinal Cannabis Resource Centre Inc. “It’s certainly not for everybody. When it comes to extractions, we’re talking about very heavy recreational use and, for very knowledgeable people, using it for medical reasons.”

      Despite a need for caution, Roycroft noted that most dispensaries in Vancouver—of which the Vancouver Police Department reports there are now about 60—offer dab concentrates. He said they’re usually sold under the names budder, wax, sap (40 to 60 percent THC), shatter, and ultra shatter (94 percent or higher). (Other dispensary operators provided variations on these numbers.)

      “I’ve seen the stuff around for two or three years, but it’s only been in the last year that we’ve seen it really explode, where everybody knows about it and where it’s mainstream,” Roycroft said. “The dried weed is still their [dispensaries’] main scenario, but all the extracts are coming up very, very quickly now.”

      Adolfo Gonzalez is a senior consultant with Purely Medicinal, a supplier of cannabis products for Vancouver dispensaries. In a telephone interview, he explained the process that takes a cannabis bud to a THC concentration so high that only a dab is needed.

      Cannabis is packed into a glass tube that then has liquid butane passed through it, he began. The butane pulls cannabinoid crystals off the buds. The butane is then boiled off the mixture and removed with a vacuum purging machine. What remains will be either a sappy or crystallized substance, depending on cannabinoid and terpene quantities as well as the skills of the cook. That substance is called budder (with a texture similar to lip balm), wax, sap, shatter (like brittle glass), or, if you’re in law enforcement, butane hash oil (BHO).

      The practice of transforming cannabis buds into products with high THC concentrations—such as budder or butane hash oil—requires caution.

      Butane’s role in the process has resulted in a few accidental explosions that have attracted negative media attention in the United States. In Vancouver, both the VPD and Providence Health Care (Saint Paul’s and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals) told the Straight they haven’t noticed dabbing-related incidents.

      Another reason the practice is controversial is because the method of smoking it has more in common with crack or methamphetamine than it does with lighting a joint. A source of intense heat (such as a small blowtorch) is applied to a piece of glass or metal that is holding the drug. The user then inhales the vapour that results.

      Stakeholders interviewed for this story attributed dabbing’s rise in popularity to a variety of factors: U.S. entrepreneurs are pushing every product they can after legalization; new tools designed for dabbing make the process easier than it once was; and it is simply a trendy thing to do.

      Another possible reason, according to B.C. civil-liberties lawyer Kirk Tousaw, is that for medical-marijuana licence holders, it’s legal.

      “In [April] 2012, we won a trial court decision allowing medical cannabis patients in British Columbia to possess concentrates,” he said. Tousaw noted that this ruling was appealed and the case is scheduled to enter the Supreme Court of Canada on March 20. But for the time being, Tousaw said, medical-marijuana licence holders are permitted to possess cannabis extracts.

      Don Briere of Weeds Glass and Gifts—of which there are 14 franchised storefronts in Vancouver—described dabbing as “absolutely more popular”. But he emphasized that it’s nothing new, noting that his long-defunct Da Kine Smoke and Beverage Shop offered dabbing products to customers on Commercial Drive back in 2004.

      Briere maintained that dabbing is appropriate for medical uses and, for many sick people, is preferable in that it does not involve inhaling the smoke, paper, and glue that come with a joint.

      He compared the risks of overconsumption to doing the same with alcohol. “Who would be crazy enough to take an entire 40-pounder of Everclear or overproof rum and guzzle the whole thing?” Briere asked.

      Gonzalez said that with higher THC concentrations there are valid concerns about addiction, though it remains unclear to what extent such risks differ from those of traditional marijuana consumption. “Approximately one out of 10 people that start using cannabis develops a habitual use of cannabis,” he said. “If we study dabbing, I suspect that number would be slightly higher.”

      Gonzalez suggested the industry would benefit from a transition out of the legal grey area in which it presently resides in B.C.

      “This, like any form of cannabis, should be regulated,” he said. “There should be standards and protocols and all of this in place.”

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      Jan 21, 2015 at 3:13pm

      From the "don't try this at home" file, I recall back in the 90s a young fellow was attempting to cook up some hash oil in the kitchen using naphtha instead of butane. I don't remember if it was the pilot light on the furnace or maybe a spark from another appliance, but something triggered an explosion that quickly consumed his house, along with his children who were sleeping upstairs. Just a cautionary note for anyone thinking this might be a fun do-it-yourself project (epecially if you happen to live in my apartment building ...)


      Jan 21, 2015 at 3:26pm

      If it causes heart palpitations, maybe the concentration is waaaaaaaay too high, dangerous, a foreseeable legal liability?

      How about making it half as strong and then if the first hoot is going well, having another?

      Public Health

      Jan 21, 2015 at 5:19pm

      So, how is the communal equipment that these dabbers use in many of these unregulated facilities sterilized? What sort of butane is used to perform the extraction, is it intended for use in manufacturing products intended for human consumption?

      We need some sort of regulation here, like a College system, so that only people with post-secondary education are providing these services.

      Don't get it

      Jan 21, 2015 at 8:57pm

      when so many need daily drugs, including pot to function. What used to be excuses for medical reasons, now everyone has a "reason" to smoke it. If you're still smoking pot at 30, what will you be doing at 60, 70, 90?
      (Not that you will ever live that long functioning anyway, since you lack coping skills)
      Wow, life must really stink for you guys.


      Jan 21, 2015 at 9:08pm

      Given some of today's pot can cause psychosis in some people with genetic predispositions to bipolar, schizophrenia or psychosis, (ask your local psych emergency ward if you doubt this) will this high concentrate create more instances of psychosis?

      Maybe including those without those genetic predispositions?

      its a crutch

      Jan 22, 2015 at 12:02am

      live a clean life and stop running from your problems by smoking this crap. Harden up!

      ryan g

      Jan 22, 2015 at 8:02am

      All you people talking negatively about other peoples decision to use cannabis shows that you are miserable people who cant enjoy their own lives, so you have to try and take away the joy from others. Get used to it... soon home grow and smoking it will be legal, I hope your next door neighbours have a huge kush grow that smells like skunk

      Hate hypocrites

      Jan 22, 2015 at 8:06am

      what is so bad about vaporizing cannabis (no problems on the lugs whatsoever) either medically or recreationally, and being calm and relaxed. Compared to chugging down whisky, being not calm and relaxed at all, being way more intoxicated not to mention poisoning your liver, what one is legal? All those talking negatively about cannabis go drink enough alcohol until you get alcohol poisoning.

      Mental health

      Jan 22, 2015 at 9:56am

      Never in my life, have I seen so many people in Vancouver with mental issues, disorders, depression, substance abuse, etc...
      The people are getting sicker and sicker. (mentally)
      With the rise of mental health issues especially in BC
      I would guess its the increase in pot. There has to be a common link. Guess the pot smokers don't wanna see it.

      Time will tell.

      @Mental health

      Jan 22, 2015 at 11:02am

      I doubt it is pot making people mentally ill, there is no convincing data. The "psychosis" studies don't really track with the rise in consumption---Vancouver has lots of depressed, whiny people, not lots of psychotics, except in the DTES. If you are blaming pot for the DTES, you should go back to wherever you came from, instead of mucking about in our drug policy.

      That being said, if someone is mentally ill from malnutrition, marihuana will tend not to help treat the underlying cause, only the symptoms. But our mainstream medical system doesn't do this either---even if you become acutely suicidal, go to the hospital, they won't do full a full nutrition workup. If you ask for such, they will act like you have no idea what you are talking about even tho this is standard practice in many private American practices---a psychiatrist will do lots of blood work to rule out nutritional, thyroid, etc. as causes for a "mental illness."

      These pot shops duplicate the flaws in the medical system at best, create new problems like disease transmission at worst. They are not a solution to anything.