The Secret Harm of Dab Pens


Dylan Lamson, Writer

Note: The Mercury rarely uses anonymous sources in stories. The editor felt it was appropriate for this story.


With the rise of student vaping in schools, one would expect nicotine and tobacco offenses to rise at a similar rate as marijuana. However, Marijuana offenses have significantly lowered. Some may see this as a positive due to the two balancing and at least less students are consuming marijuana, but that might not necessarily be true with this vaping technology.

“Dab Pens,” dab referencing the traditional method of smoking purified THC, are a rising trend in the marijuana consumption field. These versions of vaporizers take purified THC, also known as tetrahydrocannabinol (the chemical that produces the high of marijuana), and puts it in a cartridge capable of being inhaled with almost no scent to follow.

These new products are not only easy to sneak but are significantly more dangerous than traditional inhalation for marijuana and nicotine. In 2010, The Molecular Diversity Preservation International published a group study in works with institutions such as Harvard School of Public Health, Norwegian Institute for Air Research, and the Department of Health and Human Services just to name a few that analyzed the health effects.

“ [marijuana products] …significantly increases the risks of self-reported asthma, clinically diagnosed asthma, and other acute respiratory symptoms,”[1] the study states.

In addition, Karre Palacios, the Chemical Dependency Counselor at Riverside-San Bernardino County Indian Health, Inc. in CA, concluded that the extraction method to draw the THC from marijuana plants can be significantly more dangerous, causing butane to leak into the wax that is part of the cartridge. 

Butane not only can cause damage to the lungs but significant damage to almost all parts of the body. If enough is ingested patients can have spasms/seizures, paralysis, impaired vision, choking, low heart rates, shortness of breath, and vomiting. [2]

Schools around the country are seeing these marijuana devices sneak behind the push of nicotine vapes, with the American Public Health Association reporting in 2017 a 7.8% increase in usage among young adults to late teens. [3]

Assistant Principal for Student Experience, Heather Fitzgibbons provides an understanding of how much marijuana use has been seen in her three years at Bellows Free Academy.

“My first two years I saw more, in terms of use [marijuana products]… Last year vaping certainly took over marijuana in what I saw. I had far less screenings for possible use of marijuana and more use of tobacco,” Fitzgibbons said.

Although nicotine vaping has overtaken marijauna use, the increasing trend is still hitting both vaping and THC use.

“I don’t know if it’s shocking, it’s alarming. I don’t know that it takes me by surprise because it is there and it is available, but it certainly concerns me…. Given the amount of marijuana screenings that happened my first two years am I surprised dab pens have taken over? No not really,” Fitzgibbons said.

The school has made progress towards lessening these efforts through newer methods of punishment that don’t make the student discouraged, but inspired to attempt new methods of coping with stress or personal issues. 

“We, over the past three years, have really moved from being punitive and punishing because research, and my own experience shows that punishment doesn’t work; To education, offering a student options if they should be feeling anxious and processing and talking about why they did what they did and offering them education on what the choices that they’re doing and how it impacts their health and their bodies,” Fitzgibbons said.

The school administration made it quite clear that they really want what is best and safest for the student. However, there is an unfortunate opposition to this. 

A student, who prefers to remain anonymous, was interviewed.

“It’s become more of a thing recently, dab pens are easy to sneak into school, easy to use. It would be incredibly hard for any school to stop usage of any vape product. Kids like dab pens because they don’t have to go off campus to smoke, they can do it in a bathroom and get the same effect with little risk,” Anonymous said.

The source then continued to describe their own experiences.

“I’ve never done it in school but I’ve ripped them before. I’ve mostly done it with friends just in their rooms. I don’t prefer it by and means because I’ve heard it can be as dangerous, but in the end a little here and there won’t do too much damage… My friends who do it in school mainly do it when they have boring classes, it’s risky to do it during a hard class. Then they rip it again when they get home or after their homework,” Anonymous said.

One of the questions asked in both interviews was, “do you see this problem going away?” Both curiously thought for a second and both answered with a relatively similar response. If it does end up going away it’s going to take a lot of time, and a lot of resources. 

They, like many, fear that these dab pens will not only harm education, but run a risk of injuring and killing students.