Dabbing marijuana oil can release carcinogens, researchers say

Man smoking marijuana. (Rafael Castillo/Flickr)

Scientists in Oregon have found that “dabbing” marijuana extract at high temperatures may release carcinogenic chemicals.

Dabbing is a way of delivering extraordinary amounts of marijuana’s intoxicating chemicals. It’s often done by heating a “nail” — usually with a blowtorch — touching it to a waxy weed extract and inhaling the vapors through a water pipe.

“The results of these studies clearly indicate that dabbing, although considered a form of vaporization, may in fact deliver significant amounts of toxic degradation products,”  researchers stated in a Portland State University published on Monday.

The extract used in dabbing generally is made by passing butane over cannabis. However, the use of butane wasn’t the focus of the study.

Instead, it’s the possibility that terpenes — a component of marijuana — can degrade into carcinogenic byproducts at the high temperatures involved in dabbing. That’s extra troubling because it’s now popular to add more terpenes to hash products, the researchers wrote.

Specifically, they found that terpenes released methacrolein, which is similar to the carcinogen acrolein, when they were heated above 750 degrees. Above 932 degrees, they found “significant levels” of benzene, a carcinogen, as OregonLive reported. Higher temperatures, higher risk, in other words.

People commonly heat the extract to about 710 degrees, although they often lack the technology to have any idea what temperature their apparatus is reaching, the researchers found.

“Given the widespread legalization of cannabis in the United States, it is imperative to study the full toxicology of its consumption to guide future policy,” the study states. The paper did not draw any conclusions about the likelihood of health impacts from carcinogens related to dabbing.

Andrew Kenney

Author: Andrew Kenney

Andrew Kenney writes about public spaces, Denver phenomena and whatever else. He previously worked for six years as a reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C. His most prized possession is his collection of bizarre voicemail. Leave him one at 303-502-2803, or email akenney@denverite.com.