The Oil Game: How E-Cigarettes Have Become Stoners’ New Best Friend

Sep 30, 2013 at 3:50 AM ET

The media won’t shut up about e-cigarettes. Tobacco companies have giddily returned to the ways of the Mad Men era. Usage is up among teens, and the health effects, especially in the long term, are unknown. We’re approaching a cataclysm of some sort. Whenever popularity meets mass hysteria, the regulatory hand of our government closes into a tight fist and smashes the life out of the party. But Puritan do-gooders, are you aware that nicotine isn’t even the whole e-cigs story?  

The other day I called Mr. Brightside, who had figured out a way to pack hash oil, with a concentrate he says approaches 100 percent THC, into these portable, legal, name-brand machines—quite a feat, and a major advancement in man’s ongoing efforts to deceive authorities. Of course, innovation has always been associated with the entrepreneurial underworld: Give a pothead a newfangled object, and he’ll surely find a way to smoke drugs out of it.

Mr. Brightside (not his real name) is a drug dealer in New York City. The handle is more than a pseudonym—it’s a hazy state of an altered mind. When Mr. Brightside inhales the vapors of one of his hash-tinged electro cigarettes, the world turns “brighter,” “lucid”—blood rushes to his eyes.

The idea came to him almost three years ago, when he first discovered butane-extracted hash oil (BHO). The high, he says, was far more intense than that of garden-variety marijuana. He was both relaxed and wired, the synapses in his brain firing at speedier intervals, though he felt no sense of anxiety or urgency. No problems on that front. The issue was the process of getting there. That was problematic.

Mr. Brightside wasn’t making his own oil, which he’d purchased off another dealer. He didn’t need the headache, didn’t have time to distill and manufacture the product: a sort of amber wax crammed with mind-blowing, psychoactive chemicals. No, his issue was consumption. To consume the oil, Mr. Brightside was forced to dust off an old bong, replace the bowl with a titanium nail, then heat the fucker up with a blowtorch—a blowtorch!—until the head was branding-iron hot, add a dash of holy “budder,” and suck the attending vapors toward the back of his skull.

That’s a preposterous amount of effort for a stoner.

“It is very dangerous,” Mr. Brightside says. “And very unpleasant. You cough incessantly. You feel like your lungs are sticking together.”

Mr. Brightside would have to find a better way.

So he set about contriving a new method, recalling that e-cigarettes were a growing presence on the American market. Imagine if they could vaporize hash oil. Jesus Christ! What if they could vaporize hash oil? Mr. Brightside supposed it was probable, and began to experiment with different brands, swapping out cartridges containing the native solution, and swapping in ones with budder. There were cheap ones made of plastic, like blu eCigs, and expensive ones made of metal, like V4Ls. He discovered that plastics could support oil, but only after it was cut with propylene glycol (PPG), a component of the native solution that, when combined with oil to improve viscosity, reduced the THC content to something like 5 percent, less than conventional marijuana. Pure oil would only vaporize at high temperatures, and the plastic melted when it got too hot.

But the metals were a different story. They could tolerate serious heat.

My God, he thought. This was revolutionary! E-cigarettes could be smoked in bars and restaurants, even at the office! They could hold a gram of unadulterated oil. Just one puff would send you to the moon! One puff! How efficient. Even if there was a vague fragrance of weed in the air, it wouldn’t matter—the smell would dissipate in seconds, before anyone noticed a thing. And even if they did notice, so what? There’s nothing suspicious about a dude smoking an e-cigarette, except for the fact that maybe he’s kind of a jackass.

This shit was going to sell. This was going to be huge. This was going to change the “oil game.”

And man, it was so smooth when it hit your throat.

Mr. Brightside did some research. He learned that other, more weed-friendly states, like Colorado and California, had conceived of similar apparatuses on their own. But in New York City, where the mayor was a bit of a tight-ass, the market was wide open. He could sell the things for $90 a pop. One would last a month, unless you were a real freak. Either way, that was a heady deal. And best of all, Mr. Brightside would deliver.

“Working professionals love my brand,” he says. “Wall Street loves it. They buy in bulk.”

And what about the competition?

“Around here, everyone else’s cigs are crap,” he says. “They’re just jumping on the bandwagon, amateurs, trying to make money as quickly as possible. But the product is weak. They cut their oil.”

But how does he keep his oil pure?

“I can’t tell you everything,” Mr. Brightside says. “There are trade secrets.”


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E-cigarettes are a dream come true, right? For this Chicago tour guide, they’re a nightmare and he laments the erosion of public no smoking rules. Here’s Adam Selzer’s point of view:

I’m a tour guide. I spend my evenings on a bus, taking people around to gruesome sites from Chicago history. The fact we have a big “no smoking” sign on the front of the bus is almost a joke to me. Who in the hell would think you’re allowed to smoke on a bus?

Well, lots of people, it turns out. About once a week, someone climbing onboard will ask if they’re allowed to smoke.

At least they ask. The e-cig people never bother. They just start smoking.

I don’t know what it is that makes people think it’s OK for them to light up one of those things in a no-smoking area. Sure, they stink a bit less than the real thing, but they look just like the real thing, and create a real pain in the butt for me. I’m the guy who has to deal with all the passengers complaining that someone is smoking on the bus, and with all of the people who see someone puffing away and think, “Hey! We can smoke on this thing! Where are my cigarettes?”

And this happens just about every time someone lights up an e-cig on the bus. And I’ll have to deal with all the people complaining about someone smoking on the bus (do you really think I’m going to give them a lecture on why e-cigs are different?). And if I simply ask them politely not to smoke the e-cig, they get all offended and give me a lecture one why they should be allowed to smoke it wherever they want.

If you smoke e-cigs in non-smoking areas, I probably hate your guts.

Adam Selzer is an author and tour guide in Chicago. He enjoys a good pipe in the wintertime, but not on buses.

But, not everyone things electronic smoking is yet another symbol of civilization’s decline. In fact, it can be a reminder of the good old days. This is especially the case for musician Noah Bird and his experience with e-weed.

I walked into a friend’s house and sat down to smoke some recently acquired hash oil through an e-cig. Smoking hash oil is a treat. Having smoked regionally grown pot of a higher quality for years, I find smoking hash oil to bring back that once youthful high. My friend carefully applies the hash oil into the e-cig’s cartridge. He hands it to me while reminding me to hold down the button until the little light goes off. I take my first drag that instantly changes my state of mind, but I don’t take a long drag. I hand it back, he partakes, and hands the champagne-in-a-brown-bag version of smoking pot back to me. I hold the button and inhale. This time I am giving it a nice long drag, and my face instantly flushes while my mind is as high as it wants to get. My heart races in an expected way. I am high.

We watched some random show and talked about the mundane events of the day that will be forgotten tomorrow.

Noah Bird plays drums and writes music for a new project called Phillip’s Bird. He also manages a local business, and uses his background in international relations and political theory studies to promote social and political awareness. In his downtime, he enjoys an adult beverage and the partaking of marijuana inhalation.