Pubdate: Thu, 28 Apr 2016
Source: North Coast Journal (Arcata, CA)
Column: The Week in Weed
Copyright: 2016 North Coast Journal
Author: Thadeus Greenson


It's The Bomb

Does a bear hash in the woods? No, no it doesn't.

Whether it be oils, shatter, wax or honeycomb, the marijuana 
concentrates market is exploding. And in the eyes of some, that's a 
very literal problem.

Potent concentrates now make up about half of all legal recreational 
marijuana sales in Colorado, and some industry insiders predict the 
shatters, oils and hashes of the weed world will soon dominate the 
market. The problem lurking beneath this market trend is that the 
most popular method of making many of these products - butane 
extraction - is wasteful, dangerous and carries a host of unstudied 
health risks.

Cannabis concentrates are nothing new and have been used in some form 
for thousands of years. But the traditional methods of separating 
marijuana's psychoactive properties - THC, cannabinoids, terpenes and 
terpenoids - have given way to new methods of extraction that can 
deliver a more potent product.

The two most widely used extraction methods involve using CO2 or 
butane to strip compounds from the cannabis plant in order to isolate 
the stuff that will get you high. The CO2 extraction process involves 
expensive botanical machinery that uses pressure and the gas to pull 
a potent amber oil from marijuana. That oil is then put in the small 
plastic cartridges used in portable vaporizer pens, which have become 
some of the industry's best sellers. Largely, CO2 extraction is a 
safe process that results in a safe product.

Butane extraction is something entirely different. The go-to method 
for making the shatter, wax and honeycomb that now permeate the 
market, butane extraction involves taking a long plastic or glass 
tube, filling it with marijuana plant matter and then pushing butane 
through it. The butane strips the plant matter of THC, leaving behind 
a thick golden liquid. That thick liquid still contains butane, 
however, which must be evaporated off, usually in a two-step process 
involving hot water and a heating pad.

The problem is that butane, once purged from its container, becomes a 
fugitive gas that's heavier than air. In a poorly ventilated space, 
it pools at the floor and builds up until it escapes or hits an 
ignition source, such as a pilot light, and explodes.

To make shatter - a hard concentrate with an amber, 
stained-glass-like appearance - folks add the additional step of 
"winterizing" or "dewaxing" to remove marijuana plant wax from the 
butane extract. This is usually done by putting the extract into a 
canning jar with acetone or isopropyl alcohol, and placing the jar 
into a freezer for 24 to 48 hours. This adds another layer of danger, 
as the gasses from any remaining butane in the extract and the added 
solvents can pool and ignite when the freezer's fan clicks on.

If you're wondering about the impact on your lungs from taking some 
clean, green, sun-grown marijuana, dousing it with butane and other 
chemicals, and then smoking what's left over, you're not alone. The 
health risks associated with butane hash oil (BHO) products are 
potentially legion, if totally unstudied. These include the risks of 
concentrating pesticides used to grow the marijuana; of smoking 
butane that isn't properly purged from the abstract; of the presence 
of lubricating chemicals and other compounds - things like benzene, 
hexane and neopentane - in the finished product; and even of 
concentrating the waxy substance that exists on most plants and 
vaporizing it directly into your lungs.

But pushing aside the potential health risks associated with the 
finished product, there's plenty about the butane extraction process 
that's worrisome. First off, butane is sold in relatively small 
canisters - generally ranging from 4 ounces up to 12 ounces in size. 
The BHO extraction industry goes through tens of thousands of these 
things, as was evidenced when when Southern Humboldt cleanup effort 
in January of last year pulled 800 pounds of empty canisters from a 
canyon near Carter Creek.

But the more immediate worry is the aforementioned explosions 
associated with the extraction process. Because of BHO's soaring 
popularity and marijuana's still quasi-legal-yet-largely-unregulated 
status in California, scores of people have taken to manufacturing 
BHO in their residences, often with little training beyond an 
Internet tutorial. This can have tragic consequences.

Humboldt Bay Fire has responded to four confirmed butane hash lab 
explosions - with another suspected - since November, including a 
couple that sent people to out-of-area hospitals for burn treatment 
and another with an explosion so fierce that it "moved the roof off 
the walls." In February, the department announced that these fires - 
which often come with secondary explosions due to large amounts of 
butane stored on site - are so dangerous it would no longer send 
firefighters into structures to fight them unless they believed 
someone to be trapped inside.

Fire Chief Bill Gillespie is now working with the Eureka City 
Attorney's Office and County Counsel to craft an ordinance that would 
limit the sale of butane within city limits and potentially within 
the entire county. The idea, Gillespie said, is to make sure butane 
is only sold in very small quantities, making it difficult for 
someone to find enough of the stuff to run an extraction operation.

The bottom line, Gillespie said, is there is no place within his 
jurisdiction that has been approved as safe for butane extraction. 
Such a facility, he said, would need fire suppression systems, 
sprinkler systems, commercial ventilation systems and wiring up to 
codes that could sustain a potential explosion.

"If you're doing this, you've got to be really careful," Gillespie 
said. "It's such a tremendous blast and fire hazard to be in an 
enclosed area that's not designed for it."

Frenchy Cannoli, a renowned "cannabis resin consultant" from 
Mendocino who specializes in making hash, said there's an extract 
revolution going on right now in the cannabis industry. Within that, 
there are those who are refining processes of sieving off the resin 
glands and THC from cannabis to make hash that have been around for 
tens of thousands of years. Then there are also those constantly 
questing for easier methods and more potent products. That's where 
BHO comes in.

"Because it's not difficult to make bad concentrates, a lot of people 
are doing it and a lot of people are doing it in unsafe conditions, 
including kids with no education who've been watching this stuff on 
YouTube," Cannoli said with his thick French accent. "Here in 
America, you have a tendency to reinvent the game. You don't go and 
relearn the traditional arts."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom