TEWKSBURY, Mass. (MyFoxBoston.com) -- Dabbing is quickly becoming the preferred way for marijuana users to get high; it's also a quick way to harm yourself.
If you've never heard of it before, it involves hash oil and all you have to do is go on YouTube to learn how, but also to see a lot of people attempting the technique at home only to end up with explosive consequences.
And most recently, there was a serious accident, right in our own backyard.
“It's a nightmare for me, it's a nightmare for the fire department,” Tewksbury Police Chief Timothy Sheehan said.
In late March, an explosion inside a multi-family home was felt throughout the neighborhood in Tewksbury. It jolted the home so badly, it literally raised the roof. Three young people were airlifted to the hospital with severe burns and are lucky to be alive.
“That's kinda dangerous,” Tewksbury High graduate Zak Dirocco said. “Obviously, they didn't do it right if, given what happened.”
Tewksbury's police and fire chiefs agree, it appears the victims had set-up a makeshift hash lab and had been attempting an increasingly popular technique with marijuana users. It involves fairly common chemicals, and it can be done in garages and kitchens.
The teens FOX 25 caught up with in Tewksbury knew all about it.
“I've seen a lot about it on Instagram, it's all over there. A lot of people find out that way,” Sean Willard said. “You can probably find somebody between 16 to 50 trying to do it.”
Dabbing is smoking or ingesting a highly concentrated form of cannabis. The technique got its start out in California and Colorado, but Special Agent Anthony Pettigrew with the New England division of the DEA says just in the past year its spread from the west coast to here.
“We've had approximately 10 labs in Mass. over the last year, one involving multi pounds of wax,” Pettigrew said.
Wax, butane honey oil, butane hash oil, and BHO, for short, are all names for that highly concentrated product.
BHO is created by taking the cannabis plant and extracting the active ingredient out of it that produces the actual high. That ingredient is called tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. A single dab of BHO can contain up to 90 percent THC. To put that in perspective, some of the strongest strains of marijuana contain roughly 25 percent THC.
“More intense, takes out the negatives of the actual plant,” Willard said.
Dabbers either take the oil and bake things like pot brownies or they might leave it to harden into a waxy substance and that is where the names honey oil or wax come from. That can be smoked in anything from a bong to an e-cigarette.
To extract the THC, dabbers blast the plant with butane, which is a gas jewelers use to solder jewelry and welders use it on pipes. You can find it in most hardware stores.
“They'll take up marijuana, chop it up put it into either a glass or metal tube, force the butane through that tube extracting the tetrahydrocannabinol,” Pettigrew said.
But even lingering vapors from the gas are highly flammable, as the victims in Tewksbury found out the hard way.
“The vapors in this particular substance are heavier than air so they seek the lowest level and if you're not aware of any ignition sources that are in the area, those vapors can find that ignition source and it can be from anything from a hot water heater or somebody lighting up a cigarette,” Tewksbury Fire Chief Michael Hazel said.
Even turning on a stove or static electricity could cause an explosion. Hazel is concerned many of the how-to-dab videos out there on the Internet fail to mention the safety hazards.
“If you're following a video on YouTube you may miss a small, little piece of information that could be devastating to you, your neighbors,” Hazel said.
It also puts first responders at risk who are often responding to these situations for the first time.
“One of the steps that we are doing at this point is training local law enforcement officers on how to identify a BHO extraction lab, and how to enter one safely,” Pettigrew said. “There are booby traps set up in some of these locations so you have to take utmost caution in entering any site.”
So what should you be on the lookout for if you suspect someone is doing this in your neighborhood?
“People know their neighborhoods, they know their neighbors. They know what looks right to them and they know what looks wrong to them. If they see something that doesn't sit right with them they can notify their local law enforcement or if they smell a strange smell,” Pettigrew said.
And with the marijuana movement making the drug more socially acceptable, and a plan here in Massachusetts to put recreational pot on the ballot in 2016 experts agree it's a growing issue in every sense of the word.
It might look simple on the internet but one step could be the difference between life or death.