You are living in an era in which the stigma surrounding the topic of and use of medical & recreational cannabis is dissipating like smoke from a well hit pipe. The legalization movement hasn’t slowed much since Colorado & Washington state legalized recreational use of cannabis in 2012. Most people don’t know that the first actual decriminalization of “personal use” cannabis was Texas in 1976. The 2020 election cycle is sure to bring even more states into the fold of finally lifting the illegal status of the plant many have come to rely on as an aid to a wide variety of health issues or simply like a safer, healthier alternative to alcohol as a means to relax after a long day of work.

Since well before 2012 or even 1976, there has been an age old problem with cannabis consumers who prefer the convenience of a glass pipe to having to roll a joint to smoke their bud. That problem is tar buildup. Many refer to the thick, stubborn black coating on their favorite pipe or bong as resin but that is inaccurate; it is technically tar.

You see, resin is the sticky, aromatic goodness on the outside of a nice ripe bud. Tar is the remains of burned organic material. Putting fire to resin vaporizes CBD & THC and you get a nice buzz. Putting fire to tar is what produces all the nasty health problems posed by cigarette smoking. It’s not the tobacco or nicotine that cause all those problems, it’s the tar found in cigarette smoke.

Whether you call it resin or tar, it presents a problem anyone who’s owned a pipe is all too familiar with – the tar buildup gets to the point it restricts air flow & you cannot get a hit unless you somehow get the opening free of this tar. Some use a toothpick, some will straighten out a coat hanger or a sewing needle or anything that is long & hard enough to chip away at that black nasty.

Not only does this tar make it difficult to impossible to get a hit, it also makes any hit you do get taste like you’re licking a weed ash tray. It’s not good. Not only do you waste a good amount of bud by lighting it but not getting the hit but whatever hit you do get isn’t nearly as enjoyable as one you would get from a brand new bowl. If you’re reading this, you know this to be true. You also know it’s a pain the ass to clean that pipe or bong or whatever your piece of choice happens to be.

It seems for however many smokers there are in the world, there are that many different ways to clean a pipe. There’s boiling your piece in water. It works but it makes your home smell like stale weed smoke for days & it compromises the glass, makes it brittle. You could dry hit the pipe to warm it up and use cotton swabs and/or toothpicks or pipe cleaners to get as much of the gunk off as possible.

Most just use rubbing alcohol; also known as Isopropyl Alcohol. Many of the popular cleaners on the market today are simply that & nothing more. Rubbing alcohol with a little dye and so much salt that it no longer goes into solution so there’s literally half a bottle of salt. People actually buy this stuff and have no idea what’s in it, how it’s made or what health hazards it presents. Is this what you use? Have you used it before? There’s no shame in it if you have…I tend to think all pipe smokers have at one time or another. I’m here to tell you why you should never do that again.

Isopropyl Alcohol, or IPA or Rubbing Alcohol is derived from crude oil. Put into layman’s terms, they take crude oil and separate it into ethylene oxide (EO) & propylene oxide (PO). IPA is made when you take PO and react it with Sulfuric Acid. This reaction creates steam, volatile gases and waste water.

They run the resulting product through columns to cool & condense this new material. There is quite a lot of hazardous waste created at this point which is usually burned in huge incinerators that create cement and other products. We’re not done yet.

Then it is put through a “washer” where mineral oils are introduced to bind with molecules to make them easy to extract – this is where more petro-chemical products like Butanol are obtained. You think Butanol is healthy?

Once butyl alcohol (butanol) and amyl alcohols (used as solvent in varnishes-EXTREMELY toxic, flammable & irritating vapors) are separated out, you have an impure version of rubbing alcohol. This is usually refined even more using isopropyl ether gas in yet another column to get it to 99% pure IPA.

• It is 100% VOC (volatile organic compounds) – VOC are what bind to dust and other things in the air (pollen, mold spores, etc) and create air pollution. They are toxic and in large concentrations, create what everyone knows as SMOG. VOC’s contribute to ground level ozone triggering a variety of health problems and damages vegetation and ecosystems.
• It is toxic. If you ingest enough of it, it will kill you. It is a suspected carcinogen and is known to damage liver & kidneys.
• It is highly flammable. The flash point (temperature at which its vapors will auto-ignite, or EXPLODE when ignition source is introduced) is just 53.6° F.
• California has banned the sale of IPA in larger quantities. Many other states are sure to follow.
• Common uses include:
o Manufacture of ACETONE
o Adhesives
o Antifreeze
o Degreasers/Cleaning compounds
o Disinfectants (it kills microbes or “bugs”)
o Paint solvent
o Deicing fluids
o Hair care products
o Dyes and inks
o Lacquers and lacquer thinners
o Nail polish removers
o Extraction agent for other solvent manufacture

Long story short, rubbing alcohol is effective at breaking up tar build up but it is extremely unhealthy & the effects may take years to manifest.