Traditionally, marijuana consumption involved lighting and smoking cannabis flower or infusing it into edibles. In recent years, the ways to ingest cannabis has expanded to include a variety of different concentrates. One of those is butane hash oil. Also known as BHO, it’s giving people a potent new way to consume recreational and medical marijuana.
What Is BHO?
Butane hash oil is a cannabis concentrate that goes by many names: BHO, butane honey oil, hashish oil, or dabs. BHO is the substance that results when cannabinoids are concentrated and pulled out of the marijuana plant. This is done by butane extraction, and the result is a substance that ranges from oily or crumbly/sticky to hard and glassy. Terms for the finished product depend on its texture.
Types of BHO include:
- Honey Oil: Has a gooey, honey-like consistency.
- Budder: Somewhere in between honey oil and wax, budder (as its name implies) is smooth like butter.
- Wax or Honeycomb: More solid than budder, this form of BHO has a waxlike consistency.
- Crumble: A more solid, crumbly form of wax.
- Pull-and-snap: With its taffy-like consistency, pieces can be pulled and broken off.
- Shatter: Hard and glasslike, shatter will break if tapped or dropped.
BHO creates the same effects as other forms of cannabis, but those effects are greatly intensified with BHO. Getting a stronger high in a very short period of time is what makes BHO attractive to cannabis oil enthusiasts. Some describe it as a different type of high than the one they get from ingesting cannabis via more traditional methods.
How is BHO Made?
BHO oil is made by putting marijuana plant material in a holding container and then forcing butane through it in order to remove the cannabinoids. After the butane extraction process, the butane is purged and the potent extract is left (ideally only with small traces of the solvent left). BHO manufacturers use additional chemicals and methods to remove the odor of butane as well as the waxes from the plant. The final product is much more powerful than traditional cannabis.
The Dangers of BHO Extraction
The process of making BHO can be quite dangerous. Due to the fact that it involves handling butane (which is flammable and volatile) there is a risk of fires, burns, and violent explosions. Experts suggest that BHO should only be made by experienced individuals with who have been trained in making cannabis extracts, who have extensive knowledge about how to safely handle the chemicals being used, and who have the proper equipment to do so. In addition to concerns about injury and property damage, making solvent extracts is a criminal offense in some areas.
Why Is Hash Oil So Potent?
The reason butane hash oil is so potent is because it’s a concentrated form of marijuana that contains a high percentage of cannabinoids. These are the active ingredients in marijuana that are responsible for its effects.
Cannabinoids interacts with the endocannabinoid system located throughout the brain and human body. In that system lie many cannabinoid receptors. There are CB1 receptors in the brain and nervous system, as well as CB2 receptors in the immune system. The body produces chemicals that plug into these receptors to produce various effects such as reduction of pain and increased immunity.
Cannabinoids such as THC and CBD mimic the chemicals that occur naturally in the body. They can also plug into receptors in the endocannabinoid system – and this is how cannabis causes effects such as euphoria and increased appetite. Unlike smoking marijuana flower, consuming butane hash oil provides a way to ingest large amounts of cannabinoids in a very short period of time.
How to Smoke Hash Oil
The various consistencies of butane hash oil can all be smoked via a method known as dabbing. This requires a dab rig which can be made from a water pipe or a bong that’s been modified for the purpose. There are also specialized dab rigs that can run anywhere from $50 to as much as $50,000.
The bits of BHO that are used in dab rigs are called “dabs.” Using a metal dab tool, the dab is placed on a hot glass rod or metal piece known as a nail before being vaporized with a lighter or portable torch. There are also e-nails, electric dab rigs, and portable dab pens that render the use of a handheld torch unnecessary.
While butane honey oil can also be vaped, BHO aficionados agree that dabbing is the most effective way to ingest it. It’s a highly controversial way of consuming concentrates, however, because the items that are used strongly remind people of the paraphernalia commonly used to ingest harder drugs. The visual act of dabbing, as well as the sheer strength of BHO, has increased the controversy around its use. Some medical experts have also expressed concern about carcinogens created due to the intense heat typically generated by dab rigs.
What’s the Difference Between Hash and BHO?
One of the things that make many people skeptical about BHO is that it’s relatively new on the mainstream cannabis scene. It should not be confused with hash, which has been around for years. In fact, hash is one of the oldest ways to enjoy cannabis concentrate. It’s often made by collecting the kief from the exterior of cannabis flowers and compressing it, although there are other extraction methods. The kief can also be used in its uncompressed form – sprinkled into ground cannabis to amplify the effects of the flower.
The biggest difference in the finished product is that BHO is much more potent than hash or kief. In fact, the THC content in BHO can be as high as 80%. To those who are accustomed to smoking regular hash, this can create an unexpectedly intense high.
The Dangers of BHO
One of the biggest concerns with consuming butane hash oil is the risk of ingesting impurities. Even for the most well-meaning BHO producer, it’s challenging to create a pure product. There are concerns about how much butane remains in the final product. BHO can be lab-tested to determine how much butane is in it (the butane is measured by PPM, or parts per million), but this isn’t done with all products. While trace amounts of butane don’t pose any health risks, low-grade butane may contaminate the product and pose certain risks.
Despite myths that suggest otherwise, it’s impossible to determine the quality of BHO by its look or texture. Just because shatter is beautifully clear doesn’t mean it’s free of impurities; in fact, shatter often contains higher PPMs than its waxier counterparts. The only thing texture reveals is how easy it will be to handle and consume the product (with pull-and-snap being the most desirable texture).
Because the THC content of BHO is so high, some worry that use of the product creates a higher risk of addiction. Smoking BHO is quite different than eating a brownie or smoking a few joints. It allows the user to absorb a much higher percentage of THC in a much shorter period of time than traditional cannabis consumption methods. Critics of concentrates like butane honey oil raise concerns that in addition to addiction, this raises the risk of tolerance as well as withdrawal symptoms down the road.
Another concern is that due to the higher THC content, those who aren’t used to hash oil might experience a negative reaction. This could include an elevated heart rate, dizziness and disorientation, vomiting, and extreme paranoia.
Medicinal Uses for BHO
While homemade BHO has the risk of impurities, product that is created in a lab setting tends to be more clean and pure. BHO that is created in a lab is not only safer; it can also be tested to determine what percentage of THC and other cannabinoids it contains. It’s a particularly high concentration of cannabinoids that make BHO potent and effective medicine.
Because the THC content in BHO can be as high as 80%, it can be an excellent treatment for those who suffer from chronic pain. It’s also helpful for those who are experiencing nausea due to cancer treatments. THC isn’t the only useful ingredient, however. The extraction process leaves the final product full of many compounds that are likely beneficial.
BHO made with high-CBD strains of cannabis is also useful for pain relief and can relieve seizures. A natural antidepressant, it’s helpful for relieving mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. When taken by itself, CBD is non-psychoactive, but it’s particularly useful when combined with THC. When used in certain ratios, CBD can lessen or completely cancel out THC’s psychoactive effects.
The Entourage Effect
While many recreational users and dispensaries focus on the THC content in cannabis products, some scientists are shifting their focus to concentrates that have a balance of THC, CBD, other cannabinoids such as CBN, as well as various terpenes. Researchers believe that these compounds work better together than in isolation. In fact, Israeli scientist Raphael Mechoulam has deemed this phenomenon “the entourage effect.” Mechoulam is responsible for groundbreaking research that includes discovering THC as one of the primary active ingredients in cannabis.
Scientific studies continue to uncover promising evidence that cannabinoids are effective at treating a variety of medical conditions when used individually or in combination with one another. From cancer to arthritis and multiple sclerosis, cannabis extracts can provide a potent treatment for those suffering from everyday ailments, as well as chronic and terminal illnesses.
Because it’s relatively new on the cannabis scene, however, there has been no scientific research on the medicinal use of BHO.
The Rising Popularity of BHO
With the dangers involved in producing the product and no peer-reviewed research on its medical efficacy or side effects, butane hash oil remains a controversial substance. Professional manufacturers hope that time will bring more education and research, as well as regulation of basement BHO brewers who put out impure products in unsafe working conditions.
Despite the unknowns, BHO is rising in popularity and is widely available at most marijuana dispensaries. For fans of the the quick, powerful high that it brings, BHO is here to stay.
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