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The Medical Side of Dabbing

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The Medical Side of Dabbing

Photos by Andres Rodriguez

The Medical Side of Dabbing

When dabbing first exploded onto the medical cannabis scene in California, I viewed the practice with more than a little trepidation. I wrote an article for Harborside Health Center’s newsletter, Illuminator, questioning whether the practice was a wellness-oriented use of cannabis. I had no idea what I was in for. Both mine and Harborside’s Facebook pages lit up.

Some agreed with my questioning of the safety of using blowtorches to consume their medicine. Others were outraged that I would even question their style of medicating. Interestingly it initially seemed to break down by age. Folks over the age of 40 tended to agree with my attitude, younger ones were, to put it mildly, ticked off. I was being flamed by a blowtorch wielding Internet savvy group.

Between these two opposite positions though, a small but poignant message began to emerge from medical patients who were extremely sick. For these folks, dabbing was not just a sport, it was the only way they could obtain the relief they were seeking.

Crohn’s patients, quadriplegics and Multiple Sclerosis (MS) sufferers all reached out to me to share how dabbing had been a godsend for them. By being able to intake a large amount of THC or CBD in a small dose they were able to find the relief that had eluded them through either smoking large amount of flowers or consuming edibles, with their longer onset times.

Many of these folks had been smoking an eighth or more a day in their attempt to feel well, some with little success. Their tolerances had just risen too high and they couldn’t get enough THC/CBD in their systems.

Angel Raich was the defendant in Gonzalez v. Raich, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court case that affirmed the federal government’s right to prosecute medical cannabis cultivation sale and possession, even in states where it is legal for medicinal purposes. Raich has been battling cancer and other conditions for decades. She lost the case.

Raich swears by dabbing as the best way to relieve her many conditions. Dabbing allows for a large amount of active ingredients to be absorbed from a very small amount of material. I started to realize perhaps I had been a little too quick to question dabbing’s place in the wellness spectrum.

One of my other concerns at the time of the first article was the purity of many of the available butane hash oil (BHO) extracts. I still firmly believe, and the chemistry backs me up, that cannabis undergoes a fundamental transformation when mixed with long chain carbon molecules.

However as more people from all parts of the spectrum began to embrace dabbing, the quality and purity of the concentrates skyrocketed. So did more than a few garages and apartments, as folks learned the hard way about heavier than air, extremely volatile compounds.

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Oils, waxes, budder, shatter – all of these new words entered the medical cannabis lexicon. The biggest breakthroughs came a couple of years ago when the purification process went from a simple heating and whipping process to sophisticated laboratory degassing ovens. The purging process had entered a whole new era.

As I watched these innovations unfold and the quality rise, my position on dabbing continued to evolve. I wrote a second article for the Illuminator where I talked about embracing safe dabbing.

Technology for dabbing itself also continued to evolve and we saw the first electronic nails emerge. The first generation was quite expensive but it was a first step away from blowtorches, which I still don’t think are such a great idea. The quality of the BHO and CO2 also continued its rise. The degassing ovens now allowed for all residual butane to be purged from the wax or oil.

Shatter also made its first appearance around this same time. Shatter is BHO that has been further refined until it is a brittle Jolly Rancher like product. As time has passed, both waxes and shatters have become the two most popular forms of BHO.

The next great breakthrough in purifying BHO came with the development of the “winterizing process.” This consists of covering a sheet of BHO with ethyl alcohol, then freezing it. The alcohol draws up any residual waxes and other extraneous material, and the resulting product is far superior

As all these innovations were happening in the realm of BHO, a quiet but intense counter storm was brewing. Many people evidently shared my beliefs about solvent-based concentrates.

A little over a year ago solvent-less concentrates were propelled through social media. Popular companies like BAMF out of L.A. or Nikka T’s Essential Extracts from Colorado have tens of thousands of followers on their InstaFaceTwit platforms. Solvent-less is just a fancy way of describing coldwater hash, which has been around longer than BHO. The difference is in the quality.

An innovation introduced by Nikka T in Colorado, where they wet trim everything, is using fresh frozen trim. Don’t ask me or any other Californian why you would do that to cannabis but they do and it does produce excellent hash making material. At the 2013 Emerald Cup, where only solvent-less hash is allowed, the top three spots were all hash produced using fresh frozen buds. An expensive way to produce for sure, but it does make some mighty fine hash. The fresh frozen process has really upped the ante in the coldwater game. By freezing trim wet, the maximum amount of the THC containing trichomes can be collected. One of the great things about these superior grade hashes is that they are dabbable.

We finally had a truly wellness-oriented product that provides the relief that people are looking for.

A little less than a year ago a brand new product caught our attention. At Hempcon in San Jose, we met these two young men, one of whom had a degree in chemistry. They were pitching a product called “The Clear.” This was bright yellow goo with the consistency of honey. One could see right through a vial of it. Fascinated and intrigued, we enquired about the product. They said the process was proprietary, but was basically a distillation of BHO. Roughly 100 grams of BHO could be cooked down into 60 or 70 grams of this beautiful golden nectar.

With my reservations about BHO, I was still a little skeptical but ready to try it. Wow. The oil burned so clean on a quartz nail that zero residue was left. Even with the cleanest shatter or wax there is usually some residue left on the nail or skillet. The flavor was also absolutely delicious. Because the process removes so much from the starting material the flavor producing terpenes are also stripped away. The chemist then adds terpenes, based on the original profile from the flowers that made the BHO. They actually recreate the flavor.

The awesome taste of the Clear is one of the many reasons it has grown so quickly in popularity. Most importantly to me though was the fact that I didn’t get that chemically feeling that I did from BHO. Everybody that I turned on to this new product was equally amazed. I called up the legendary Kenny from Trichome Technology and said I had something he just had to check out. Kenny was as stoked on this new entry to the wide world of concentrates as I was. So were the crew at Steephill Labs, especially when the test results started coming in at greater than 80 percent THC. To date, the highest has been an OG Kush Clear that tested at a whopping 93 percent. Steephill didn’t believe it at first and retested it a total of five times! Sure enough it was that high.

As far as the industry knows, that delicious OG Kush holds the record for the highest THC content ever recorded and verified. The patients at Harborside have also spoken. The Clear is hands down our top selling concentrate. The name also describes the effects well too. There is none of that heavy confusion that can sometimes come with BHO, just a nice clear effect. This great new addition to wellness products dabs wonderfully and also works well smeared on a rolling paper or dripped onto a bowl of flowers or hash.

As the quality of all concentrates and the methods for consuming them became ever more sophisticated, an interesting phenomenon began. Initially people were dabbing away the same way many had done bong or pipe hits, one after another. This massive intake of THC and its resulting effects on people was one of the reasons I initially urged and still encourage moderate usage of super potent concentrates, especially when dabbed.

As time passed though, many folks started moderating their usage. Take that anti-cannabis crusaders! People also began reducing the size of their individual dabs as well. Micro dabbing was born. Collectively it started to be realized that even small amounts of super high potency concentrates could be quite effective for obtaining wellness benefits.

I myself tried micro dabs of the Clear and found it to be a great way to medicate without ingesting so much plant material. It’s quicker too. In today’s hurried and harried world, many of us don’t have the time to roll a joint or smoke multiple bong or pipe hits. One or two micro dabs of one’s favorite concentrate can be a quick method for obtaining the wellness we are all seeking. New forms of paraphernalia, especially vaporizer pens and electric nails, also allow for a small amount of concentrated cannabis to go a long way.

The high prices that one sees for these premium products is a reflection both of the amount of cannabis needed to produce them as well as the evolution in the technology of production methods. Each additional step, like winterizing, takes time and therefore money.

When dabbing first appeared around five years ago, although anyone over 40 probably has “hot knifed” hash at some point, many thought it would be a fad.

As time passed this “fad” turned into a cultural phenomenon. Glass blowers whose businesses had suffered after Tommy Chong’s bust had a whole new business creating ever more elaborate dab rigs. Dental tools were copied and modified to apply the concentrates. Special silicon mats that could withstand the heated glass appeared. An entire sub industry has now developed. Hats T-shirts and all other forms of swag have appeared, extolling this emerging culture.

There are now special concentrate cannabis cups, again led by folks in Colorado. Some clever person saw that 710 on a phone turned upside down spells oil. The date 710 is the 420 of the concentrate crowd. Their cup now happens in July, and draws almost as many people as the 420 Cup. Far from being a fad, dabbing is a full-blown phenomenon that shows no signs of slowing down.

Responsible or safe dabbing has become a part of our wellness culture. From wheelchair bound MS patients to young people new to this culture, dabbing has grown up and found its place in the world of medical marijuana. It is heartening to see this development and the relief it provides for so many. Who knows what innovations the future will bring, but I, for one, am looking forward to whatever’s next. Embrace safe dabbing!

Originally published in issue 11 of Cannabis Now. LEARN MORE.

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