I have been writing about the phenomenon of butane hash oil, or BHO, since 2011. When I first covered the topic in Kush Magazine’s “The Danger of Dabs“, I wrote:
If you remember anything from chemistry about things that end in ‘-ane’ or have even refilled a lighter, you know that butane is an extremely flammable gas which can be stored as a liquid under great pressure. Those are the cans of lighter fluid refill you can buy in many stores. And if you’ve deduced that combining very stoned people with combustible materials is a recipe for disaster, I’m way ahead of you.
With dabs your local action news team gets to do a marijuana story that shows crack pipe torches used on black sticky heroin-looking goo made from a process that blows up like meth labs.
The danger of dabs isn’t so much physical as it is a public relations nightmare.
I got a lot of flack on that article from many people who seemed to only skim the article and missed the point encapsulated in that last sentence above. BHO itself can be manufactured safely and the product, when properly purged, is no more toxic than cannabis, which is to say, not at all. This isn’t just conjecture on my part; I’m pals with the last two Denver & Seattle Medical Cannabis Cup winners, both of whom are worried for the perception of their business when they see stories like this one…
A botched drug “cook”? What is the only other drug you can think of that is “cooked”? If I wrote the sentence “Bobby’s drug conviction was for being a ____ cook,” what word do you think most people would place in the blank?
Judging by the reactions I got on Twitter, I think the answer is clear:
— No thanks (@Wraith235) January 7, 2013
— Weed Dude (@weeddude) January 7, 2013
Here’s some more from the story from NBC Los Angeles (thank goodness it’s just some small market where few people will see it, huh?):
An explosion from a marijuana cook gone bad severely wounded three men and set a quiet Monrovia neighborhood on edge.
Police were investigating whether the occupants of the house were attempting an extremely dangerous method of using flammable butane to extract the hallucinogenic chemical tetrahydrocannabinols — or THC — contained in marijuana plants.
When authorities arrived, they saw a house fully engulfed in flames and three burned men in an alley and out front.
Police said the men were likely using a new method called butane honey oil to extract the potent drug from pot.
A marijuana “cook”. NBC LA, let me clue you in: there is no “cooking” involved in the process of manufacturing butane honey oil! You’re close with the last sentence, in that it is an extraction process, not a cooking process. Words matter, especially when they evoke frames of meth labs and toxic chemicals. Let’s review:
cook: verb (used with object)
- to prepare (food) by the use of heat, as by boiling, baking, or roasting.
- to subject (anything) to the application of heat.
Or in the meth lab context, “cook” means to combine the various chemical precursors and heat them up. That’s why we get the occasional meth lab blowing up. And we get a public terrified not only of the explosion, but the toxic waste site remaining after the explosion.
In extracting hash oil, the processor is merely forcing liquid butane through a tube full of marijuana. There is no temperature, there is no heating it up, there are no toxic chemical stew like meth. It is a non-toxic plant whose oils are being stripped by a solvent, that is all.
That is where the danger is – the improper handling of solvents. In that respect, using turpentine to remove paint from an old dresser is as much “cooking” as making butane hash oil.
It was the second time in less than a week that police have responded to an explosion involving marijuana in the region.
In Reseda on Wednesday, police said a man was growing marijuana and tried to extract THC using a propane tank that caused a fire. The man was hospitalized and was arrested, police said.
As I stated, butane hash oil can be made safely. The danger is in processing it in an unventilated room, where the heavier-than-air butane gas can pool on the floor, subject to explosion from the slightest spark of a pilot light, electric switch, or discarded roach. Which really means, the danger is in untrained idiots watching some YouTube video on hash making and blowing up the apartment complex or the hotel.
You know, there used to be another process used by untrained idiots, circa 1920-1933, to create a highly-potent mood altering substance, a process that would occasionally lead to an explosion that endangers the public. These untrained idiots used to use various cooking processes to distill ethanol, a very toxic and dangerous mind-altering drug that still kills tens of thousands of Americans every year.
It’s not that the untrained idiots of yesteryear wanted to risk blowing themselves up distilling ethanol. But at the time, the manufacture, importation, and selling of ethanol was unconstitutional. That made the prices and profit potential for ethanol skyrocket. Since police could imprison untrained idiots for making and selling ethanol, they preferred to make the most potent forms of ethanol they could. Smuggling space is limited and the cops were more likely to catch these untrained idiots if they had many large containers of weak, barley-and-hops-derived ethanol. Instead, the idiots could smuggle less of the more-potent juniper-berry-derived ethanol, make more profit, and be harder for cops to detect.
Likewise, today we live in a world where the manufacture, importation, and sales of cannabis is mostly prohibited. Something as simple as stepping outside where there is ventilation to make your hash oil can’t be done when being seen with marijuana is a crime. Companies can’t make safe, inspected hash making facilities. Training on proper hash making techniques can’t be regulated and verified. And the artificial scarcity of both marijuana and hash makes the profit margin on hash oil ridiculous.
Butane hash oil is not going away, and neither are explosions and comparisons to meth labs. Just as most drinkers enjoy beer or wine, but some drinkers enjoy bourbon or scotch, most tokers enjoy weed, but some enjoy hash. It is critical that we police our own community on the proper manufacture of hash oils so the public relations damage to the cannabis community is minimized as we continue to ask the public for their marijuana legalization votes.