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.
"As long as they are using flammable liquids, we're going to have explosions," Lyga said. "It's only a matter of time before something goes wrong and they blow off their hands or something even worse."
Law enforcement has been getting the word out lately to help identify items used in hash oil manufacturing.
Colorado has the nation's only regulated hash producers and legal guidelines for safe production, requiring only water-based hash. But enforcement is spotty, and illegal explosions persist.
Hash oil is made from loose marijuana leaf and stem pieces that often are thrown out because of their poor quality. The weed crumbs are packed into a pipe and butane is poured through it. A heat source is used to separate the butane and what is left is the oil.
But without good ventilation, the vapors can build up, lie close to the floor and pose an unseen yet dangerous threat because they don't dissipate quickly. An open flame, static electricity or anything that can spark the gas is a recipe for disaster.
"You do it in your house, light a cigarette and it blows up. You've let the world know you are a moron," said Bob Melamede, a biology professor at the University of Colorado and president of Cannabis Science, Inc., a company that develops cannabinoid-based therapies.