It delivers a more concentrated dose of THC, for a faster, stronger high.

By Claire Gillespie
February 14, 2020
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As news surrounding the dangers of vaping continues to quiet down, another trend among teens has popped up—and it too carries some pretty major health risks. 

According to a new investigative report by NBC's TODAY, "dabbing"—or smoking concentrated THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets you high—is on the rise among teenagers, though it isn't exactly a new practice in general. According to a survey by Axios, per NBC, 50% of the 18- to 24-year-olds polled have dabbed before or know someone who has. That number fell to 32% of 25- to 34-year-olds, and continued to decline through the age of 65.

While the most popular ways of using marijuana are rolling it into a joint, smoking it through a bong, or eating it in brownies and other edible forms, dabbing involves placing a small amount (aka, a "dab") of concentrated tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana), on a hot surface, or in a traditional pipe or dab pen, and inhaling the vapor. It's used, in large part, for those who want a faster, stronger hit—per NBC, a typical joint contains about 25% THC, but a dab can have up to 90% of the psychoactive component.

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According to NBC's medical correspondent John Torres, MD, an emergency medicine physician in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the most dangerous part of dabbing, short-term, is that it can cause heart palpitations, anxiety, and panic attacks. The longterm consequences, per Dr. Torres, is that it can cause addiction or dependency problems, along with issues surrounding learning and thinking.

While the research on whether dabbing is more dangerous than smoking marijuana is still inconclusive, per NBC (some research, they say, says it's no more dangerous, while other research says it may lead to experimentation with heavier drugs), other research has found that the actual dabbing process may release harmful chemicals.

In research published in September 2017 in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Omega, study authors warn of toxic chemicals in the vapor created during the dabbing process. This typically involves heating marijuana through a “nail” (a glass pipe and a metal rod), which is then torched with butane. 

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The study focused on terpenes, the oils that give cannabis its distinctive smell. Although terpenes occur naturally in plants, condiments, and some foods, they can also be found in some cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, and, most recently, electronic cigarettes. During the study, researchers were able to  identify high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, and methacrolein, a noxious irritant, in the vapor. The researchers also pointed out that controlling the nail temperature is difficult, which can put users at an even greater risk of exposing themselves to those chemicals. 

But exposure to toxins isn’t the only dabbing risk identified by the researchers. The amateur heating process, known as “blasting,” also comes with fire risks, per an email sent to Newsweek from John Stogner, a professor at the University of North Carolina. 

Stogner, who has previously studied the dangers of dabbing, shared that fires, explosions, and severe burns can be attributed to blasting. "Although blasting may be an appealing project for a young cannabis user, the safety risks have been described as comparable to those of manufacturing methamphetamine," he said. While many newer dabbing devices can reduce this risk, that information still feels like enough to give anyone pause about the practice. 

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