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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Thanks to "Dabbing," It Is Possible to Overdose on Marijuana

Posted By on Wed, Mar 13, 2013 at 2:10 PM

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"Marijuana is perfectly safe" is one of the marijuana legalization movement's most widely accepted (and most important) truisms. 

Comical estimations of what would constitute a "lethal dose" -- such as orally consuming more marijuana than the stomach can physically hold -- lead to the also-accepted truism that it's impossible to overdose on marijuana.

That may not be true. 

With high-dosage edibles, it's easy to become "uncomfortably high," and with a recent trend called "dabbing," it's also easy to become so high that the user passes out. And passing out leads to the only recorded method of marijuana-related death. 

"Dabbing" is a simple concept: a small amount of super-high concentrate -- hash oil, wax, or another compound where so much of the marijuana plant's plant material is removed that what's left is between 50-to-80 percent active ingredients, a sort of grain alcohol to a bud's wine -- is put on a heated surface. A puff of smoke is emitted, and then the user inhales the entire puff of super-concentrated smoke.

The effects are immediate -- and they're intense. Folks who have used cannabis daily for 30 years report, "I am high again!" Other people not so used to the magic plant usually need to sit down for a minute or two before they can talk again. In other words, "dabbing" is a way to ingest a lot of medicine very quickly -- and a way to get really fucked up.

It also may be dangerous, as California NORML's Dale Gieringer writes in a recent letter to O'Shaughnessy's, the marijuana medical journal published by veteran journalist Fred Gardner.

"In the past couple of years, there have been repeated occasions in which 911 teams have had to be called in due to cannabis overdoses," Gieringer writes, going on to describe people passing out from high-concentrates at High Times Cannabis Cups in LA. The most authenticated record of someone dying from marijuana use, by the way? A man who became so incredibly high on hashish he passed out -- and then died after hitting his head on a hard floor.

"Things like this never happened until the popularization of hash oil in recent years," he adds. "The dangers are dire enough to merit a special warning."

Most cannabis clubs in San Francisco don't allow on-site consumption anymore -- a by-product of newly opened dispensaries wishing to make a concession, any concession, in order to appease wary neighbors and win a permit, and also the federal Justice Department's oddly selective crackdown, which shuttered popular smoking lounges at the Vapor Room and at HopeNet. But some that do also offer "dab bars" -- where patients can have a couple mind-numbing, sense-paralyzing hits as a "thank you."

This practice, while defensible for anyone who thinks marijuana prohibition should end, is hardly medical except for the sickest patients or those with the highest of tolerances. It also carries one more hidden danger -- butane poisoning.

There are more concentrated forms of cannabis available on the market today than ever before -- hashes, oils, waxes, a concoction called "budder," glass, you name it. It's surmised that a glut on the market led to this -- there was too many flowers and too much bud than could be sold, and like many other commodities, a repacking or repurposing was necessary in order to find market value -- and it's also led to more of a dangerous chemical extraction process.

In order to separate the psychoactive components from the plant material, some kind of extraction process is required. A common process is "butane extraction."

"When cannabis plant material is drenched in butane, its oils dissolve and can be captured in a container," Dr. Jeffrey Hergenrather explains. "Instantaneously, the butane evaporates leaving only the oil behind."

Sounds ok, but not only is this process illegal, it can also leave behind neurotoxins in your cannabis. If it smells like lighter fluid, don't smoke it, Hergenrather writes -- but it may not smell that bad, and still contain neurotoxins.

So dab away -- but realize when you smoke yourself stupid, you may be literally doing so.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.

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