"There is hardly any peer-reviewed research on cannabis, and absolutely nothing on BHO."
“It instantly vaporizes, it gets you higher than you’ve ever been, and it feels like fucking drugs.”
Photo: Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News
The need for ever higher levels of THC isn't addiction; it's tolerance. Same happens with food substances that provide a kind of 'kick' including sugar, chilis, salt, caffeinated products. After a time of using the substance, one has to use more and more to get the same 'kick' feeling.
But when the kick is from a strong psychotropic substance, this is how many Americans are turning into zombies. That's fine with Americans who are cleaning up from taxes on marijuana sales and doing everything they can to expand the industry:
[Colorado] Voters will decide in November whether to keep the $58 million collected last year from the recreational pot taxes. If voters say no, sales taxes will drop from 10 percent to 0.1 percent for six months. Another $20 million or so would go directly back to pot growers who paid it through excise taxes.And it's fine with the American teens who're vaping BHO (butane hash oil) in e-cigarettes. Too much THC isn't enough; it has to be more, more:
Ironically, they discovered that the rate of which these teens use e-cigs for marijuana use is 27 times higher than the adult rate. "This is a relatively novel way of using marijuana, and kids are using it at a fairly high rate," reports lead author Meghan E. Morean ...What is BHO? Below, hair-raising excerpts from an article by Amanda Chicago Lews for BuzzFeed News that tells everything you need to know about the stuff. (Wax Is Weed’s Next Big Thing And No One Knows If It’s Safe; April 30, 2015):
Demand for the intense high BHO delivers has birthed a massive underground industry, with federal and state governments at a loss for how to regulate it and potheads and entrepreneurs accidentally incinerating themselves trying to make it. Several pot-shop owners in California, where selling BHO is legal but making it is not, told BuzzFeed News that it now accounts for about 40% of sales.
There is hardly any peer-reviewed research on cannabis, and absolutely nothing on BHO. Marijuana is undergoing an awkward transition between an illegal drug and a mainstream pharmaceutical product held accountable for quality and side effects. In the absence of trustworthy information, unbiased experts, and an effective regulatory scheme, stoners are left with self-appointed whistleblowers ...
For as long as humans have been aware of the psychoactive powers of cannabis, we have been trying to create more efficient ways to get stoned. The marijuana of today has been bred for THC content, and regularly tests at potency levels of 15–20%. And yet as recently as the 1970s, most pot was less than 5% THC, which meant that turning weed into hash was one of the only ways to guarantee a long-lasting buzz.
All they had to do, the Overgrow thread explained, was release a canister of lighter fluid over a pipe stuffed with marijuana, and they would chemically wring every drop of psychotropic and palliative compounds out of the plant. Throw the snotlike result in a Pyrex dish on top of some boiling water on the stove to purge out the residual butane, and voilà! A product that’s over 60% THC.
The quasi-legal medical marijuana market in California had been booming since 2003, when the state passed a law allowing dispensaries to distribute weed to anyone with a doctor’s prescription. With more cannabis being sold, it was only a matter of time before the farmers figured out that BHO was the best way to profit off of their trim — the leaves and stems that are too weak to smoke.
In the early aughts, when hash oil was still an obscure fad among those who worked with pot, those caught making BHO in California were given the minor charge of marijuana processing.
Then, in August 2008, an appeals court decided butane extraction is so prone to causing an explosion that it should be prosecuted under a statute written for methamphetamine and PCP labs. Anyone caught extracting could now be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.
The change did little to stop BHO from spreading. After all, lighter fluid is cheap, and in Northern California, trim is plentiful. And once pipe makers began mass-producing the new equipment and tools necessary to vaporize hash oil, around 2009, the drug began to get popular outside of the insular world of those who had turned cannabis into a profession.
Soon, instead of throwing trim away or cooking it into butter for edibles, more cultivators were selling it to whichever BHO chemist could pay the most. To conceal the use of butane and legitimize the drug’s variety of textures and colors, dispensaries came up with names for every possible consistency, ranging from the sheet of brittle, translucent amber known as “shatter” to the golden sap known as “honey oil” to the soft green fudge known as “budder.” Many people, however, refer to all BHO as “wax.”
Hash oil also began serving as a form of crop insurance, as growers found they could recoup their losses on any moldy, mite-infested, or unattractive cannabis by making it into hash oil.
“Moldy weed does not become moldy shatter,” said David Babtkis, who makes BHO under the brand StuckUp Extracts. “The majority of growers that come to me come to me when they fuck up their crop.”
Within the pot industry, most testing labs are rumored to be shady: delivering inconsistent results, selling butane, and accepting money to refine BHO to its most purified state.
“It instantly vaporizes, it gets you higher than you’ve ever been, and it feels like fucking drugs,” he said. These days, hundreds of accounts on Instagram, the weed world’s social media platform of choice, are devoted to young men and women dabbing and provocatively exhaling for the camera.
[The article explains dabbing]
“We see stuff that is dripping with residual solvent. It’s running with it, literally dripping — more contaminants almost than product,” said University of California, Davis, analytical chemistry professor Don Land, who works with a major Northern California–based marijuana-testing lab called Steep Hill Laboratories.
No one is quite sure how many parts per million of butane, if any, might be safe to leave in hash oil. Steep Hill’s chief research officer, Kymron deCesare, who also oversees all of the analytical chemistry labs at UC Davis, said that the recommended Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers that exist for butane inhalation refer only to exposure in a work environment over the course of an eight-hour shift.
“You can’t apply those numbers to this,” he said, referring to dabs. “We’ve never done the studies on what happens if you’re inhaling a higher concentration than is allowed, a hundred or a thousand times as much as the limit, and you’re doing it repeatedly, over and over again, in a very intense, momentary way.”
With the help of several chemists both inside and outside the marijuana world, BuzzFeed News identified three additional possible problems with the safety of hash oil beyond residual butane.
The most blatant risk comes from unsafe pesticides, which are found in weed from Colorado to Nebraska to California. Rodger Voelker of the OG Analytical laboratory in Oregon, which has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana, said over half of the several thousand BHO samples he has tested contained illegal pesticides, including one known to cause brain damage. As bad as these toxic compounds might be in smoked weed, they’re made several times worse when they are concentrated and dabbed, chemists who have analyzed the product say.
“If people were aware of the level of pesticides we’re finding, especially in concentrates, compounds that are absolutely banned by the EPA for human consumption — people have no idea. They hear it’s tested and it looks clean, but they’re being lied to,” Voelker said.
In addition, all BHO contains concentrated versions of the lubricating chemicals added to lighter fluid to make sure the butane flows well through pumps. As several chemists repeated to BuzzFeed News, there is no such thing as food- or medical-grade butane. Even companies in Colorado and Washington [where recreational marijuana is 'legally' sold] use lighter fluid. While butane itself has a low boiling point and is not difficult to remove using a vacuum oven, these heavier, harmful compounds — including benzene, methylbutane, neopentane, and hexane — remain.
Finally, the least understood health risk posed by hash oil is that of plant waxes, which make up about 15–20% of most BHO. All plants are coated in a film of lipids known as cuticle wax: This is what makes bell peppers shiny. When you smoke marijuana, those waxes burn up, but when vaporizing BHO, the lipids get concentrated and go directly to the lungs, where some chemists believe they form nodules called granulomas on the tissue.
“We have no idea how many people are suffering lung damage from cuticle waxes,” Steep Hill’s deCesare said.
Those extract artists who make an attempt to “dewax” do so by throwing their BHO in the freezer, or putting it over dry ice, which eliminates just some of these lipids. The only way to fully remove them is with ethanol, and very few companies choose to do that, because it lowers the amount of hash oil in the batch. When you’re making a product that sells retail for $40–100 a gram, mass is money.