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Dangerous practice of making hash oil on rise

LOS ANGELES -- Nicholas Broms was trying to squeeze a better high from marijuana when his Oregon condo caught on fire. An explosion knocked out a wall, blew out his sliding glass door and torched his arms.

"I just remember everything being engulfed," he said. "I looked down and both of my arms were on fire. I thought I was going to be permanently disfigured."

The explosion is one of a recent number of such incidents involving the manufacturing of hash oil, a potent marijuana byproduct that is extracted with butane from parts of the plant that are often discarded. Disasters from the do-it-yourself drug have been recorded primarily on the West Coast, where states have passed medical marijuana laws, in a phenomenon reminiscent of meth lab mishaps, but not as common.

Hash oil, also known as honey oil, is illegal in California. It sells on average for about $50 a gram at marijuana dispensaries and has about 15 percent THC, the main intoxicant in marijuana. A drop or two can be as potent as a joint.

"There is a wide profit margin to be made with these labs," said Patrick Kelly, a special agent with the DEA in San Diego. "They are becoming more prevalent now than ever."

The problem is that producing the oil can be volatile and firefighters are often the first to discover crude home-baked labs after a tragedy.

In Sonoma County in the past two years, there have been three fires, including one in Sebastopol where a young man suffered burns, from suspected hash oil production.

Last year, an explosion at a San Francisco apartment injured a woman and her 12-year-old son, who needed skin grafts on his face and body. Two people are facing charges.

In Southern California, there have been at least three explosions with multiple people severely burned from making hash oil in the past two months:

Los Angeles police Detective Frank Lyga said most indoor marijuana grows that are busted have some sort of hash oil production. While the popularity of cooking hash oil is rising, awareness of its potential hazards is limited.

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