Saturday, May 24, 2014

Vape Pens and Budder - Marijuana's Drift from Plant to Ultra-Potent Drug

Users of marijuana have long known and sometimes favored a marijuana extract called hashish (hash for short). It tends to be cleaner and more potent than the plant - the best marijuana buds are averaging 25-30% THC, while hash can be in the neighborhood of 45-55%. [1]

Apparently these already highly potent options are not enough (for reference, the best marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s averaged around 3-8% THC). New butane extraction methods are creating a drug that can be as high as 99% cannabinoids (of which 80-90% is THC), often known as budder.
"The top Budder sample was 99.6% pure," Dr Paul Hornby [a chemist and plant analyst] explained, "which means if you had an ounce of it, only a tiny fraction of a gram would be anything other than cannabinoids. We also tested Budder for toxins, solvents, molds, diseases, heavy metals and other contaminants. There were none. It's essentially just pure cannabinoids. I've tested a lot of cannabis materials, but this is the most impressive."
Hornby's tests also found Budder contains 80 to 90% of its cannabinoids as THC. It contains much smaller percentages of two other cannabinoids: cannabidiol and cannabinol. Of these two, cannabidiol (CBD) is most important because it has medicinal effects and moderates the stimulative effects of THC. [1]
This seems to create a drug with much higher chance of adverse effects. Cannabidiol (CBD), which has no psychotropic effects by itself [2], attenuates, or reduces [3] the higher anxiety levels caused by THC alone [4]. Consequently, the plant material used to create budder (or other extract forms, including the more mainstream use of "dab" with vape pens), will greatly impact the type of high the extract creates. Cannabis sativa has a much higher THC:CBD ration, and causes more of a "high, including the stimulation of hunger and a more energetic feeling. On the other hand, Cannabis indica has a higher CBD:THC ratio, producing more of a "stoned" or meditative feeling [5].

The mainstream media seems not to be aware of "budder" at this point, but the lower quality extracts (often produced at home by amateur chemists - two words which should never go together) are beginning to register with the media over the last year or two.

In December, 2013, The Daily Beast ran an article called "Hey Buddy, Wanna Dab? Inside The Mainstream Explosion of Cannabis Concentrates," which examined the rise of dab and the lack of purity in most street products (along with info on how to know if it's a clean product or not).

In March, 2014, Mother Jones ran a more in-depth article (produced below) on how these new extracts may impact legalization efforts around the country. Below that article is another from Slate, from February, 2014.

  1. Brady, P. (5005, Jan 19). "Beautiful budder". Cannabis Culture Magazine.
  2. Ahrens, J., Demir, R., Leuwer, M., et al. (2009). The nonpsychotropic cannabinoid cannabidiol modulates and directly activates alpha-1 and alpha-1-Beta glycine receptor function. Pharmacology 83 (4): 217–222. doi:10.1159/000201556. PMID 19204413.
  3. Zuardi, A.W., Shirakawa, I., Finkelfarb, E., Karniol, I.G. (1982). Action of cannabidiol on the anxiety and other effects produced by ?9-THC in normal subjects. Psychopharmacology 76 (3): 245–50. doi:10.1007/BF00432554. PMID 6285406.
  4. Fusar-Poli, P., Crippa, J.A., Bhattacharyya, S., Borgwardt, S,J., Allen, P., Martin-Santos, R., et al. (2009). Distinct Effects of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol and Cannabidiol on Neural Activation During Emotional Processing. Archives of General Psychiatry 66 (1): 95–105. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2008.519. PMID 19124693.
  5. Holtzman, A.L. (2011, Mar 28). Cannabis Indica vs Sativa: A response to Continued cannabis use and risk of incidence and persistence of psychotic symptoms: 10 year follow-up cohort study. British Medical Journal, 342:d738. doi:
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How Vape Pens Could Threaten the Pot Legalization Movement

Not everyone is going to welcome an innovation that facilitates getting high in public places—like high school hallways.

—By Josh Harkinson | Thu Mar. 20, 2014

One of many models of vape pens that can be used to discretely smoke marijuana concentrates. [SIK-photo]/Flickr
Last year, I joined some parents from my son's preschool for their semiregular "Dad's Night Out." We were at a crowded bar in Oakland, and somehow it emerged that I'd done some stories about marijuana. A dad immediately asked if I'd written about hash oil. Within a few minutes (for the sake of journalism, of course), I was trying a hit of nearly odorless vapor from what looked like a miniature flashlight. A single puff, and I was too high to order a second beer.

It might be an understatement to say that marijuana concentrates smoked from so-called vape pens—the pot version of e-cigarettes—accomplish for stoners what flasks full of moonshine do for lushes: Portable, discreet, and fantastically potent, they're revolutionizing the logistics of getting high, and minimizing the risk of discovery. Stories abound of people using vape pens to blaze away undetected at baseball games, city council meetings, kids' soccer matches, and, of most concern to parents and educators, high schools. Even if pot brownies have been around forever, this is probably not what your average Colorado or Washington voter had in mind when they cast a ballot to legalize recreational marijuana.

The concentrates typically used in vape pens are made by extracting THC from pot with water ("bubble hash"), transferring it into butter ("budder"), or refining it into what's known as butane hash oil (BHO, or "errrl," since stoners need a slang term for everything pot-related). From there, it can be refined further into a wax or an amber-like solid ("shatter"). These products are up to three times stronger than the most mind-bending buds. In short, it ain't your father's schwag, and its snowballing popularity among young people is reshaping the culture of the pot scene: One customarily smokes (or "dabs") BHO from specially designed bongs known as "oil rigs," and not at the designated hour of 4:20, but rather at 7:10—which, in case you're wondering, is "OIL" upside down and backwards.

"Baking Bad," the headline of a recent Slate piece on the concentrates scene, aptly sums up how the trend could become a PR nightmare for the legalization movement. As the name implies, making butane hash oil involves extracting THC from cannabis using butane—you know, lighter fluid. The growing rash of butane lab fires and explosions could suggest that potheads are going the way of meth tweakers. And when BHO is improperly made, it can be tainted with toxins.

But perhaps the biggest emerging concern with concentrates is how they may enable minors to abuse pot. Though many high schoolers use vape pens to inhale candy-flavored oils that don't contain psychoactive substances, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 10 percent had used the devices in 2012 to consume nicotine concentrates (i.e., they'd tried "e-cigarettes"), double the number from the previous year—and that number is likely an underestimate. Emily Anne McDonald, an anthropologist at the University of California-San Francisco, told me her interviews with teens and young adults in New York suggest that the use of vape pens for pot is gaining steam—"especially for getting around the rules and smoking marijuana in places that are more public." She's currently applying for a grant to study the use of pot-concentrate vape pens by young people in Colorado.

Not surprisingly, some cities and states that allow medical marijuana don't look kindly on concentrates. In July, an appeals court in Michigan, where pot is legal for medical use and decriminalized for recreational use in many cities, ruled that concentrates aren't allowed under the state's medical marijuana law. In 2012, the Department of Public Health in pot-friendly San Francisco asked the city's dispensaries to stop carrying concentrates. (It later reversed itself in the face of a backlash.) A recently introduced California bill supported by law enforcement interests would revise its medical pot rules to ban pot concentrates statewide.

The rising popularity of BHO "certainly is a safety issue," acknowledges Bill Panzer, a member of the board of directors of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Yet Panzer doesn't see prohibition as the solution. "You can either tell people to stop using concentrates, which they won't," he says, "or you can say, 'Let's regulate it and make sure it's done safely."

After some fierce debates, lawmakers in Colorado and Washington have ultimately decided to permit and regulate concentrates. Colorado requires anyone who makes BHO to operate out of a facility that is separate from a grow operation and that has been certified by an industrial hygienist or professional engineer. Washington state's Legislature last week passed a bill allowing state-licensed pot shops to sell concentrates, as long as the amount sold to any one customer doesn't exceed seven grams. But there are plenty of do-it-yourself recipes online.

Although more states may decide to regulate the production and sale of concentrates (see our maps of the pot regulation landscape), they'll have a much harder time preventing people from toking from vape pens on the sly. NORML's Panzer isn't worried. He brings up the example of an obnoxiously drunk baseball fan who sat next to his son at a recent Oakland A's game. "I have never seen anybody on weed doing that," he says. "Anytime you are replacing alcohol with cannabis, that's positive."

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Here is another article, this one from Slate:

Baking Bad

How dabbing—smoking potent, highly processed hash oil—could blow up Colorado’s legalization experiment.

By Sam Kamin and Joel Warner
February 5, 2014

Darkside shatter dab, made by TC Labs for Natural Remedies in Denver. Courtesy of Ry Prichard/

Brad Melshenker, owner of the Boulder, Colo.-based 710 Labs, knows his operation, with its extensive ventilation systems, industrial hygienist–approved extraction machine, vacuum ovens, and workers wearing respirator masks looks like something out of a marijuana version of Breaking Bad. It’s why he calls his lab manager, Wade Sanders, “Walter,” after the show’s protagonist, Walter White.

And like the famously pure and powerful blue meth White cooked up on Breaking Bad, the product produced by 710 Labs’ fancy equipment is extremely concentrated, powerful, and coveted: butane-extracted hash oil (BHO). The lab’s finished BHO might not look like much—a thin, hard, and shiny brown slab, like peanut brittle without the peanuts—but when a piece of this “shatter,” as it’s called, is placed on the nail of a specially designed pipe that’s been superheated by a blowtorch, it vaporizes and delivers a direct hit of 70 to 90 percent THC, three times the potency of the strongest marijuana strains. As Melshenker puts it, if smoking regular pot is like drinking a beer, “dabbing,” as this process is known, is a shot of hard liquor. Vice calls the result, “The smoothest slow-motion smack in the face of clean, serene stonedness that you’ve ever experienced.” Rolling Stone reports, “Your head spins, your eyes get fluttery, a few beads of sweat surface on your forehead and, suddenly, you're cosmically baked.” Some pot aficionados vow to never smoke the old way again.

Gucci Earwax, a butane extraction, made by Mahatma Extreme Concentrates for Karmaceuticals in Denver. It won the first-place medical concentrate trophy at the High Times 2013 Denver U.S. Cannabis Cup. Courtesy of Ry Prichard /

Hash, in other words, is no longer just a way to make use of leftover marijuana trim. It’s now becoming the main attraction. (Butane isn’t the only way to extract hash oil from marijuana, either; some concentrate-makers use carbon dioxide– or water-based extraction methods.) At Greenest Green, Melshenker’s Boulder dispensary, the inventory used to be 60 percent marijuana flower, 30 percent BHO, and 10 percent edibles. Now it’s the opposite: 60 percent BHO, 30 percent flower, and 10 percent edibles. And roughly 40 dispensaries statewide contract with 710 Labs to turn their marijuana into shatter or “budder,” a gloopier version. (Because of delays in Boulder’s regulation process, 710 Labs won’t be able to produce recreational BHO until Feb. 17.)

Hash oil is even fueling its own subculture. Forget 4:20; “dab heads” or “oil kids” light up at 7:10. (Turn the digits upside down and you have “OIL.”) Connoisseurs sport specially designed blowtorches and incredibly pricey “oil rig” pipes; a top-of-the-line rig from Melshenker’s Faulty Pelican glass company sets you back $14,000. There’s even dab gear, made by companies like Grassroots.

“There’s a whole industry here,” says Melshenker, whose business card doubles as a stainless-steel dabber, the tool used to apply BHO to an oil rig’s superheated nail.

Colorado’s thriving dabbing scene could just be one more bit of proof that the state is becoming a global mecca for marijuana. After all, the state’s legalized marijuana experiment has so far been an unqualified success. Despite the surprisingly limited number of recreational pot shops that opened their doors on Jan. 1—and the hefty crowds waiting in line to patronize them—the state hasn’t experienced widespread product shortages or weed prices high enough to trigger an Uber-style backlash. Yes, there was that story about 37 deadly marijuana overdoses on the first day of sales, but it turned out to be an obvious hoax. The few pundits who’ve complained about Colorado’s legalized pot, like David Brooks and Nancy Grace, have found their arguments blasted full of holes, not to mention lambasted on Saturday Night Live. The Justice Department is looking into ways to help banks play nice with marijuana businessesa very serious problem—and even President Obama in a recent New Yorker profile conceded it’s important for the experiment to go forward.

Soon enough, then, Colorado’s small-scale experiment should spread far and wide, with controversial drug laws getting the boot, millions of clandestine tokers coming out of the closet, and governments reaping the benefits in taxes and fees. That is unless something goes terribly wrong, derailing the whole legalization movement.

Such a gloomy outcome isn’t out of the question. The only reason that Colorado is enjoying fame as the first place to legalize pot is thanks to a combination of fortunate timing, plucky advocates, forward-thinking lawmakers, and a remarkable lack of snafus. Colorado’s 2012 legalization attempt very well could have floundered if the effort hadn’t enjoyed remarkably positive media coverage. Considering the precipitous rise of the state’s medical marijuana industry and lawmakers’ keen efforts to moderate it, all it could have taken was the right bad headline—a high-profile crime or a boneheaded political move—to set the endeavor back considerably. Recall that alcohol prohibition was built on the temperance movement’s carefully crafted tales of woe and violence. As Salvation Army Commander Evangeline Booth once put it:
Drink has drained more blood …
Dishonored more womanhood,
Broken more hearts,
Blasted more lives,
Driven more to suicide, and
Dug more graves than any other poisoned scourge that ever swept its death-dealing waves across the world.

Mixed shatter slab by TC Labs. The product is broken prior to packaging to fit into the 1 gram or less packaging requirements. Courtesy of Ry Prichard /

In Colorado, however, there have been very few sordid marijuana tales that could be used to demonize the drug—so far. Weed-fueled horror stories could still emerge in the state—and with the world watching, such calamities could have an international impact. So what are the biggest potential risks? A major concern is diversion, taking Colorado’s legal pot and offloading it to the black market or selling it out of state. While Colorado has established an extensive tracking system to prevent this from happening, there will always be tourists trying to take home a pot-infused souvenir. Beyond diversion, there’s the menace of crime—not just the threat of burglaries and organized crime in a largely cash-based industry, but also the distant possibility of banks or other financial institutions getting slapped with federal money laundering charges if they accept any of that free-flowing marijuana cash. Finally, there’s the prospective collateral damage, such as kids accidentally eating pot brownies—something that’s already in the news—or a violent pot-related car crash.

If any of these calamities do occur, Colorado’s red-hot dabbing scene could in fact be the source of the problem. Dabbing certainly appears on the surface to be dangerous: Kids are freebasing marijuana! It looks like they’re smoking crack! But it’s important to remember that there’s no evidence that it’s possible to overdose on pot. (Compared to say, acetaminophen, overdoses of which killed more than 1,500 Americans during the past decade.) So you can smoke the strongest dab imaginable—or even, if you’re a showboat, smoke 50 dabs in a row—and science says it won’t kill you. It will just get you really, really high.

Mars OG ISO dab, an isopropyl alcohol extraction made by Pink House Labs in Denver. Courtesy of Ry Prichard/

But just because something won’t poison you the way alcohol can doesn’t mean it can’t lead you to do something stupid enough that will kill you. And there seem to be enough disconcerting variables associated with dabbing culture—a production process laden with volatile chemicals; a highly concentrated, easily transportable final product; and incredibly stoned kids with blowtorches—it seems only a matter of time until somebody in the scene does something very stupid and possibly fatal.

Yes, dabbing might not be as inherently dangerous as, say, a bar full of binge-drinkers. But it’s important to remember that recreational marijuana isn’t necessarily replacing alcohol use—it’s just adding a new legal vice to the options people already have. While some researchers predict legalized marijuana will decrease alcohol use, others predict it could lead to “heavy drinking” and “carnage on our highways.” So will folks really reach for a dabbing pipe instead of a shot glass—or will they reach for both?

Questions like this have led California and Washington to outlaw the production of smokeable marijuana concentrates. Colorado, however, has gone the opposite route: In November it released a draft of proposed concentrate production rules, positioning itself to become the only place in the world where marijuana concentrate production is both legal and regulated. The idea is to police the blooming subculture, to stay on top of it, so it ends up more akin to tattooing than meth. “If we outlaw concentrates, people will make them in their basements and blow themselves up,” says Norton Arbelaez, co-owner of the Denver dispensary RiverRock Wellness, which operates a concentrate production facility. But just because a concentrate extraction system is certified by a third-party industrial hygienist, as will likely be required by Colorado’s concentrate rules, doesn’t mean that system can’t still accidentally blow up.

It makes sense that Colorado is at the vanguard of legalized dabbing. It’s made a habit of taking risks when it comes to marijuana. Colorado can’t regulate away the chance that dabbing or some other marijuana-related endeavor will lead to a spectacular accident, either industrial or personal. But so far its legalization effort has taken pains to thoughtfully minimize such risks—and so far, it’s working.

~ Sam Kamin is professor and director of the Constitutional Rights and Remedies program at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

~ Joel Warner is a former Westword staff writer.

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