Debunking the Butane Hash Oil Stigma: A Scientist’s Take on BHO vs. CO2 Extraction

Article by Lindsay MaHarry, Merry Jane

Debunking the Butane Hash Oil Stigma: A Scientist’s Take on BHO vs. CO2 Extraction Butane extraction got a bad rap when some teens blew up their parent's basement, but experts believe the process is more efficient and desirable than its rivals.

Extracts rocked the marijuana industry a few years ago, as state to state legality entered the conversation. A genre once defined by hash alone exploded into factions, where extreme levels of THC offered a harder approach to getting high, shrouded in uncertainty. Names like wax, oil, butter, shatter, dabs, and the sometimes questionable methods used to make them, were met with skepticism from the public as reports started coming in of kids blowing themselves up, attempting to make them at home.

Extracts are either made by processing the flower with a propellent like butane or propane (known as Butane Hash Oil or BHO), or blasting the flower with carbon dioxide (C02 oil). When ran through a closed loop system, both are perfectly safe. A closed loop system offers a way of extracting concentrate from flower in a sealed environment. The butane evaporated in the extraction process is recovered in a vacuum oven to be recycled, instead of contaminating the environment by mixing with air, potentially causing a deadly explosion.

Butane extraction received the brunt of criticism due to kids “open blasting,” a process where butane is released into the environment instead of recovered safely in the vacuum oven. While most think BHO’s stigma is a health-related one regarding the presence of butane in the oil, it’s actually part of a larger plan to demonize butane by certain facets of the marijuana industry hoping to take heat off themselves. Contrary to what many dispensary owners, dealers, and local know-it-alls will have you believe, the butane method is scientifically superior to the C02 method in terms of preserving the delicate terpene profile of great weed, which is responsible for its smell, taste, and nuanced high.

I sat down with two particularly knowledgeable sources on the topic, Boris, a semi-anonymous scientist who designs closed loop systems, and Pete Pietrangeli, industry vet and owner of the Melrose Ave dispensary LA Confidential.

“There’s a lot of misinformation in the marketplace,” says Pietrangeli. “Dispensary managers, bud tenders, and buyers will be snooty at extracts made with BHO because they think there’s some sort of health risk. Really, it comes off as ignorant.”

He believes the antipathy towards BHO comes from “kids blowing themselves up, not knowing what they’re doing,” due to the high demand overshadowing the risk. As a result of the BHO process being stigmatized, Pietrangeli currently uses C02 extraction for his pen company Acme Elixirs. Still, the industry veteran feels C02 will never rival the product of an extraction using butane—or “terp juice,” as it’s called—due to its harsh nature and terpene profiles being stripped in the C02 process. “We’re just waiting for the marketplace to mature, and circle back to the beautiful amber hash oil that actually resembles the breeder’s intentions.”

“The caveat of people making butane hash oil in open loop gave BHO a bad name,” Boris tells MERRY JANE. “A lot of people blew themselves up, caught themselves on fire, didn’t properly purge the butane out of the extract. The C02 machine makers jumped on that about two to three years ago, right when the whole [stigma] was starting to grow. They tried to use that as a marketing point for themselves.”

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