Wednesday October 11, 2017

By Andrew Ward


As you may have heard in recent cannabis news coverage, a peer-reviewed study conducted by researchers at Portland State University has emerged discussing the potential presence of toxicants when dabbing cannabis concentrates. The researchers released their findings for the American Chemical Society earlier this month. The study, a first for the cannabis industry, is less of a definitive answer and more a call for further studying. Some telling answers emerged while opening the door for more questions in the process.

The study was conducted due to the increased expansion of terpenes into products across the medical and recreational markets. With dabs often going through extraction processes containing solvents, and the rise of vape cartridge usage, many of our everyday products have not been evaluated in-depth. The study notes terpenoid degradation and decomposition at high temperatures as two understudied areas. Additionally, the study notes flavored vape cartridges and terpene-enriched cannabis extracts as favorite consumer items that need further evaluation.

What the report lacks in immersive findings, it makes up for in being a catalyst.

With hope, this caliber of work will prompt further research, fulfilling the researchers’ goal mentioned in their findings.

The methods and conclusions in the Portland State report leave several possibilities open for the next wave of studies. Let’s take a look.

Methods Leave Room for Questions

The researchers focused their work on four products for terpene degradation:

  • Myrcene
  • Limonene
  • Linalool
  • Fire OG

One key takeaway from the products chosen is that only one product tested, Fire OG, was cannabis-based. That product produced a much lower benzene result when examined under the highest temperatures used. Instead, they focused mostly on myrcene, as it was deemed a “model terpene” for evaluating methacrolein and benzene.

The study noted a likely underestimated determination of benzene as a limitation in the study. It left the door open for why this was the case. A few issues were considered as the primary factor, including temperature-dependent concentrations and transfer inefficiencies that lost products and terpenes before even reaching the nail.

Temperature is an additional factor that will likely be adjusted in future studies. In the Portland State report, they used the highest temperatures possible. Temperatures used in the study varied from 496 degrees Celsius (924.8 Fahrenheit) and 565 degrees Celsius (1049 degrees Fahrenheit).

Low-temperature dabs are the way to go if you’re looking to minimize health risks.

This puts even the lowest temperature significantly above the index for a low-temperature dab. Benzene was not recorded at lower temperatures, hinting at the notion that low-temperature dabs may be healthier and pose less risk than dabbing at higher temperatures.

At some point, tests between higher and lower temperatures should come into the discussion. Both methods produce pros and cons for their yields and highs. High temperatures are a more convenient approach that results in a stronger high. However, it often leaves the user with burnt off cannabinoids and terpenes. Low-temperature smokers, on the other hand, produce messier results that consist of smoother hits with more flavor.

Findings Also Leave Room for More Questions

The overall conclusion from the study is a rather obvious one: there needs to be more research on dabbing and cannabis as a whole. This report serves as an introduction into the research vacuum that currently exists in the cannabis sector.

Many of those tests will center around emerging cannabis products like the previously mentioned vape cartridges and solvent-based concentrates. With legalization in the U.S. and Canada both heading towards wide-scale accessibility, the need for information is imperative. Questions are suggested as well in the team’s findings.

Heat and terpenes look to be the prime subjects for suggested future research.

Dabbing’s vaporization categorization comes into question due to its potential for delivering "significant amounts of toxic degradation products." The rise of terpenes is another area of pressing need, the study notes. Terpenes are considered a subject of "great concern" due to its influx in the marketplace. The main concern about terpenes is its “oxidative liability” when heated. Furthermore, users’ struggles with maintaining proper nail temperature creates a possible exposure risk to benzene and methacrolein.

What to Do with the Findings?

For now, there are too many questions to make any rash determinations. With one rather specific process currently studied, the call for variables is never stronger. Expect lower temperature tests, as well as more products tested that derive from cannabis. The sector now moves like any typical boom market. Products are hitting shelves faster than they can be studied.

With this report now released, a starting point has been established. In the coming years, we could find ourselves with telling information on some cannabis products. Solventless methods are on the rise. If research proves damning, that could be the nail in the coffin for butane and other extraction methods in heavy use today.

In time, more results will give us the insights we need into dabbing. For now, if you find yourself wanting a safer dabbing process, consider low-temperature dabs from cannabis-derived terpenes. Opting for this process results in an effective vaporization when you heat your nail between 350-400 degrees Fahrenheit. Taking low-temperature dabs will also provide a more flavorful experience, as terpenes are not burning off or drastically degrading.

What are your thoughts on this study? Do you think more research needs to be conducted?

Andrew Ward Andrew Ward

Andrew Ward is a Brooklyn-based cannabis writer and creative. His work has appeared on Benzinga, High Times, PROHBTD and several other publications and brand blogs. He has covered the cannabis space for over three years, and has written professionally since 2011. His first book, "Cannabis Jobs," was released in October 2019. Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn to stay up to date.

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