Popular New Marijuana Product Called 'Wax' Is Now the Target of Govt. Drug Panic Propaganda

The DEA is whipping up fears in California over butane hash oil.

Cannabis wax in a small plastic container with uncovered butane vapor pipe alongside.
Photo Credit: a katz/ Shutterstock.com

A concentrated form of marijuana known as wax or butane hash oil (BHO) is becoming more popular and its production and use increasingly controversial in states across the country.

While Colorado's pot shops are embracing wax as a popular, potent form of newly legal cannabis, the Drug Enforcement Administration is whipping up a drug panic in California. In a Yahoo News article, Gary Hill, assistant special agent in charge at the DEA's San Diego office warned, “We have seen people have an onset of psychosis and even brain damage from that exposure to that high concentration of THC. Our concern is that this is going to spread before we get it under control.” 

Agent Hill offered no studies or data to back up these claims.

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But the DEA, once again, is too late. BHO has been around for at least a decade and now it is more available than ever—and the wax is here to stay.  

In order to be consumed, wax is vaporized, which makes it a popular alternative for cancer patients, the elderlyand others who don't want to smoke. 

In Colorado where cannabis is legal for both recreational and medical use, wax is available in marijuana dispensaries. Daniel de Sailles, a partner at Top Shelf Extracts in Denver, explained to High Times:

“I’m a 100 percent proponent of BHO, because I’ve seen it make people’s pain just evaporate. As medicine, it helps with both harm reduction—it practically cures withdrawal symptoms in people who are alcoholics or addicted to speed or pharmaceuticals—and pain management. It works every single time, and it’s easier to regulate your dosage. You take a fraction of a percent of a gram, and you’re fully medicated and exactly where you want to be."

Wax is also sold in the newly opened marijuana shops in Colorado to customers who want a quicker, more intense buzz from pot. Because it is a concentrated form of the oils in marijuana, it delivers a potent dose of the active psychoactive ingredient, THC, to the user. Think of wax like 100 proof vodka vs. 50 proof. 

BHO is just another form of cannabis, despite the panic over the wax on the part of drug warriors. The only potential danger, according to experts, is in the manufacturing process. Butane, which is used to make wax, is highly flammable and sparks can set off an explosion. There have been numerous reports of explosions while attempting butane extractions, most likely by do-it-yourself novice chemists.

Some have posed a concern about the health risks of ingesting butane into the lungs, but according to Bob Melamede, associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado and the president/CEO of Cannabis Science Inc., butane is not a significant concern.

“The biggest concern is the quality of the marijuana—who’s been growing it and what they used," he said. "If you have contaminants (i.e., pesticides, herbicides, fungi) on your plant, that’s going to come off into the extract."

Cannabis activists in Los Angeles have a measure on the ballot that calls for the testing and regulation of wax and a ban on production of any marijuana product that uses flammable products like butane.

William Breathes, a cannabis critic for Denver’s Westword newsweekly, samples and reviews a wide array of pot products and said wax is “the same as weed" only stronger.

"There are people using it recreationally, and that’s wonderful, but we’re looking at it as a new way of medicating," he said. "For somebody who’s really sick—battling nausea, for example—maybe choking down a whole joint isn’t for them. Vaping one little hit of oil or solventless wax is so potent all at once, it’s great medicine. We need to talk about that—that’s how we bring it to the public and stop people from being scared of it.” 

Helen Redmond is a freelance journalist and a drug and health policy analyst.