There’s no ceiling for getting high.
Over the past year or so, a unique form of marijuana has become popular—it’s called marijuana wax. Also known as “ear wax,” or simply “wax,” this marijuana concentrate is more powerful. Far more powerful. Because it allegedly leads to a quicker, stronger high, wax is said to be the strongest form of marijuana on the market.
Before you go rushing out to try marijuana wax, you should know about its psychoactive properties and the danger associated with trying to make it at home. We dug into the craze, doing everything short of making and smoking it to provide you with all you need to know about marijuana wax.
You’ve been warned.
It’s known colloquially as “ear wax,” or simply “wax.” It obviously gets its name because of its appearance, and the process of ingesting it is called “dabbing” or taking a hit of a “dab.” As High Times notes, it’s also called BHO, which stands for “butane hash oil” or “butane honey oil.” The process of of producing BHO is called “blasting,” while producers are known as “blasters.”
Amateur chemists be warned: making marijuana wax is not a kitchen-friendly (or, for that matter, user-friendly) activity. The marijuana is placed into a long tube or pipe, which is then hit with a rush of highly flammable butane—yes, like lighter fluid. The butane is used to extract THC, marijuana’s active ingredient, in a hardened, extremely potent form that resembles wax, hence the name. For anyone familiar with how hash is made, it’s a similar, yet more dangerous, process. More on that later.
After the wax has been extracted from the marijuana, a “dab” is placed into a bong and smoked, just like regular marijuana. Conversely, some people prefer to usevaporizers. A device like the HK pen is an efficient option because its core heats to 320 degrees, making it so that the wax simply evaporates as opposed to burning. This produces cleaner, more pure high with fewer toxins.
There’s a pretty obvious reason for why some drugs, or even variations of drugs, are more popular than others: potency. Why was Walter White such a successful meth manufacturer? It wasn’t because he was a superb businessman or criminal (especially not in the early days of Breaking Bad); it was because he applied his advanced knowledge of chemistry to make the best product. Marijuana wax has become all the rage in the past year or so because it’s more powerful than marijuana.
In May, Fox Los Angeles probed into the marijuana wax trend and learned that it was more than 80 percent pure THC. That strength can be credited to the THC being extracted by butane during the creation process, and that strength also results in a quicker high. If you’re using a more powerful form of any drug, it’s because you want to het higher, faster. Wax, rumored to be the most powerful form of marijuana on the market, will do the trick.
High Times also explored wax last year, asking marijuana critic (hell of a job title, no?) William Breathes if he thought it was more potent than traditional hash. “When you look at the percentage of cannabinoids per weight, it seems you’re pulling out more THC with butane than with ice water,” he told the magazine. Nikka T, who runs Essential Extracts, disagreed, calling wax “such a new phenomenon that we really don’t have enough data to show that BHO is getting higher test results than water extraction of the same strain, or if there are any dangers to it.”
As you probably figured, wax is more expensive. According to an ANIMAL featurepublished in May, GrowLife Inc. CEO Kyle Tracey said that marijuana in Southern California typically cost between $15 and $20 per gram, compared to a range between $70 and $100 in dabs. What’s more, the ANIMAL piece noted that the price of marijuana was higher on the East Coast due to the risk of doing business illegally. Tracey, a New Jersey native, added that wax would soon be making its way East.
This is where the fun stops. When dealing with a stronger, more rapid high, you must consider the side effects. Marijuana has hallucinogenic properties, and wax, at its worst, can be extremely hallucinogenic.
A July Los Angeles Daily News feature on wax told the story of Josh, an 18-year-old who had to be hospitalized and eventually arrested following a bad experience with it. Just a few minutes after a taking a hit from a vaporizer, Josh immediately felt the effects, explaining that the movie he and his friends were watching “started to look 3D” and that he “kept seeing lights.”
He added that he “felt like he was going to die.”
Someone had to call his grandmother, who drove him to the hospital where his hands were handcuffed to a hospital bed. At the time of the article, Josh was still dealing with the aftermath, which included $7,000 in fines and a year of probation.
In June, CBS Detroit reported on two adults—both 36-years-old—who had to be hospitalized after suffering psychotic episodes. Children’s Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center Director Susan Smolinske told CBS Detroit that both patients “were hallucinating,” “experienced behavior changes” and “needed to be sedated because they were so agitated that they could not be controlled.”
When made at home (which is strongly discouraged), wax is to marijuana as freebasing is to cocaine or heroin and what the shake-and-bake method is to meth. In other words, very, very dangerous. When using butane to make wax, its vapors can fill a room and ignite with the smallest of sparks, just like gas.
Dr. Peter Grossman of the Grossman Burn Center at West Hills Hospital told Fox L.A. in August that he and his colleagues had seen nearly 20 wax explosion victims in Southern California since the beginning of the year. He went on to call it an “epidemic.”
In June, an explosion during an amateur attempt to make wax sent four teens, ages 15 to 18, to the hospital in Steamboat Springs, Colo. The explosion was powerful enough to blow out windows and trigger the sprinkler system in the condo where it occured.
Earlier this year, the DEA issued a warning about the dangers of making ear wax following a string of wax-related fires in San Diego. Special Agent Amy Roderick said that people are “[looking] it up on the YouTube, [seeing] how to make it, [and then] doing it all day with fumes filling their house,” prompting explosions. In February, FEMA released a bulletin to help responders identify evidence of BHO production.
Following two early October explosions in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Chronicle compared the rise of wax explosions to the outbreak of meth lab explosions that racked the U.S. years ago.
Some medical marijuana dispensaries are carrying marijuana wax because patients need the high potency. In that same piece about Josh and his bad wax trip, the Los Angeles Daily News spoke to Robert Lunch, who used to volunteer at the Highway 29 Health Care dispensary in Vallejo, Calif. He said that several local dispensaries carry wax because patients with higher tolerances need a stronger high.
Fox Los Angeles spoke to several medical marijuana patients who were wax advocates. One, named Tim, told them that he suffers from an esophagus disorder that makes him choke on food and is akin to what drowning feels like. Though he can barely wait a half-hour for the substance to ease the pain, he’s also cautious because of the inclusion of butane. He says it will taint the wax with leftover residue because unless it’s highly-filtered, it’s “poison,” as he put it, to anyone with a weak immune system.
When Fox Los Angeles talked to medical marijuana patient Tim about wax, his biggest concern was that the butane would compromise the wax unless it was filtered. His solution is government testing and regulation. And, while the thought of smokers actually wanting the government to step in and get involved with the integrity of the product is baffling, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
The East Bay Express notes that medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 and butane was accepted as a concentrating solvent from 2000 until 2008. The change came through landmark case The People v. Bergen. Prior to the case, section 11379.6 of the California Health and Safety Code permitted prosecutors to charge anyone producing butane hash oil with the operation of a drug lab.
Defense attorneys argued that defendants should be charged under section 11358, a statute that’s far more specific to the processing of marijuana. However, the court eventually ruled that the drug lab statue took precedent over the “marijuana processing” statute, sending anyone caught making marijuana concentrate with butane to state prison for as long as seven years.
San Francisco resident Ryan Schultz, the defendant of The People v. Bergen, was convicted for producing BHO in 2012 after starting a fire in a Healdsburg, Calif. backyard. He was sentenced to three years probation for operating a drug lab, a decision he appealed this April.