Hashes to Ashes: The Next DIY Chemistry Fiasco
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Hashes to Ashes: The Next DIY Chemistry Fiasco


Nobody ever died from smoking pot, advocates love to point out. But what about from making hash oil? Over the past few years, explosions in homegrown hash oil “labs” have killed several people in San Francisco and Portland. And although no fatalities have been reported this year, injuries from hash oil fires seem be on the rise in Colorado following the legalization of marijuana. Burn centers have already treated 10 people since January 1, almost as many as in the past two years combined. 

What Is Hash Oil?

Hash oil, for the unfamiliar, is a super-potent substance that looks like honey and contains up to 80% THC. Also called “wax” or “dabs,” it’s made by pouring butane through a pipe densely packed with leftover cannabis plant parts and heating it. Sure, it sounds a lot simpler than the elaborate meth labs we’ve all seen on Breaking Bad, but simple doesn’t mean safe. Butane is insanely flammable and can ignite when exposed to a single spark of static electricity. One man concocted his own oil and put it in the refrigerator, which promptly blew up. Yikes.

The first four months of 2014 have already seen almost triple the number of explosions and fires as in 2011-2013. It’s hard to know if that is truly a result of legalization or simply the growing trend of vaping and baking with hash oil rather than smoking traditional pot. Law enforcement is a bit divided over how to deal with these accidental arsonists. The framers of Colorado’s pot law maintain that hash oil production is legal, so prosecutors have instead pursued charges of arson and in some cases even child abuse. Denver found a way to outlaw home production through a building safety code. By contrast, Washington does not allow homegrown pot at all and has strict rules about ventilation systems in state-licensed outlets.

Saving Money by Cooking at Home

But if hash oil can be purchased legally in stores, why bother to make it at home? To save money, of course. Store-bought hash oil costs up to 50% more than the homegrown variety—at least until the hospital bills come in. Hopefully as the danger becomes publicized, more people will decide to shell out the big bucks. Brewing your own coffee is cheaper too, but people still go to Starbucks. Or maybe this trend will give way to safer production methods like the similarly explosive freebase cocaine did in the 80s. Until then, marijuana’s reputation as a “harmless” substance will remain…well, under fire.

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About Author

Erica Larsen AKA Eren Harris blogs at Whitney Calls and Clean Bright Day. Their writing has also been published on Salon, Selfish, Violet Rising and YourTango. They live in Los Angeles with their husband and their enormous cat.