BHO Extracting cannabinoids, especially through the use of gas, as with the case of BHO, carries a range of risks, in terms of both health and safety. Encouraging risk reduction in this process necessitates looking at extraction techniques and the effects on users, in order to come up with a specific regulation.
Cannabinoid extracts like BHO extractions are increasingly popular. Nevertheless, both their effects and production process have certain properties which differ from consuming the plant itself: Risk of accidents, the presence of impurities, risk of overdose, and so on.
From a risk reduction perspective, it seems worthwhile considering these aspects in order to put in place a system of regulation which ensures these extracts are safe and not a danger to health. This article will put forward some suggestions.
In recent years, there has been an undeniable boom in the consumption of cannabis extracts. Beyond traditional hashish, oil or alcoholised tinctures, there has been an explosion in the number of available options like for instance BHO extractions.
What is BHO?
Amongst the new methods, the winner appears to be extraction with gas (especially butane, but also propane). Thus, in almost every cannabis event we turn up to we are bound to come up with some kind of production workshop for BHO (Butane Hash Oil or Butane Honey Oil, basically butane hashish oil). And if we attend a cannabis cup, we will encounter an ever growing number of extracts, with BHO being particularly abundant.
The success of extracts in general and extracts with gas in particular, poses a series of challenges from a risk and harm reduction perspective, in terms of both their production method and consumption effects, especially if use becomes habitual.
This necessitates not only developing a variety of preventative measures for users, but also regulating the production and distribution of these extracts, so that a set of restrictions and checks can be put in place which would prevent greater harm from occurring.
Playing with fire – Safety of BHO extractions
One of the biggest risks with BHO extractions is that accidents may occur during its production. The use of N-butane gas carries the obvious risk of explosion. If the extraction is carried out in an enclosed space and with no ventilation, any spark could trigger an accident.
There have been incidents reported in Spain, such as that of the Cañaman grow shop in Madrid, where a gas explosion in 2013 caused severe injuries to several people.
Although the shop’s management insisted they had been filling up lighters, given the size of the fire nearly everyone still believes the more plausible explanation, which is that they were extracting BHO.
In order to avoid this type of accident, various magazines and websites often give some advice, which can be summed up in the following key points:
- Do carry out the process in an enclosed space. Always do it outdoors.
- Do not smoke during the process and do not light any flames.
- Use a plastic rotary fan to get rid of the vapours generated by the evaporating gas. Never use a vacuum cleaner for this process as the electric power could trigger sparks.
- Have a fire extinguisher at hand, as well as a fire blanket to put out any flames.
- Do not wear synthetic clothing. Linen and cotton attire are preferable, since synthetic fabric can trigger small sparks.
Another useful piece of advice, although not connected with the risk of an explosion, is to use safety gloves. This is because transferring the gas into the extraction tube causes it to freeze over, which can burn the handler’s hands.
The other risk with the BHO extraction process is that there may be butane residues left in the extract, which carries a risk of poisoning. To prevent this from happening the extract should be purified to get rid of any residues, which some guidelines insist on.
Clearly, if we want to ensure a basic level of safety, not everyone should be performing gas extractions.
Are BHO extractions “cannabis crack”?
There is a second area of concern with the risk from cannabinoid extracts which we should not forget: Its effects on the body. And this is something that we should consider not only for BHO, but also for any extract which contains high proportions of THC.
Any extract which contain a concentration of psychoactive ingredients naturally entails an increase in the substance’s strength, which increases its effects, as well as often causing it to degrade.
Obviously, it is far easier to get drunk with a distilled alcoholic drink such as tequila or gin than with beer or cider, for instance, and the potential for overdosing is greater. It is also clear that we won’t experience the same kind of hangover.
In the case of extracts with high concentrations of THC, there is a second factor, in addition to their strength, which is the duration of their effects. In this sense, it is analogous with the coca leaf and cocaine.
BHO extraction and cocaine compared
If we consume cocaine leaf, we will gradually absorb the cocaine content, such that the effect will increase bit by bit and slowly subside. Moreover, we will also be ingesting other substances which the plant contains, and not just cocaine.
If we consume cocaine in extract form, especially as cocaine paste or crack, the effect will be felt much faster and also the comedown. The rapid high and comedown very often results in a rebound, which means that cocaine users, especially those who smoke it, tend to repeat their cocaine use more often.
This means that they end up ingesting more cocaine in their bodies within a much shorter time frame, which then increases their risk of addiction, overdose and side effects.
Give or take some obvious differences, something similar happens with cannabis. Smoking marijuana with a 10-15% THC content is not the same thing as smoking a 95% extract.
Through my own experience and the numerous accounts I have been able to gather over the last few years, the habitual consumption of high strength cannabis extracts often leads to a big increase in the total amount of THC consumed within the same period of time, and also causes a more compulsive pattern of use.
Effects of BHO extractions
The effect of consuming BHO and other nearly pure extracts is swiftly felt and does not last long. Consuming extracts makes it possible for the body to absorb amounts of cannabis that would otherwise be physically impossible through other routes.
I know people who have managed to consume up to 30 grams of BHO over a weekend, which is equivalent to hundreds of grams of grass, which is simply outrageous.
And what happens when such amounts of THC are consumed? Well, the effects become more and more severe and eventually lead to serious incidents. I have personally seen veteran cannabis users who had not experienced anything as bad over decades of consumption suffer a psychotic episode after taking BHO intensively for several weeks.
I don’t have any data on this, nor do I think any serious study has been conducted over this matter. However, it is obvious that extracts change things, not just in quantitative but also qualitative terms, with regard to effects and related risks.
Perhaps it would be exaggerating somewhat to call it the “cannabis crack” but we cannot just look the other way and pretend nothing is happening. We should warn users, especially less experienced ones: BHO is not quite the same as marijuana, just as beer is not the same thing as pure alcohol.
A specific regulation For BHO is needed
In the event that cannabis is normalised what would be the most appropriate form of legal regulation to reduce to a minimum the risks linked to the production and consumption of BHO and other cannabis extracts?
To begin with, because of the risks linked to the production process (accidents due to improper use of the gas and toxic impurities in the extract) it is advisable not to authorise the production, and above all, sale of extracts without a specific licence. To be issued with a licence, the producers would need to have facilities with proper safety protocols, as well as specifically trained staff.
It is all very well that people are giving advise on how to reduce risks for those who want to obtain their own extracts, but the consequences of failing to heed such advice are too serious for us to leave this to any individual’s initiative. What is at risk is the safety and health of other people.
Therefore, it seems advisable that public institutions should see to it that minimum safety standards are adhered to.
Another restriction which seems sensible is to have in place an upper limit for THC content. Just as with alcohol, which can be distilled from fermented drinks until it reaches a nearly 100% level of purity, cannabinoid active ingredients can be concentrated and refined to an extreme level. And just as with alcohol, it seems sensible to set an upper limit in order to minimise the risk of an overdose, adverse reaction or dependency.
BHO extractions and alcohol levels
In the case of the alcohol, many countries have agreed to set a limit of around 40% of alcohol. In some places this level may be exceeded, but of course, at present you cannot really sell nearly pure alcohol unless you add modifying substances which block the ingestion of alcohol or have very high taxes levied on it to discourage people from consuming it in that state. Given that with cannabis the increase in concentration also seems to increase the risks, all cannabis regulation should aim to set limits to the maximum concentration.
What should this maximum level be? In principle, the 40% limit for alcohol seems to fall short, given that, at present, cannabis extracts with significantly higher concentrations have become the norm. However, clearly, 80-90% concentrations are not acceptable either, given that risks go up significantly. Therefore, perhaps a limit of around 60% would be more than enough, although this is up for discussion.
Indeed, it seems unavoidable that within the cannabis movement and amongst cannabis experts there is an ongoing debate to clarify these matters. Cannabis extracts are becoming increasingly common and it seems necessary to take some steps to prevent this situation from spiralling out of our control. I hope this article has contributed to this much needed debate.