Guy W. Farmer: The side effects of medical marijuana |

Guy W. Farmer: The side effects of medical marijuana

Guy W. Farmer
Chad Lundquist/Nevada Appeal
Nevada Appeal | Nevada Appeal

Now that the Carson City Board of Supervisors has approved two “medical marijuana” pot shops for our town, Sheriff Ken Furlong and his officers should prepare themselves to deal with the dangerous side effects of marijuana, including the possibility of hash oil explosions in residential areas.

I learned about hash oil explosions during a recent family visit to Seattle, where “recreational” marijuana is legal. In fact, I saw four pot shops sporting green crosses — presumably to advertise pot’s alleged medicinal properties — in the 10-mile stretch of highway between Snohomish and Woodinville in the Seattle suburbs.

Earlier this month Seattle’s U.S. Attorney filed criminal charges against eight people in connection with recent explosions attributed to the manufacture of hash oil, which is a highly volatile by-product of dried marijuana leaves. According to the Seattle Times, one of those explosions caused a fire in a Bellevue apartment complex that resulted in the death of former Mayor Nan Campbell. Bellevue is just across Lake Washington from Seattle.

“There is no legal way to make hash oil,” said U.S Attorney Jenny Durkan. “Every one of these home systems is a violation of federal and state law.” To make hash oil, as the Times explained, a glass or steel canister is stuffed with dried marijuana before being flooded with a solvent such as butane, which strips away psychotropic plant oils. The resulting golden brown goo is then purged of the solvent by boiling it off in a hot-water bath or using a vacuum system to pull butane from the oil. Butane can puddle in a closed room and a tiny spark can cause a huge explosion.

Ms. Durkan told the Times when an explosion occurs “it’s like a bomb going off in a home.” Reporting on the charges against three defendants, the Times said the men were manufacturing hash oil at a Bellevue apartment complex when “witnesses reported hearing a loud boom before fire erupted at the apartments … Flames quickly spread from the unit where the hash oil was allegedly being made and caused more than $1.5 million in damage.” Ex-Mayor Campbell, 87, was injured escaping the flames, and she later died.

Well, that’s what we can look forward to here in Carson City sooner or later after medical pot shops open for business. Even legal marijuana proponents are warning about the dangers of hash oil. Alison Holcomb, of the Washington state ACLU chapter, and a prime mover behind the state’s legal marijuana law, acknowledged hash oil is extremely dangerous.

“We’re up to six or seven hash oil explosions in the state of Washington,” she said. “We need to explain to people what the risks and dangers are.” So that’s what I’m doing with this column.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, where recreational marijuana is legal, potheads will be delighted to learn this year’s Denver County Fair featured an adults-only “Pot Pavilion” where winning entries for plants, bongs, edible treats (like brownies) and clothing made from hemp were on display. The stoners even had a speed joint-rolling competition using oregano instead of pot. What fun!

But seriously, a new study by University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee neuro-scientists concludes young people under 25 who smoke pot at least once a week suffer “cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ.” “Regular cannabis use . . . is not safe and may result in addiction and neurocognitive damage,” wrote study co-author Krista Lisdahl. In other words, pot smoking is much more dangerous than cigarette smoking. What else do we need to know about this so-called “medicine?” Think about it.

Guy W. Farmer is a retired diplomat who participated in the War on Drugs in seven countries.