(reprinted in HIGH TIMES May 2012 issue as “The Dawn of the Dab”). My thesis was “The danger of dabs isn’t so much physical as it is a public relations nightmare.” A theme that has developed from just a few news reports reveals how the media are framing butane hash oil as the latest dangerous drug endangering our teenagers.
ABC15 in Phoenix ran a story on a Monday entitled “‘Dabbing’ the new drug of choice for teens?“. Following a brief explanation of what “butane hash oil” is without ever mentioning it is essentially marijuana, the bulk of the story features Shane Watson, a rehab counselor and recovering addict explaining how awful his life became because of BHO. The story even warns parents what to look for if their child is “making ‘dab'” without mentioning the marijuana needed to make it. The entire construction of the article is to separate hash oil from marijuana conceptually, to paint “dab” as some different drug entirely.
By Tuesday, ABC2 in Baltimore, ABC7 in Denver, and ABC5 in Cleveland are re-airing the story. On Wednesday, ABC23 in Bakersfield and ABC10 in San Diego repeat the story. The “dab” aired all over the country as any ABC affiliate needing a sensational filler story out of Arizona played the footage.
By Thursday, the ABC15 story made leap into the internet media as a screen grab for a story “‘Dabbing:’ Dangerous New Drug Seized in Maryland” appearing in the Towson Patch. This story features the subtitle, “‘This is the crack of marijuana,’ one official quoted a user as saying of the concentrated butane hash oil.” The official, Sgt. Mike Conner of the Maryland State Police, goes on to say, “It’s so potent. It is dangerous. People claim you can’t overdose on marijuana. In fact, you can. It’s so strong, they are passing out.”
“The crack of marijuana” quote then gained traction when it was re-printed in the Baltimore News Journal on Saturday. Then, in a story called “The Best, Worst Marijuana in the World is Spreading Like Weeds” in the Fredricksburg Patch, “the crack of marijuana” quote is followed by a lead that read “A powerful, concentrated form of marijuana is quickly gaining popularity along the East Coast—but unlike typical marijuana, it may carry the risk of overdose.”
For reference, the story then cites California NORML’s Dale Gieringer writing in O’Shaughnessy’s (the journal of medical cannabis) that “increased use of BHO has led to an increase in hospitalizations for cannabis overdose.” And I can attest to the fact that I’ve never seen people pass out and get wheeled away on stretchers for smoking flowers like I have at events with dabs. There is also my own personal experience with a too-big dab that left me retching my guts all over a Los Angeles sidewalk.
But terms like “overdose” are misunderstood by the public. When people think “overdose”, they think “OD” and they think death. However, many people have experienced overdoses, from the gal who can’t sleep from too much coffee to the guy with a throbbing headache from a hangover. While passing out is a serious concern, that can happen from liquor and nobody is calling Jack Daniel’s “the crack of beer”. For that matter, calling anything “the crack of” is metaphorically inaccurate, since crack and cocaine are the same drug and have the same addictive potential – the Reagan era “one hit and you’ll be addicted” line turned out to be as much a myth as the so-called “crack babies”.
As the dab phenomenon sweeps eastward, more local news affiliates are also reporting the stories of exploding motel rooms and apartments from the latest ignorant butane hash oil maker. Recently, two such stories made the evening news in Fresno and San Diego. Please don’t make the news this way!
There is nothing quite like a moral panic to set back years of progressive momentum – ask anyone affiliated with marijuana decriminalization in the 1970s. Even the most “live and let live”-minded neighbor who won’t mind a pot smoker or a closet grow isn’t going to abide potential explosions. Even the Woodstockiest parents and grandparents aren’t going to identify with blow torches and passed-out teens. We must redouble our efforts to educate the public that just as profit-seeking bootleggers blew up the occasional still to make concentrated alcohol (whiskey) under Prohibition, so too will profit-seeking hash makers operate unsafely until the activity is regulated and prohibition profit margins reduced. We must ensure that people understand BHO is just concentrated marijuana – don’t let media promulgate the misunderstanding that “dabs” is somehow a new, different dangerous drug.