Almost overnight, cannabis extracts came in and flooded the market with rigs, dab tools, butane torches and little silicone containers. You can’t go into a head shop these days without seeing tons of vaporizing accoutrement. It is safe to say that dabs are the “hip, new thing” when it comes to cannabis consumption, but have you ever wondered where they came from?
Actually, it all started with the infamous Project MK Ultra in the 1950s, during which the CIA tested psychoactive drugs on thousands of people, often without their knowledge or consent. During these experiments, a highly concentrated liquid extract of cannabis indica was tested for use as a truth serum during interrogations. Unfortunately, most of the records documenting this were destroyed in 1973 when the program officially ended.
Around the same time, the scientists at the US Army Chemical Corps were using cannabis to create THC acetate ester in order to study it as a non-lethal incapacitating agent. In 1974 detailed instructions for how to create this compound were laid out in D. Gold’s Cannabis Alchemy: Art of Modern Hashmaking. The product is a brown oil with two to three times the potency of regular THC, however, unlike today’s cannabis extracts, it is synthetic and impure.
Finally, in 1999, an article was published on Erowid.org titled “Hash Honey Oil Technique”. The author, tired of searching for hash in a dwindling market, had come up with a way of concentrating dried cannabis flower, modeled after the Supercritical Fluid Extraction techniques used in industry. The article describes the resulting “deep amber, almost orange oil” as being of “amazing purity” and suggests melting it over buds for consumption. This method, now referred to as “open-blasting”, does produce the same extract that is popular today, but can be quite dangerous if not done properly. A machine called a closed loop system was invented shortly thereafter to contain and recycle the hazardous vapors produced in the process, making it much safer.
Even with this, cannabis extracts did not start to gain popularity until 2005, when a man using the alias BudderKing revealed in a cannabisculture.com article that he had produced the most highly concentrated extract ever. After accidentally leaving his oil out in the sun, he discovered it had gained potency and changed consistency. He named the material budder, in reference to its thick texture and invented a device to be used for vaporizing the product, the earliest dab rig.
The increase in marijuana legalization helped fuel the dabbing trend, and dispensaries all over the country began stocking and promoting the product. In 2010 the High Times Cannabis cup featured oil for the first time in a category of its own. Since then the popularity of extracts quickly flourished and continues to grow, now compromising thirty to sixty percent of all legal cannabis sales.
~ C. McLaughlin