Cannabis extracts and concentrates provide a way to harness the power of weed in its most intense form. BHO, or butane hash oil, is one of the cannabis concentrates that people enjoy because of its potent punch.
What is BHO? Let’s get the science out of the way first. BHO is an oleoresin, which are “semi-solid extracts composed of a resin in solution in an essential and/or fatty oil, obtained by evaporation of the solvent(s) used for their production. Naturally occurring oleoresins are also known as balsams”.
In everyday terms, that means that BHO is the substance that results when you pull cannabinoids 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 and appearance. BHO may be referred to as Honey Oil, honeycomb, wax, budder, pull-and-snap, or shatter.
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?
Simply put, BHO is made by putting marijuana plant material in a holding container and then forcing butane through it in order to remove the cannabinoids. Ideally, the butane is purged and you’re left with the potent extract. 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 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 explosions. Suffice it to say 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. It’s also worth noting that making solvent extracts is a criminal offense in some areas. Cannabis-Education.org highly discourages anyone from attempting to make BHO at home.
Wait – Go Back. Remove the What? What are Cannabinoids?
For those who are unfamiliar with (or who need a refresher course on) cannabinoids, think of them as the active ingredients in marijuana. They’re a large group of compounds that make weed behave the way it does in the brain and body.
You see, the body has something called an endocannabinoid system. In that system lie many cannabinoid receptors. We have CB1 receptors in our brains and nervous systems and CB2 receptors in our immune systems. 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 our bodies. They can also plug into receptors in the endocannabinoid system – and this is how cannabis causes effects such as euphoria and increased appetite.
Different cannabinoids have different effects on the body. THC, for instance, is the cannabinoid that is known for causing marijuana’s psychoactive effects. In other words, it’s what gets you high. It’s also great for pain relief. CBD is also useful for pain relief and can also relieve seizures and mood disorders. Another cannabinol, CBN, can be used in combination with THC as a sleep aid.
Scientists are working to explore how cannabinoids may be used for medical purposes – both individually and in combination with each other.
Dabbing: What is It?
Bringing the topic back to BHO, let’s discuss another term that may be unfamiliar to some: dabbing.
Dabbing is one of the common ways to smoke BHO. Back in the day, if people wanted to smoke concentrated cannabis, they simply smoked hash. These days, they dab hash oil. This is because new equipment has provided increasingly advanced methods of extraction, making BHO much more common.
A dab rig is a necessary component for dabbing. Sometimes this is made from a water pipe or a bong that’s been modified for the purpose. You can also find 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”. The dab is placed on a hot glass rod or nail before being vaporized with a lighter or portable torch. Some compare this form of ingestion to the old-school method of taking a “knife hit”. There are also e-nails and electric dab rigs that render the use of a handheld torch unnecessary.
While hash 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 added to the brouhaha around its use.
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 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 bump it up a few notches.
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 be like traveling to another planet. This has made many in the cannabis community approach BHO with skepticism and caution.
The Dangers of BHO
One of the biggest concerns and discussions surrounding BHO is the risk of ingesting impurities. Even for the most well-meaning BHO producer, it’s tough 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-risk, low-grade butane may contaminate the product and pose certain risks.
Despite myths that suggest otherwise, you can’t 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 couple of 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. BHO critics 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 BHO might experience a negative reaction. This could include an elevated heart rate, dizziness and disorientation, vomiting, and extreme paranoia.
Does BHO Have Medicinal Purposes?
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.
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. THC isn’t the only useful ingredient, though. The extraction process leaves the final product full of many compounds that are likely beneficial.
While many users and dispensaries seem obsessively focused on the THC content in most cannabis products, many scientists are shifting their focus on creating products that have a balance of THC and other cannabinoids such as CBD. They simply work better together, these researchers believe. In fact, Israeli researcher Raphael Mechoulam has deemed this phenomenon “the entourage effect”. Mechoulam is responsible for groundbreaking research that includes isolating THC as an active ingredient in cannabis.
Research continues 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 anxiety and depression to cancer 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 Future of BHO
With the dangers involved in producing the product and no peer-reviewed research on its medical efficacy or side effects, BHO 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, even widely available at many marijuana dispensaries. For fans of the the quick, powerful high that it brings, BHO is here to stay.