Images of diamond-encrusted buds are typically what come to mind when marijuana is mentioned. But today’s stoners don’t just fancy flowers. They’re crazy about concentrates. And hash oil is by far the most popular.
Marijuana concentrates are nothing new. In fact, they’re ancient. Thousands of years ago the tiny crystals that cover marijuana buds were first separated from the plant. Soon early stoners realized that those shimmering crystals, or kief, could be pressed into blocks making them easier to handle. And technology has continued to help refine the way concentrates have been made—boosting their potency and popularity—ever since.
The latest advances in cannabis extraction have led to the creation of products that can contain upwards of 80% to 90% THC. The extraction process can also be designed to concentrate CBD (cannabidiol) for non-psychoactive medical use.
There are a number of different extraction methods used to separate the compounds from the plant matter, says Addison Demoura about the latest wave of concentrates. Demoura is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Steep Hill Halent Laboratory, here in Oakland, California. “There’s water extraction methods, co2 methods, subcritical extractions, closed loop, open blasting for making BHO. There’s alcohol extractions, propane, butane, hexane and the list goes on.”
The most popular on that list is butane hash oil. BHO gets its name from how it’s made. The typical process involves passing butane gas through a tube filled with cannabis plant matter. The low temperature of the liquid butane crystallizes the cannabis resins. As the butane exits the tube the resins and butane are collected. Since butane is a volatile molecule and boils at -1° C, it can be evaporated away leaving behind nothing but resin. Many connoisseurs will then purge their oil in a vacuum chamber. The result of this process is what gives BHO its characteristic textures from wax, to crumble, to shatter, to budder.
Is hash oil safe?
Demoura says his lab can do trace residual solvent screening on any kind of concentrate to ensure there’s no remaining chemicals. In fact, Steep Hill can test any cannabis product—from concentrate to cannabis-infused gummy bear, determine its ingredients and list them all by dry weight.
What’s really driven the market, however, are patients, Demoura says. Testing allows dispensaries to confidently sell cannabis products without the worries of residual solvents, pesticides or other harmful contaminants.
Testing also allows manufacturers to create cannabis products using standards allowing them to account for each ingredient. “I can walk into CVS and buy medication that’s regular-strength, extra-strength, child-strength, day-time, night-time and I can see the exact milligram amounts (of medicine) in each product,” Demoura says. With cannabis testing he asserts, patients can apply those same principles to purchasing and consuming concentrates allowing them to get just the right dose for their individual need.
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