Latest drug fad can cause dangerous explosions, police say

Unified Police Sgt. Melody Gray described the process as similar to making a pipe bomb.

But some marijuana users — and dealers — are willing to take that risk despite potentially dangerous results.

For the past several years, law enforcement in several states have been combating the increasing popularity of something called “dabs.” Dabs, or hash oil concentrate, are made by extracting THC from marijuana plants. Other similar concentrate products include marijuana wax and “shatter.”

While marijuana typically contains about 15 percent THC, a dab has 80 to 90 percent THC, said Unified police detective Orin Neal.

“It’s a greater high, it’s a more intense high,” he said, noting that the potency makes it dangerous.

But in order to get that extraction, a solvent is needed, and dab producers typically use butane, which is why dabs are also referred to as butane hash oil. And sometimes, those attempting to extract THC using butane try to speed up the process by adding a heating element such as a hot plate.

Neal said the combination of butane and heat or an open flame often results in explosions.

“It’s a recipe for disaster, really,” Neal said.

Police say that’s what happened June 26, when a 33-year-old woman was critically injured in an explosion in a basement at 3329 S. Scott Ave.

“In this situation and many other situations, I think it happens accidentally. They’re doing this operation in an area that’s not properly ventilated. And because butane is so combustible and highly flammable, any exposure to any open flame — from a pilot light on a water heater or a furnace in a house to an oven to lighting a cigarette in a house or anything like that — could cause a huge explosion, which is what happened the other day,” he said.

Neal said the result was like a bomb going off inside the small, enclosed basement room.

Dabs have become a nationwide trend. In some states, the drug and the dangerous manufacturing of it have been a problem for law enforcers for several years.

“The use of butane has caused multiple explosions all over the country, including one in a university housing complex near the University of Montana in October of 2014. These explosions have killed and severely burned people of all ages nationwide. The explosions are also causing serious structural damage to property and neighboring properties,” officer Jermaine Galloway wrote in Utah State Trooper magazine in 2017.

Some states have made possession of dabs a felony crime while marijuana possession is a misdemeanor. Utah does not distinguish between the two.

The fad has only recently become an issue in Utah. But police fear as it catches on and more people attempt to manufacture their own dabs, it will become like the meth lab problem of 30 years ago.

Neal said he has seen two or three explosions locally due to THC extraction.

The dab trend “is currently sweeping the country and is overwhelming some law enforcement, educators, safety officials and parents,” Galloway wrote a year ago. “This ‘new’ marijuana is completely different than anything we have dealt with in the past.”

Source: Officer Galloway & The Northwest Alcohol Conference jermaine@tallcopsaysstop.comJuly2018

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