While traditional “smoking” via joint, bowl, or bong is still the preferred method of weed consumption for most users, more and more people lately have been getting into the world of cannabis concentrates, or “BHO wax.”
For the uninitiated, BHO wax (which stands for Butane Hash Oil) is a gooey, sticky substance that’s created by extracting active terpenes and cannabinoids (mainly THC) from weed with a liquid solvent (i.e. butane/lighter fluid).
While the concentrated resin is super potent and loaded with THC (meaning it can get you high to the point of hallucination), it can also lead to a host of dangers and complications in terms of both the extraction process and the consumption/inhalation process.
In this article, we talk about some of the ways that you can avoid these dangers. Using BHO wax and other cannabis concentrates presents a unique and beneficial experience, but it definitely pays to know what you’re getting into, before you go and start hitting those dabs.
First Things First: What is BHO Wax?
We won’t go into much detail here in this article, but basically BHO wax is “weed without the weed.” The effects are produced by the same exact natural cannabis compounds (namely THC, CBD, and terpenes) that have been extracted from the actual plant.
Wax can be made from regular marijuana ‘buds’ that you would otherwise smoke, or it can also be made from other, excess parts of the plant that are left over after trimming the buds off. There isn’t much THC in these parts of the plant, but that’s precisely why people like to use them to make wax – it allows them to salvage parts the stems and the leaves that would otherwise be tossed out, and turn them into highly potent concentrate.
To actually make BHO wax, the flower or excess trimmed parts of the plant are ground up and then tightly packed into a tube (the right way to do it is to use a proper extractor tube, but many people use PVC or metal pipes with sealed fittings on the end). Once all of the material is stuffed securely in the tube, butane (a liquid solvent) is then run through it. This extracts all of the active compounds in the raw material, and leaves you with a nasty, sticky, gooey, THC-rich oil/wax.
Once you actually have the wax, though, it’s highly important to make sure all of the liquid butane is evaporated and/or purged before consumption. However, the evaporation process itself can be a highly dangerous one, if not done correctly.
Dangers of BHO Wax: Butane Evaporation
The initial wax that you get right after the extraction process will be cloudy or hazy/opaque because it is saturated with butane (pure wax/concentrate, depending on the type, should be relatively transparent).Butane naturally evaporates on its own, but many people like to speed up the process by applying heat. Whatever method is used to evaporate the butane from the wax, though, the process is a dangerous one because butane gas is highly flammable (there’s a reason why they use it as lighter fluid).
In fact, just in Colorado alone there were over 30 verified home explosions last year due to DIY hash oil extraction. Butane gas is heavier than air, so it sinks down to the ground after it evaporates, and entire rooms, garages, or even homes can go up in huge explosions just by a simple ignition from a pilot light, stove, refrigerator motor, or any other source of flame.
In addition to the extremely flammable nature of the extraction process, though, the actual consumption/vaporization process can be quite dangerous as well.
How Dangerous is Marijuana Wax?
Butane, in itself, is not known to be horribly dangerous – it’s actually listed by the FDA as a food additive (believe it or not some companies use it as an artificial antioxidant or to keep food fresh). However, there have never been any studies done on how safe it is for inhalation (though it probably shouldn’t take a multimillion dollar experiment to tell you it’s not good for you).
When cannabis wax that hasn’t been properly or efficiently rid of its butane content is vaped or dabbed, we inhale the chemical directly (and in fact, every time we flick a lighter to light up a joint or bowl we inhale trace amounts of it as well). What’s actually scarier than the butane, though, are the trace chemicals that are used to thin the butane out.
In its natural liquid form, butane is too viscous to be used in pumps. Thus, it is usually “thinned out” by harsh chemicals like neopentane and hexane, which are known carcinogens. And like we said, it probably doesn’t (or shouldn’t) take a fancy scientific experiment to tell us that inhaling carcinogens are not good for us!
Another major concern of inhaling BHO wax is in regard to the marijuana plant’s waxy outer layer, or cuticle. When burned or combusted normally (like in a joint or bowl), the wax layer in weed is simply burned away and is not an issue.
However, it’s known that vaping (which is the consumption method of choice for some concentrate users) does not produce a high enough temperature to get rid of the cuticle. Instead, what ends up happening (according to some scientists, at least) is that wax can accumulate in the user’s lungs and form granulomas, which are basically insoluble lipid fragments.
Again, while we don’t have any official data or clinical studies to tell us how dangerous wax granulomas are for the lungs, it should be more or less common sense that they’re not good for us. (It is worth noting, though, that dabbing should produce high enough temperatures to burn away any cuticle fragments that are in the wax or oil).
Beware The High That BHO Wax Produces
Probably the most practical issue of BHO wax safety (or lack thereof, we should say), is in the actual high that it produces. Typical marijuana strains, even the most potent ones like Purple Kush or Godfather OG, rarely have a THC concentration over 30%. Most, in fact, hover between the 17-25% range.
However, concentrated BHO waxes can have upwards of 90% THC – over 6x stronger than a typical marijuana strain. Unless you’ve got a major tolerance to weed, that high is going to produce epic effects, and most simply aren’t ready for it.
In fact, there has been a sharp increase in the number of hospitalizations and ambulance calls directly due to people “freaking out” after dabbing a concentrated BHO wax or oil. The high has been known to produce hallucinations, and is even akin to the acid trip that LSD produces. Pretty damn intense, in other words – it’s almost like an entirely different drug than regular cannabis smoking. Here’s what a writer for High Times magazine had to say about the potential effects of cannabis concentrates and dabbing: “…the fashionability of a form of cannabis consumption that [leads] to people passing out and getting wheeled away on stretchers should give us pause.”
Final Thoughts: How Safe is BHO Wax?
We’re definitely not coming out and saying that BHO wax is horribly dangerous – maybe it is, but as of right now we simply don’t have any clinical data to back that up. Also, if the extraction process is done responsibly, effectively, and efficiently, it’s likely that dabbing waxes may actually be “healthier” than regular smoking.
The problem, of course, lies in the simple fact that it’s impossible to know how safely a BHO wax or other concentrate was produced. Even if you take great care and extract the THC yourself, there’s no way of knowing (short of using tens of thousands of dollars worth of analyzation equipment) what chemicals are still lingering in there when you go to inhale.
Between the risks of fire/flammability, the potential for harsh chemical inhalation, and the very real potential of going on a spooky cannabis “trip,” all we can say is to use BHO wax wisely, and beware of what you’re getting yourself into.