“The danger next door.” “An emerging drug crisis.” “No neighborhood is insulated from the drug wars.” These are all real quotes from recent scare-mongering news items about hash oil.

Google “hash oil.” Then click the “News” tab and see what comes up. If you’re not in the mood to open a new tab and try it yourself, I’ll tell you what you would see if you were: an exploding building (it’s actually a demonstration of a BHO explosion performed by pyrotechnicians at the ATF), crime scene tape, the exact same still of the ATF dummy house blowup run by a different news source, and a mugshot. You’ll see burn victims, charred walls, more mugshots.

Here’s what you won’t see: a cancer patient sipping on a vape pen, a couple kicking back and watching TV with an oil rig between them, an extraction artist working their fingers to nubs trying to make the best solventless hash they can manage.

As a journalist and news editor, I know that it’s preferable to have headlines and photos that grab a reader’s attention, and that’s why there are more stories about explosions and arrests than about hash craftsmanship and medicinal benefits. But I also try as hard as I can (though I sometimes fall short) to know what I’m talking about in my articles and not misrepresent something to my readers for my own gain.

What several news outlets across the country are pulling right now is sensationalizing a phenomenon that their readers don’t know much about – and throwing “drug crisis” “dangerous” and videos of explosions at them to scare them into paying attention. This starts the life of dabbing in the mainstream off on the wrong foot – and will slow down the efforts of legalization and medical marijuana advocates. It could even result in more extractors getting jail sentences if the anti-hash oil sentiment grows.

Misconception One: Hash Oil Extraction is a Danger to Your Average Citizen

In my research I found two different articles about hash oil with the words “Danger next door” in the title. NBC Los Angeles’s “Danger Next Door: Butane Honey Oil ‘Fires Off Like A Bomb,’” aims to terrify LA residents into thinking they’re in imminent danger from dabs. “While smoking it may not kill you, making it can,” its first paragraph reads, suggesting with that “may not” that hash oil can kill you simply by smoking it. Which is, for an adult with a head on their shoulders, absurd. Similar subtle wordplay like that tries to penetrate reader’s fear centers to keep them reading.

For instance, there’s the subheading: “It’s a new form of pot that is taking danger to an all-time high… [Editor’s note: Danger in general? All-time? So they’re saying that the popularity of dabs in LA is ushering in an era in which danger is higher than it is in say, Syrian towns under attack from Isis?] LA is facing an emerging drug epidemic.” Editor’s note: Whaaaat?

And then there is the article, unrelated in all but its fear-mongering and title, from WPTV in West Palm Beach, Florida. “Butane hash oil labs; the danger next door.” The news report is full of calm, balanced journalistic reporting like “that no neighborhood is insulated from the war on drugs” and misleading claims like THC causing hallucinations (it technically can, but virtually no one who uses it gets that effect). WPTV was not able to acquire footage of a real BHO explosion so they used footage of a demonstration of a BHO explosion. Actually, lots and lots of news stories used these demo dabsplosions in their reporting. They make it the flames the featured image of their story, making for better click bate.

Of course, it’s true that BHO extraction can be dangerous, and people uninvolved and unaware of an extraction have been hurt in an explosion – an event which is tragic and one that the people responsible should be held accountable for – but does the nearly nonexistent likelihood of one of WPTV’s viewers or readers being hurt by a extraction-related incident justify giving them a completely one-sided education in hash oil?

Misconception Two: All Hash Oil Extraction Involves Flammable Gasses

“… labs are used to extract and purify THC oil, also known as butane honey oil, from the marijuana plant…,” reads a report from Fox8 in Cleveland, implying that “THC oil” and “butane honey oil” are interchangeable terms. Someone who’s never heard of hash oil would come away from this with the impression that there are no other less dangerous solvents one can use to make hash oil (like alcohol), not to mention much less completely solventless ice hash.

In fact, very few news articles discuss any method of blasting other than unsafe, indoor, open-loop butane extraction. In some cases (like in Fox8’s under-informed report) that omission likely comes out of ignorance. In others, it comes out of a willful disregard of full facts to play up the sensational aspects of the story.

Misconception Three: BHO Explosions are Directly Linked to Marijuana Legalization

“Odd Byproduct of Legal Marijuana: Homes That Blow Up” is the title of a recent New York Times article. A report from WZZM in Michigan reads, “One of the unintended consequences of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado is the rash of butane explosions that come with the making of hash oil used in everything from marijuana brownies to butter.” Again, the equating of all hash oil with butane explosions. Again, the correlating of marijuana legalization with those same explosions.

While legalization could very well have something to do with the increase in BHO, and thus with the explosions resulting from BHO manufacturing, there is no proof of that. Dabs are getting bigger everywhere, not just in the four states and capital district where marijuana is legal, or in the other 23 states where medical marijuana is legal. BHO explosions weren’t spoken of much in the early 20th century before cannabis prohibition in the U.S. It’s a new trend, and trends have a number of reasons for taking hold. Correlating destructive explosions only with legalization, which has been shown to reduce crime and make medicine more available to patients in need, is neither fair nor balanced reporting.

But On The Other Hand…

On the other hand, that doesn’t mean that extraction-related explosions aren’t a problem. We’ve been seeing a lot of them lately. And the public should be informed of them. Except not, in my opinion, for the purpose of scaring them. Instead, hash oil reporting should educate potential extractors of the specific dangers inherent to blasting so that they can make better choices (like not doing it) than the ones who were hurt or even killed by their mistakes.

On the other other hand, there are also some good news stories about hash that aren’t all about dangers next doors, epidemics, and explosions. They just aren’t as common because they’re a harder sell to an editor or producer than dangers next doors, epidemics, and explosions. We talked about some of those choice dab journalistic pieces in a recent DabsMag article. Since then, we’ve also found this rad report from San Diego CityBeat on the medical benefits and legal difficulties of dabbing out, and this little bugger from SFGate with some sharp ideas about the regulation of extraction and some great photos to boot.

On the third other hand, misinformation about dabbing and extraction does not exclusively come from outside the industry. Many extractors aren’t willing to publicly discuss their methods. There is a little bit of a clubhouse feel to the dabbing world. Secret Seshes are secret-ish for good reasons, one of them being that the more mysterious they are, the more intriguing they become. Since the world is so secretive, the only time outsiders see inside the clubhouse is when one of the walls blows off. So, of course, what they see is not going to be dab culture on its best day.

Parker Winship
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