How new cannabis laws harm more than help
// David Gauthier

The recipe on the Cannabis Culture website states that all of the cannabinoids (the stuff that gets you high) in one ounce of Marijuana can be concentrated into one gram of honey oil. According to the Center for Addiction and Mental Health, honey oil is one of the purest concentrations of THC (the main psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis Sativa). Because of new advancements in the ease of manufacturing honey oil, more and more people are making it for themselves.

Unfortunately, thanks to a stringent legal system, one that was recently exacerbated by a Conservative crime bill, the production of honey oil is now considered a crime warranting a minimum sentence of a year and half in prison. All historic evidence shows that this won't slow demand for honey oil. It will, however, delay any scientific examination of the drug further, potentially putting regular citizens at risk as an air of uncertainty clouds new production techniques.

Honey oil has been traditionally manufactured by combining marijuana with an organic solvent , like isopropyl or butane. The resulting combination is strained of raw plant matter now stripped of its active ingredient. The mixture is then purged, utilizing heat to evaporate the solvent. What remains, in theory, is only the cannibinoids from the marijuana, free from any plant matter. The final product is a honey-like reddish-brown or green gel.

In theory, the molecular integrity of the natural marijuana plant is maintained while hugely intensifying its effects. This means that as long as the solvent is properly evaporated during the refinement process, honey oil has no differing health (both physiological and psychological) effects than smoking marijuana or hash in large quantities.

Recently, though, the use of butane as a solvent has become the increasingly popular, and potentially dangerous, norm. The resulting honey oil is called Butane Honey Oil or BHO. Because of the ease of production and lack of scientific study, many users are venturing into the world of BHO without a full understanding of the risk involved.

Due to its low boiling temperature, butane evaporates and is extracted from the concentrated cannabinoids at room temperature. To make BHO, all you need is a tube sealed on one end with a coffee filter that allows the THC-laced butane to pass through. The most popular homemade extractor material is PVC piping, due to its low price and availability. The material may pose a serious hazard to the purity of the resulting honey oil, as PVC can potentially leach carcinogenic chemicals into the solvents it comes in contact with. Alternatives to PVC extractors such as glass or steel exist, but remain unpopular, due to cost and the relative difficulty of acquiring them.

The evaporated butane (which is extremely flammable and explosive) is heavier than air and will pool in any enclosed area. All it takes is the sparking of a joint, or an electrical charge traveling within any number of electronic devices, to cause a deadly explosion. Beyond the dangers of fire, Cannabis Culture explains: “Because butane displaces oxygen, it can even cause asphyxia if it fills up a room.” While it is possible to make the drug in an exterior environment, because of the legal danger of refining Marijuana in a public place most producers are forced into the confines of their homes, exposing themselves to incredible and unnecessary danger in the process.

Beyond all of these manufacturing concerns, using butane as a solvent poses some potentially severe health risks. Because butane is not manufactured with human ingestion in mind, some brands of the gas come with additives such as mercaptan, which carries a distinct aroma to help identify leaks in a fuel line. These additives will not only change the flavor for the worse, but also, according to MedScape, are reported to have induced vomiting and cause pneumonia if repeatedly ingested over time. Brands of butane like Vector, Colibri, or London don't carry mercaptan, and proudly bear a label that reads 'zero impurities,” but even the highest-grade commercially-available butane isn't 100% pure.

As the laws get tougher in the upcoming years, its production will be pushed further underground, and a comprehensive study on the popular drug is looking less likely. The marijuana community is left to discern the oil’s safety with the limited resources that are made available to them. As a result, it seems that the public, many of them medical users of cannabis, will be forced to purposefully but blindly victimize themselves to find out the truth about the drugs they consume.

// David Gauthier

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com