Portland State University organic chemistry researchers have found that benzene is formed when a marijuana extract is vaporized. In a study led by Jiries Meehan-Atrash, Dr. Wentai Luo and Dr. Robert M. Strongin, the researchers scrutinize “dabbing,” a unique way of marijuana consumption using butane hash oil (BHO), KATU2 reports.
“Of very recent concern is the practice of dabbing, which has emerged as a dangerous and rapidly growing trend in cannabis consumption,” the study reads. “It consists of inhaling the vapors produced by placing a small amount of cannabis extract (a ‘dab’) on a small heated surface (the ‘nail’), which is connected to a water pipe. Its delivery of harmfully large amounts cannabinoids represents a potential danger to consumers, but little is known about the toxicants the process may produce.”
The researchers have discovered that when the oil is vaporized at very high temperatures, a resulting chemical produced is benzene.
“I’m really interested in the fundamental chemistry, first of all,” says PSU professor of chemistry, Dr. Strongin, “but, of course, this has some real-life implications, too.”
The trouble with BHO is that the butane extraction contains terpenes, which are organic compounds produced naturally by plants and animals. At high temperatures, terpenes evaporate into carcinogenic compounds such as benzene. Some companies pump their BHO with more terpenes because of their fragrant qualities.
“Their chemistry is really well-known,” Dr. Strongin points out. “They’re in the atmosphere because there’s so much of them. They have great aroma. They’re flavorants.”
Many marijuana users smoke BHO by using pipes that are heated directly with no temperature control.
“People are sometimes using torches, blowtorches, and heating this up really high,” Dr. Strongin explains.
Benzene is a known carcinogen linked to life-threatening diseases such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), lymphomas and aplastic anemia. It is found in the atmosphere in small quantities, but higher levels of benzene exposure for prolonged periods of time pose a serious threat to developing benzene-related illnesses.