How E-Cigarettes are Helping Canadians Get High at School and Work

Enterprising stoners have figured out how to vape hash oil in order to get discreetly high in public.

Marissa Miller

Look at me getting high as shit and you can't do fuck all about it. Photo via Flickr user rpavich

Jessica Dascal is blowing a smoke ring from a dab rig in my face through FaceTime. It's emanating from a beautifully elaborate venti-sized contraption adorned in a "Starbud" decal resembling the green coffee logo basics all know and love.

It's the 26-year-old restaurant manager's day off from work and she does not plan to leave the couch. There, she will take dab hits all day consisting of 98 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. While smoking from a dab rig gets her "high-school high," she doesn't deem it an efficient delivery system.

Dascal's mission for the weekend is to buy an e-cigarette so she can get high at work. She's now watching a scrawny high schooler on YouTube demonstrate how to smoke weed from an e-cigarette. Her T-shirt, bunching up at her torso as she sits cross-legged, features a man rolling a joint.

"See? I'm rolling a joint now but it's not practical," she says, sealing the paper with her tongue. "I want to smoke at work. On a 12-hour shift, my boss has smoked with me. He knows I'm a huge pothead and he's OK with it. But he wouldn't be OK with me smoking an actual joint. He said, 'Get one of those vapey thingies, and do what you want.'"

Until then, she pops a Jolly Rancher infused with butane hash oil (BHO), a liquid form of hash. "I take the cherry always," she says, waving a Ziploc bag-full in colors you'd ascribe to bell peppers.

"Weed is my medicine. It's my sleeping pill, my anti-anxiety medication, my borderline personality disorder treatment," says the Montrealer who goes through an ounce and a half a week. "I was diagnosed [with BPD] when I was 19. I took it upon myself [to medicate with weed], and my doctor is fully aware that it does help me so she has no objections towards it."

She's not the only one cutting cannabis corners. Last year, police caught five Edmonton-based high school students using e-cigarettes to smoke marijuana oil on campus. Two local school boards then banned the devices on school property, perpetuating the debate over their validity.

Their makeshift battery-powered pipes heat flavored liquid cartridges, masking the pungent odor associated with marijuana and hash.

The Canadian government hasn't made any tangible progress in regulating them (Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia are in a slow process to apply the same legislations to cigarettes, following Nova Scotia's lead). But because these gadgets exist in a regulatory gray zone, one in five students report having used an e-cigarette to smoke hash oil, according to the medical journal Pediatrics.

According to a recent study published in the medical journal Tobacco Control, 60 percent of daily smokers between the ages of 18 and 35 showed that passive exposure to e-cigarettes was associated with a significantly increased desire and urge scores for both e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes. It's no surprise, then, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that e-cigarette use among high school and middle school students jumped from 4.5 percent to 13.4 percent in 2014 from the previous year. What's more, last year high schoolers used more e-cigarettes than both hookahs and traditional cigarettes.

Not to be confused with g-pens or personal vaporizers, e-cigarettes are hailed for helping people quit smoking by providing a tobacco-free hit of nicotine. But if you're anything like Daniel, a 25-year-old recent university graduate from Montreal, any reason to get your buzz on is a legitimate one.

"I either need it because my hands can't keep up with my desire to roll joints, or I have some sort of oral fixation Freudian shit going on that will cost me a fuck-ton in therapy," he says. "I'll probably go see more 'Cheapy Tuesday' movies 'cause I can get high in the middle of it now, or get high in between rolling joints."

He's used it in class, too. "I was at the Concordia University Loyola campus in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, philosophy with Dr. King, if I'm not mistaken. The dude was really awesome."

Daniel saw another student puff on an e-cigarette during the professor's Dante's Inferno lecture, so, two rows from the front, he pulled his out, too.

He began making his own BHO and smoking it from a $10 e-cigarette he bought online. It was a more lucrative and discreet alternative to smoking from a "glass bong to dab," he says. Plus, covert intoxication appealed to him after being "asked to move away by police a few times at concerts and parks for smoking too many joints."

Beautiful, beautiful BHO. Photo via Flickr user BerryWhite

Daniel removes the plastic tip, clicks the button five times, and then a final time to let it heat up. He then takes a long, slow drag so the e-cigarette's heating coil doesn't cool down enough to halt the liquid's vaporizing process. It makes him feel "euphoric at times, but mostly just back to normal."

Despite reported feelings of elation, prolonged use could yield adverse effects.

"Some studies indicate regular use of both forms of cannabis is associated with lethargy and reduced motivation, short-term cognitive disturbances, increased injury and road traffic crash risk, and signs of psychological dependence symptoms," says Thomas G. Brown, director and principal investigator of the Addiction Research Program at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute.

"For some users, [cannabis use] has been linked to more serious substance use disorders or psychosis, especially in adolescence," he says. But cannabis also functions as an analgesic against chronic pain and as an anti-nausea treatment associated with chemotherapy in some individuals. Still, his concern is that access to e-cigarettes may increase psychoactive substance use in those who otherwise wouldn't use.

"As with nicotine, there is every reason to regulate the integrity of the technology underlying e-cigarettes and the cannabis capsule in medical use, and possibly for recreational use, if and when cannabis is legalized in Canada," Brown says.

But the big question remains: does seeking a high from an e-cigarette suggest a more severe problem? John F. Kelly, an Elizabeth R. Spallin Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the President of the Society of Addiction Psychology, American Psychological Association says "any method for getting more of a substance into the brain more rapidly is indicative of more serious drug involvement."

You may report feeling higher smoking cannabis oil, but it's chemically equivalent to its plant-based counterpart, Kelly explains. Cannabis oil, however, is much more concentrated—think distilled spirits compared to beer. "[These kids] are experiencing a higher absolute blood level of THC," he says. The "high" of getting caught may explain its prevalence among thrill-seeking youth, according to Kelly.

Ultimately, e-cigarettes do intrinsically alter the neurobiological and psychological impact of the drug. "On the other hand, reducing exposure to the other ingredients and resulting consequences for the respiratory system of smoking natural forms of cannabis (including mixing hashish with tobacco) may have benefits," Kelly says, particularly regarding those prescribed medical cannabis.

As for getting away with getting high on the job, Dascal couldn't be more elated about her newly acquired e-cigarette, I learned after checking on the status of her mission. "I cough at every puff of this thing," she says, "but when I switch the nicotine to hash oil, it's a nice cough."

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