Cannabis extracts and harm reduction

Cannabis extracts and harm reduction

By Adhara Star

Oils, dabs, concentrates and actually all cannabis extractions have become a new trend amongst consumers all over the globe.

These methods come from the USA and have thousands of fans over there, and have caused such a fever that Instagram is saturated with pictures of extracts, the sales of blown glass have multiplied and a new economic branch has flourished, dedicated to engineering and laboratory products exclusively for extraction.

Behind this powerful boom that has now reached our country through the most refined amongst dealers and the most active social clubs there are opportunities for creativity and cannabic industry development. But it also comes with a number of risks for users that go beyond the general level of tolerance increase.

The amount of acronyms and new terms that we encounter when we first approach the world of extracts can be confusing. We tend to retain them in a mechanical way. We learn to distinguish between BHO (Butane Hash Oil), QWISO (Quick Wash Isopropyl) and QWET (Quick Wash Ethanol) and others with their unabbreviated names, like extraction through using CO2 and Rosin.

Amongst these we need to differentiate the ones that use solvents for the extraction from the others that do not. That’s the way they do it in the American states where cannabis is legally dispended. Therefore, many hash types could be considered solvent free extractions of cannabis, including the ones that use ice and water, because the compounds that we intend to extract are not dissolved in it.

Equipo de circuito cerrado para extracciones con CO2

(Professional closed circuit equipment for CO2 extractions)

The main difference between the extractions with solvents (BHOQWISOQWETO and CO2) and the ones without, is the need to afterwards separate the product we’re looking for (the psychoactive substances in cannabis) from the ones that we don’t need to consume, namely solvents and other components.

This separation is not always 100% possible, and too often the final product contains substances that do not belong to the well known and benign chemicals of cannabis, the one that regular consumers are used to. That’s how a new risk factor is introduced. The user is given a consumption item but is denied accurate information about its real content, what is commonly known as an adulterated product.

However, the alluded industries (and dealers) defend themselves, pleading the purity of the solvers used in production, backing themselves up with lots of precedents and very little science.

But the American medical community has already set a precedent under its jurisprudence, and in different states where medical use of cannabis is recognized the BHO extractions are banned, as they have been too in the Netherlands. Nowadays, strict quality controls have been enforced, in order to avoid the black market having the monopoly over the substance. Only the waste free extractions in laboratory can be offered to the public in the legalized cannabis states.

What troubles doctors and activists in that country, the one where dabbing has spread the most, are not the explosions, but the incapacity of producers to provide a product safe for consumption. Even if low amounts of butane are not dangerous (when breathed, we don’t know what happens when they are smoked) for human beings, lots of other components seemed to slip through in the extractions using these solvents.

colibri gas

In our country the BHO production has been based almost completely in Colibrí gas cans. Very small bottles for industrial use and refilling lighters, a product that would never appear to be apt for human consumption. That has not stopped anybody, and instead of following on the steps of states that dispend BHO under medical premises (with great investments in investigation, formation, and equipment), not a second has been spent in looking for a healthy alternative to this format, as bottles of isobutane of laboratory degree would be. Instead, the option taken is risky, imaginative but, however, is based on deep ignorance.

Colibrí gas, like the rest of compressed gasses that can be found in our market, contains lots of other components besides the one that’s used to separate THC molecules and other cannabinoids from vegetal matter. And we are not only talking about that disgusting mercaptan (the component that makes the gas smell like it does, to help you prevent leaks, and then masks the weed smells of your extractions), but to a mix of dense, oily compounds. Nobody knew what they were up until recently and the cannabic community calls them “Mystery Oil”.

Yes, Mystery Oil has been the nightmare of lots of extractors that sought perfection in their elaborations and who, time and time again, ended up finding a strange substance in their gas refining chambers, independently of the lighter gas bottle they used. To check what those waste remains were some internet surfers have tried to extract them from the bottles and analyze the product obtained. You can see some analysis of different brands right here:

In the end it looked as if these oils were only the lubricants of the bottles’ mechanisms. When the bottles were empty, the component ended up propelled into the extractions. Due to the great density of some and the solubility of others, it required more machinery than the whole process of cannabinoid separation altogether.

This situation has caused many users and producers to completely abandon BHO. Some have done it by State imposition and others because of their moral integrity. It didn’t seem ethical to provide trusting benign cannabis consumers with a cocktail of unknown and highly toxic substances, let alone medicinal users.

Nevertheless, the majority of users and distributors of these extracts in our country ignore this reality, and the companies that have decided to embrace this branch have made little effort to provide their potential clients with accurate information. This could be understood, but what’s shocking is how fast many cannabic associations have endorsed this technique introducing it to their associates as another cannabis derivative, developing it without any formation on basic chemical or laboratory engineering knowledge.

It is evident that the ravages caused by malpractice committed in BHO production won’t manifest but gradually in most cases. These could include breathing system diseasespossible brain damage and severe intoxications in cannabis using patients with a depressed immune system. Sadly some users begin to report already this discomfort, but without medical and health approach taking all factors into account (we refer to final product analysis and tracing of all diseased), we can’t call it officially a health problem.

Ignorance is the biggest problem in these cases, both users and producers’ ignorance, of what is consumed and what consequences it may have. It is a generalized idea that when we consume an extract we’re only increasing the amount of consumed cannabis and not adding components. Even a famed doctor of this sphere has tried to blame high THC content for the unwanted effects. This is only one of numerous risk factors of cannabic extracts or, in this case, BHO production. But it is the one that needs to be explained urgently and the most dangerous one we are exposed to. In addition to all of these components, malpractice can also lead, in the black market, to extractions without solvent purge, the use of vegetal material treated with solvents and without any cleansing (and empty of any active component) as a base for cannabic products. Another danger are extracts from cannabis in bad state under the false premise that butane or alcohol “clean” and do not transmit fungus or bacteria to the final product.

All these factors form an explosive cocktail for many people’s health and they hurt the integrity of the cannabis image in our country, both public and medical. And it’s a problem that can only be approached through debate, social concern and honest activism.


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