What Is Butane Hash Oil (BHO) and Is It Safe?

cannabis concentrate BHO in the form of wax being dripped

If you're a fan of cannabis, you've likely heard of concentrates. Concentrates are extracts that contain a high percentage of cannabis compounds known as cannabinoids. These extracts are perfect for medical patients seeking intense relief from intractable and treatment-resistant pain. Seasoned smokers also use concentrates to chase a more potent high. Cannabis consumers can choose from a variety of extracts that contain the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the anxiety-reducing cannabidiol (CBD), or more of the major cannabinoids.

One type of concentrate, butane hash oil (BHO), is made using butane or propane to remove the plant matter and separate cannabinoids. Butane has become one of the most commonly used solvents during the extraction process. You may be asking yourself: What is butane hash oil? Why is it one of the most popular extraction methods? In essence, BHO is an umbrella term for a variety of concentrate textures made strictly with butane as a solvent. BHO extracts are being used at home and on-the-go due to their high potency and instant effects.

What Is Butane Hash Oil? How Is It Made?

the cannabis concentrate shatter made through butane extraction, which many people ask what is butane hash oil

BHO can take many forms including budder, wax, shatter, and the list goes on. It's a high-potency concentrate that contains a high concentration of popular cannabinoids including THC, CBD, and aromatic terpenes. Even the most potent cannabis flower can only reach up to 30 percent THC. BHO waxes, however, have anywhere between 50 and 90 percent THC content and above. Early BHO-makers used butane (found in lighter fluid) to extract therapeutic cannabinoids. This method of extracting BHO is known as open blasting or an open loop system, which are often dangerous for inexperienced extractors due to the uncontained flammable gas and lack of ventilation. Unfortunately, home explosions have risen in states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Licensed laboratories have developed a new, closed loop system that reuses the butane and keeps it out of the atmosphere. During the extraction process, raw cannabis material (trim, leaves, flower, stems) is placed in a glass or stainless steel tube. Butane is filled into the contained under pressure to separate the desired cannabinoids and terpenes found in trichomes. Afterwards, the dewaxing process removes fats, lipids, waxes, and butane by dissolving the BHO in isopropyl alcohol and then freezing it. BHO is one of the most popular extract forms due to its low startup equipment costs and efficacy. Five to 10 pounds of BHO can be ready in an hour or less compared with other extraction methods like Co2 extraction (10-hour process).

What Are The Different Forms Of BHO?

melting a cannabis dab of BHO in a rig

When looking up "what is butane hash oil" you may come across multiple products with varying names. BHO extracts can be found across all cannabis products including tinctures, vape pen cartridges, edibles, and, more commonly, concentrates. Different forms of BHO have names that relate to their unique textures. Each type of concentrate can range in look due to the type of technique used to make it. Concentrate textures can also vary depending on if the extractor used dry or freshly harvested cannabis. Other extraction methods have also been used to extract cannabinoids and offer similar products to butane extraction.

BHO can take the form of oil, a clear and viscous liquid that can be found in concentrate syringes and pre-filled cartridges for vape pens. You may also find BHO as wax, an opaque concentrate that looks like honey. Pull-and-snap is wax's taffy-like variation. Shatter, on the other hand, has a glass-like texture that is semi-transparent. Shatter can have a golden yellow color with hues of orange and brown. Budder has a silky and butter-like consistency made by whipping and heating shatter. Crumble is a brittle and dry concentrate that has been crystallized in the extraction process. Live resin, another BHO extract, uses frozen cannabis buds to make one of the most flavorful extracts.

How Do You Use BHO? What Is Dabbing?

cannabis dab rig that can be used for BHO

When purchasing BHO, try to look for products that have been tested by a third-party laboratory in order to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other contaminants. Typically, BHO extracts are consumed via "dabbing," which involves heating a concentrate and inhaling its vapor. Dabbing can be done with a specialized glass piece or a portable vape pen. Since BHO products can provide percentages of THC nearing one hundred percent, inexperienced users can easily take too much and make the conditions they are treating worse. If you're new to dabbing, wait an hour or two between each dab to assess the effects.

A proper dab rig consists of a specialty water pipe, nail (titanium, ceramic, or quartz), and a mini-torch, like the ones used to caramelize sugars on desserts. Users heat the nail to temperatures ranging from 340 to 482 degrees Celsius. Users then place a dab (usually 10 to 20 milligrams) on the nail. Since THC boils at 417 degrees Celsius, a carb cap is used to reduce pressure and the boiling point of THC. Some users suggest that lower temperatures dabs can reduce the harshness of the vapor and offer a better flavor profile. Lower temperatures are easier to attain with electronic and portable dab rigs featuring temperature control options.

Is BHO Safe?

cannabis oil cartridges made with BHO

There are currently no in-depth studies on the effect BHO extracts have on the body. Many people will outright avoid BHO due to the stigma behind the products. One study performed by the Department of Health and Human Services in 1981 found that exposure to 10,000 parts per million (ppm) of butane for 10 minutes in an occupational setting can make a person drowsy. There currently isn't a standard limit on butane, but medical states are adopting a 500 ppm limit (the same amount of butane released when lighting a bowl). Nevertheless, there is no definitive research to indicate the safety of consuming even miniscule amounts of butane via inhalation. Reconsider use if you feel overwhelming negative symptoms including:

  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Dependency

One study, however, found that when terpene additives where exposed to high temperatures they produced known carcinogens including methacrolein (MC) and benzene. MC is a "noxious irritant" than can trigger respiratory conditions. BHO products may also contain plant cuticle waxes that get burned off when smoked, but can be inhaled when vaporized. These waxes are thought to form nodules known as granulomas in the lungs. Luckily, new extraction methods can remove these fats, lipids, and waxes. No matter what, always ensure your product has been lab-tested to ensure you get a clean and potent dose.

Those searching for "what is butane hash oil" may not be satisfied with the filtering process and study results of butane extractions. If you're still unsure about the safety of BHO, you're not alone. Alternative extraction methods like supercritical Co2 extraction and bubble hash produce solventless products. Bubble hash, in particular uses trim, cold water, and ice to produce a wax (albeit lower concentrations than BHO). More studies into the effect BHO has on lung health and the rest of the body is needed. With the rise of BHO, you may find yourself in a future with concentration limits on psychoactive cannabinoids. For now, the best way to consume concentrates is responsibly and slowly to assess what effects they have on your body.