Teens: Before You Dab, Get the Facts on Wax

Marijuana is the most commonly used and abused drug in the United States. In teenagers, marijuana comes a close third after alcohol and tobacco. In their 2017 survey Monitoring the Future, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) published a set of self-reported statistics from teenagers across the country. The report estimates that:

  • 1% of 8th graders smoke marijuana daily. 13.5% have tried it at least once. 10% have used it in the last year, and 5% have used it in the past month.
  • 3% of 10th graders smoke marijuana daily. 31% have tried it at least once. 25% have used it in the last year, and 16% have used it in the past month.
  • 6% of 12th graders smoke marijuana daily. 45% have tried it at least once. 37% have used it in the last year, and 23% have used it in the past month.

If you’re a high-school student, you can compare those statistics with what you know from personal experience and decide for yourself if the numbers line up with what you know and see every day, or if they’re way off-base. Suffice it to say that marijuana use is not uncommon, and over the past five years, a powerful form of marijuana extract – Butane Hash Oil (BHO) – has become one of the go-to ways of getting high. BHO is the most potent form of marijuana available, legally or illegally. In a hearing before the U.S. House of Representatives in 2014, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Administrator Michele Leonhart gave this testimony:

“In 2013, the THC content of leaf marijuana averaged 14%, while the THC content of marijuana concentrates averaged 54%. Some samples reported as high as 99%. Highly flammable butane gas is used to extract the THC from the marijuana leaf, and has resulted in home explosions, injury, and deaths.”

Just so we’re clear, BHO is a marijuana concentrate. Which means it’s much more powerful – roughly five times stronger – than marijuana in its typical “bud” or “leaf” form. Think of it this way: wax is to weed as crack is to cocaine and freebasing is to heroin. And like crack and freebasing, wax is more addictive and more harmful to your overall health than typical marijuana. People who use BHO call it “dabbing” because it only takes a small amount – a dab – to feel the euphoric effect. People who make BHO themselves call the process “blasting” and are known as “blasters.” BHO itself also has a ton of slang names. Depending on who you ask, BHO may be called any of the following:

  • Earwax
  • Wax
  • Honeycomb
  • Honey
  • Honey Oil
  • 710
  • Butter (or Budder)
  • Amber
  • Nectar
  • Black Glass
  • Shatter
  • Errl

Everything about BHO is dangerous. This is not regular pot. Dabbing is far riskier than smoking a joint, ingesting marijuana in edible form, or using something like a pipe or a bong. Experts think its popular with teenagers because it’s easy to conceal: it looks just like ear wax, which itself looks a lot like lip balm, making it no problem for a motivated individual to sneak it past just about any cursory search or backpack check.

So the next time a friend at school says “We’re blasting in my cousin’s garage Saturday. Come check it out,” or someone at a party takes you aside and whispers “Hey, we’re gonna go dab. You down?” please consider these facts:

  1. One small mistake in the extraction process – blasting – can cause a very large explosion. And yes, if you’re close to that explosion, it can kill you.
  2. One dose of wax is considered to be as powerful as several joints – all smoked at once.
  3. Emergency room reports include incidents of wax-induced psychosis – meaning wax is so strong it can cause hallucinations and psychotic episodes.
  4. Emergency room reports include hyperthermia (high body temperature), tachycardia (high heart rate), hypertension (high blood pressure), severe agitation, and neuro- and cardio-toxicity (potential brain and heart damage) in wax cases.

That’s not all you need to think about. In a study conducted on over 800 college students, researchers found that using wax is linked to higher levels of:

  • Physical dependence
  • School and work problems
  • Risky behaviors

We’re thinking death, addiction, psychosis, and brain/heart damage might be enough to keep you away from wax. If you want a handy .pdf about wax complete with pictures and more statistics, download this pamphlet published by the Department of Justice. And the next time someone at school says the word “dab,” remember: they’re probably not talking about Cam Newton’s famous touchdown celebration.