Extraction Reaction: Let’s Be Smart About Dabbing

A new scientific review of burn injuries in Colorado confirms what many of us have been saying for some time – that the popularity of dabbing (i.e., the use of hash oil) brings with it some real dangers and some potential political dangers.

I have previously written about my own preference for flowers, rather than concentrates or edibles, but that is largely the result of my age. I began smoking marijuana 50 years ago, when I was a freshman at Georgetown Law School, and back then one was lucky if you could establish a reliable source for good marijuana, and these more esoteric versions of marijuana were largely unheard of. Occasionally the dealer would have a little hash (allegedly imported from Lebanon or some other distant country, although one never really knew), but it was usually terribly expensive and treated more as something to be saved for a special occasion, like champagne. Most of the time it was difficult enough just to find good pot.

But it is clear that the culture has evolved over the decades, and many of those wanting to enjoy the marijuana experience today prefer something other than flowers. In the states that have legalized marijuana, many seem to prefer edibles or concentrates. Whether that trend will continue is uncertain, but so long as a significant segment of the consuming public wants to obtain edibles or concentrates, we should focus on ways to permit that without endangering the public.


Regarding edibles, as our initial experience in Colorado has demonstrated, the key components to using edibles safely are:

Proper labeling, to avoid accidental ingestion
Proper dosage per unit, to avoid inadvertent overdosing (which is never fatal, but can be terribly unpleasant).
Better educational outreach to novice users, so they understand the lag time between ingesting the marijuana before the full psychoactive effects are felt.
So the initial concern over a few mishaps involving edibles in Colorado seems to have abated. Informed consumers should experience no problems enjoying the marijuana experience from infused edibles.


With concentrates, the most serious issue is the risk of explosions by those who attempt to extract the THC using butane. Novice consumers need to be made aware of the increased strength of marijuana in this form, and concentrates, like edibles, must be kept safely away from children.

Hash oil is a potent marijuana concentrate that can be as strong as 90 percent THC, and is easily manufactured (the process is readily available on the Internet) using butane as a solvent. But the process is also highly volatile and can result in dangerous explosions that all too often cause serious, and sometimes deadly, burn injuries. The similarities with the rash of meth explosions a few years ago is difficult to avoid.

New Study Released from Colorado

A new study just published in the Journal of Medical Toxicology, analyzed the incidents of burn injuries from butane hash oil extraction in Colorado from January 1, 2008 through August 31, 2014, comparing the two years prior to the legalization of medical use in the state; the period of medical use only in Colorado; and the first eight months of 2014, the first year of full legalization.

According to this study, there were no such incidents during the two years prior to the adoption of medical use; 19 cases during the medical use only phase lasting from October 2009 through December 2013; and 12 cases during the first eight months of 2014. So the total number of these explosions was small.

Those involved in these butane extraction explosions were largely white (72 percent), male (90 percent); and young (median age of 26). And the medium length of their hospital stay was 10 days.

The study’s authors concluded: “Hydrocarbon burns associated with hash oil production have increased since the liberalization of marijuana policy in Colorado. A combination of public health messaging, standardization of manufacturing processes, and worker safety regulations are needed to decrease the risks associated with BHO (butane hash oil) production.”

Potential Political Backlash

Another risk associated with these burn incidents is the possibility that the non-smoking public may be influenced to oppose further legalization proposals, because of the dangers presented by these explosions. Although the actual numbers of explosions are relatively low, each of them are scary, and most become major news stories, at least on the local and state level, thereby frightening large numbers of citizens, many of whom base their support for legalization on the premise that prohibition causes far more harm than the use of marijuana itself.

These incidents of butane burn injuries may well cause some of our supporters to re-evaluate their prior support. And there is no reason for us to incur this political baggage; we have an alternative production method that is safe.


This is a risk that could be avoided by using a CO2 extraction method, instead of butane, to produce concentrates, and as a culture we need to get the word out that it’s time to bring an end to the use of butane extraction altogether. It’s dangerous to produce concentrates with butane, at least by amateurs, and it may well present a health risk to the consumer.

The CO2 extraction method is safe and non-volatile, avoiding any danger of an explosion. And consumers are further protected because bacteria, mildews and molds are destroyed, and there is no butane residue in concentrates made this way.

It’s a win-win solution, but we need to better inform those who produce and use concentrates. If consumers begin to demand CO2-extracted concentrates, and reject products made with butane, the industry will quickly fall into line.

It’s time we insisted on the responsible production and use of concentrates. Otherwise we may find ourselves facing significant limitations, or even total bans, imposed on the production and availability of these products. Let’s resolve this problem ourselves, so the authorities need not deal with it.


This blog was initially published on Marijuana.com.

24 thoughts

  1. Very good and wise information. (And now for a little bit humor.)
    Will there be a dabbing commercial in the future?

    just a “lil-dab-will-d0-ya”
    That came from an old commercial.

  2. Another spot on article by Mr. Stroup! I also read your post on the preference of smoking it the old way and totally agree. I do own a vaporizer now and enjoy that new way. I am not a fan of edibles or dabs, though I would probably drink Cannabis tea, and when I was younger I did smoke plenty of hash when I lived overseas. I believe that concentrates should be priced pretty high and would encourage folks to leave them for medical purposes. Everything need not be taken to the limit! If one can’t reach the perfect high with all of the strains out now like Sour Diesel, Kush, and the host of others….good luck.

  3. Is NORML officially taking a stand against butane extraction?

    [Editor’s note: The CO2 extraction method is safe and non-volatile, avoiding any danger of an explosion. And consumers are further protected because bacteria, mildews and molds are destroyed, and there is no butane residue in concentrates made this way.

    It’s a win-win solution, but we need to better inform those who produce and use concentrates. If consumers begin to demand CO2-extracted concentrates, and reject products made with butane, the industry will quickly fall into line.

    It’s time we insisted on the responsible production and use of concentrates. Otherwise we may find ourselves facing significant limitations, or even total bans, imposed on the production and availability of these products. Let’s resolve this problem ourselves, so the authorities need not deal with it.

    With hundreds of hash oil-related explosions occurring in the last 5-7 years in America (historically-speaking cannabis production’s most dangerous component had been the legal threats created by prohibition enforcement, not converting botanicals into hash, oil or what are now commonly referred to as concentrates) NORML favors more commonsensible and less volatile ways to produce what is becoming a popular cannabis-related product, whether the production is CO2-extracted or recently popularized ‘Rosin Tech’ method.

    Butane go boom. Boom-booms are bad for humans and property…most especially if the problematic processing technology is readily replaced with existing safer and more economical processing technologies that produce similar or superior results for consumers.]

  4. I’ve never dabbed a day in my life. I have smoked plenty of ordinary weed though. I don’t know how I personally feel about Concentrates. I enjoy smoking the ordinary bud though, and I wouldn’t be typing anything if I though cannabis shouldn’t be legal.

    I guess once it is legal in PA, I might just see what all the hype is about, with concentrates. If I find I like it, fine. If I find that I almost get too high for me own comfort, I’ll go back to buds. Either way, I believe there’s some dangers, especially with making them. Mayhap in the future, we’ll find safer ways to make the concentrates. For now though, I am sticking with ordinary bud.

  5. Honestly, leave it to a few irresponsible individuals to throw everyone back into the stone age of prohibition.

    The DEA will be using this information to further bolster it’s defenses that legalizing will be harmful to the public.

    TL:DR Use common sense. If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.

  6. Another great article Keith!

    Our Govt should start spending money on education instead of incarceration. Education would further us along as a society and culture. Incarceration just sets us back…

    Seems like common sense to me, but then that is what 45 years of flower consumption can do for someone 🙂

  7. “Let’s resolve this problem ourselves, so the authorities need not deal with it.”

    A sage counsel indeed. We’ve all seem how incompetently the cruel authorities are in handling issues like this.

  8. Agree with Keith, Budflower is Best.

    Let us confine all Butane to relatively safe El Cheapo Chinese Lighters with a Flame Height Regulation Dial:

    dial one-half inch,
    hold an inch below,
    suck slooooooooooow
    19 seconds before you glow.

  9. Selective breeding to create stronger cannabis strains is one thing but extracts and concentrates are definitely another. The argument that marijuana is natural and God given goes out the window when you begin talking about concentrates.

  10. This is awfully messed up when you think about it; we have to be sincerely scared that a handful of people improperly utilizing an unsafe method of making concentrates and injuring themselves is going to hurt our progress to a fair degree, while tobacco and alcohol manages to kill many people regularly and people are completely capable of saying “Oh well, if you drink responsibly or don’t smoke it won’t hurt you”.

    That isn’t cool…although I guess it speaks to how benign marijuana is that basically ANY negatives hurt it far more than any legal option, yet it still manages to garner as much favor as it does. They’re looking for any reason to paint it as evil, and the best they can come up with is that some chemical that’s sometimes related to the creation of a certain form of the drug that could easily be replaced with a safer chemical might sometimes burn people if handled improperly.

  11. And lets not confuse butane extracts with Hash or Hashish,which is just separated glandular trichomes removed from the vegetable matter,that has been done in the Middle East and Asia for thousands of years.

    Just mentioning that,because it seems their putting it in the same category with these other ‘concentrates”,like butane extracts, that are causing all the problems.

    nothing wrong with some old fashioned hashish…tasty!

  12. I think this is an extremely short sided and ignorant way of looking at this. We have already proven that making things illegal just drives the black market sales and ups the criminal element. Not to mention now you have absolutely no control over quality. NORML is supposed to “serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.” Now your asking to take one of the most popular products out of the hands of the manufactures who have spent millions getting there facilities up to code and regulations, and hand it right back to the criminals. Criminals are the only ones that are having these explosive problems, and its because they are unregulated. Bravo guys. We need to support state laws to keep it out of the hands of individuals and leave it up to the professionals who have the proper facilities. Oh and by the way, most co2 oil is finished in a winterization process with ethanol which as we know is also highly flammable and can cause just as big of problems.

    [Editor’s note: You’re misreading the blog post as no one at NORML has called for ‘tak[ing] one of the most popular products out of the hands of the manufactures who have spent millions getting there facilities up to code and regulations, and hand it right back to the criminals.’

    Where do you get that from a consumer organization like NORML calling for 1) some unprofessional and unlicensed concentrate makers to stop creating deadly, maiming and property destroying explosions in apartment buildings, neighborhood homes and industrial warehouses when trying to make cannabis concentrates and 2) that these products that are consumed by the human body be made in safe ways for both the producer and consumer?

    It is precisely because the organization represents consumers’ interests that NORML’s calling on concentrate producers to be licensed, their facilities inspected and properly zoned, liability insurance carried, staff trained and certified, and the products accurately labeled.

    Again, we’re only putting this stuff in our bodies…

    Otherwise, if the cannabis concentrate industry does not effectively regulate itself federal, state and local governments will very likely start passing laws and regulations against these new forms of high potent (and, when produced incorrectly, chemically volatile) forms of cannabis. At minimum govt will create much higher taxes on these products if they are perceived more dangerous to produce and consume.

    For consumers to have genuine access to concentrate products, which NORML endorses, they have to be safely made and properly labeled for human consumption post-prohibition…otherwise, like moonshiners in the alcohol space, the producers of high potent cannabis products will be treated like ‘offenders’ (hopefully civilly, not criminally) if they don’t comport with basic safety and quality control concerns.]

  13. Cannabis as medication brought about the concentration of the activated cannabinoids for lessening the amount needed to obtain relief. When a bud becomes a drop, a non smoker obtains what used to be only available to people who can inhale smoke or vapor.

  14. One issue here is cost of equipment.

    Open blasting – $20 for a tube and cost of butane
    Closed passive blasting – 1500-2500+
    Closed active blasting – 4000-6000+
    CO2 Extraction – 50000-250000+

    It is human nature to go with the cheapest method to maximize return. Most small time collectives can’t even afford a passive setup. The only thing I can think of is a company that you could send your product to and they would charge for the extraction and send the concentrate back.

    More likely it will end up like alcohol, you can make beer and wine but only licensed manufactures can make hard alcohol.

  15. I honestly kind of hate dabbing, BHO, and all these new products and processes. They are all kind of industrial and dangerous.

    On the one hand, it is very exciting, for cultural, scientific, and political reasons, that the weed market can branch out like this. It is a rich person’s problem.

    But me personally, I want MJ legalized. If this stuff hinders that, I am against it! Once MJ is legalized, a whole new world will open up, and in that world all these new products can be safely introduced.

  16. @Zuke,
    While you are correct it is “not cool” that alcohol and tobacco are not even scheduled and yet “get away” with countless deaths per year, our movement is still on the verge of convincing Congressman that may not even consume cannabis that our industry is safe enough to pass the CARERS Act, and that’s just getting us to schedule 2!

    As you well point out, however, if this is the biggest “dangerous” image for marijuana consumers we have to tackle, then prohibition is in deep trouble.

    I went to my brother’s house in Austin, one of the few places I can still smoke a joint socially, and as the conversation rolled to higher concentrates, my younger brother said “DON’T try dabbing. You could lose your f€£!ng mind, waste your high looking for your car keys and feel like an idiot for drinking a beer when all you wanted was to get stoned…”
    My response was “Oh is THAT why I found everybody staring at the menu screen of the playstation last time I was here?

    I am happy to report my little brother gave away his playstation to our nephew and is back to smoking outdoors at the Greenbelt (a waterfall cave hangout near Austin) like a good pot-smoking Austinite should. Just think of all the good times, swimsuits and fun you ‘re missing because dabbing leaves you too disfunctional to do things in public? I mean if you have any sense of self-awareness?! (Which marijuana can help you with… You know who you are…)

    Social activity is one of the main reasons consuming regular doses of flowered marijuana treats depression and PTSD; because regularly prescribed opiates leave veterans too embarrassed to go to the grocery store. Now tell me how one is supposed to gain perspective in life if theyre too embarrassed to TALK to somebody?! Worst thing flowered marijuana (non-dabbing) can do to you at the grocery-store is leave you reading the ingredients to your cleaning products and checking out combinations like peanut butter and pickles. (REALLY Julian? Peanut Butter and pickles?)

  17. The problem may not be as bad as reported but the fear is going to be a 100 times greater. Even though we are supposed to be the “home of the brave” our corporatized media knows that the American public responds to fear. An apartment caught on fire locally because of a butane operation. The storyline was when you smell your neighbors marijuana call the police because they could be using butane. The county sherif was included in the story again spreading suspicion that your pot smoking neighbor could be putting your whole community at risk of an explosion. So be safe and report the pot smoker to police! THE OPPOSITION IS CHOMPING AT THE BIT TO DERAIL MJ LEGALIZATION, DO NOT GIVE THEM THE AMMUNITION BY AVOIDING BUTANE ALL TOGETHER.

  18. @RUT, Yes, AVOID BUTANE except in those el cheapo Chinese lighters with the flame reduction dial (Long toke at 385F/197C EAT entry air temperature).

    @Julian, Something to do SOCIALLY instead of $moke 500- mg HBOM/Joint: SocketWrenchHeaded WoodClwmp DwbbleToke FlexDrawTube OneHitter.

    From the central woodpiece with screened metalpiece crater firmly embedded at the top, out the sides proceed two flexible (usually 1/4″-o.d. pvc) drawtubes. Try drawing dwbble toke cartoons advertising same:

    (1) “How Johnny and Barry cooked up the deal to Bail Out Philip Morris” — to viewer’s right Obama is sucking and lefthandedly lighting (inch below), and his eyes are on the task; Boehner is sucking and his eyes are centered staring directly atjew the viewer.

    (2) “WHAT WOULD BOB DO on a visit to Annsterdam?” On right Anne Frank serving toke– make it look as much like her photos as possible despite mouth engaged with drawtube– and Marley staring out at viewer.

    (3) if you have the nerve, Jesus or Lady Gaga serving Mohammed or vice versa, etc.

    We might be able to convert 3,000,000 underpaid sweatshop ladies in India from rolling beedis ($igarette tobacco wrapped in tendu leaf) to handmake world SOCIALizing dwbble toke utensils.

  19. Personally I love the taste of weed and concentrates are like taking moonshine to a wine tasting contest…

  20. The pressure from CO2 machines (well in excess of 2000psi compared to butane at around 50-70psi) is a tremendous hazard. These machines are about to be 100% banned in Colorado. None of you are properly educated on the subject, and this and this entire argument is based on biased opinion in an effort to not rock the legalization drive as it moves forward. I disagree with the statement about the volatility. This entire argument is merely opinion.

    [Editor’s note: While the writings of the author are opinion, the public safety concerns regarding cannabis concentrate producers (notably) and consumers should be self evident regardless of heat source. Certification, licensing, bonding and zoning laws can largely address public safety concerns regarding quality control and production hazards.]

  21. When you extract are you loosing any of the medicinal properties that are found in the flower as a whole? I have medical issues and was told by a doc and friends that I should try dabbing and hash because I can Vap it and it is healthier due to less material being processed by the lungs etc. I have noticed an increase in my symptoms while I am using extract VS flower. I know the extracts are clean and lab tested, so am I loosing something in the flower that is beneficial to me? Is it just the THC that is extracted? Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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