BHO and Butane Toxicity

Approximately 23.1 million Americans over the age of 11 were abusing drugs and alcohol in 2012 enough to warrant treatment, despite only 2.5 million of them receiving it.[1]

A large portion of these substance abusers are fans of marijuana, which has been decriminalized and legalized in several states in recent years. What few recognize is that pot isn’t just available in one form that you smoke through a pipe or joint.

Butane hash oil is merely hash oil that uses a chemical — butane in this case — to concentrate and extract the most tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) possible from the drug. Butane is convenient and widely available, making it ideal for this process.


Hashish oils are becoming more and more preferable among marijuana users. Some opt for it since it barely leaves any noticeable scent behind; others like it since they can transport it more easily and discreet. Some people prefer it merely because of its increased potency. THC is present in high amounts in BHO – up to 90 percent concentration.[2] That’s four times stronger than the typical joint.[3]

The drug goes by many names, such as:

  • Butane honey oil
  • Liquid THC
  • Dabs
  • Wax
  • Budder
  • Shatter

Despite its different aliases, it’s still the same substance, and it is made the same way, but there are variations that allow for different concentrations. For example, honey-like shatter is known for an approximate 80 percent THC content that lacks the plant waxes and fats other versions have.[4]

From start to finish, dried cannabis leaves, stalks, stems and flower buds are stuffed into a tube with hollow ends, one of which will be packed with a coffee filter or similar material. The other end is plugged; this is where the butane is injected. Since butane has a very low temperature, the marijuana resin in the plant crystalizes and mixes in with the liquid solvent.

Heating or cooling it adds pressure that then forces the substance to drain into a container through the filter. The entire process delivers a pretty quick turnaround. Another process is somewhat safer and involves using a butane oil extractor in a similar sense that extractors are used to create essential oils from herbs. However, this method still carries risks.

 

Hash oils are nothing new. Actually, they’ve been around since the 1960s in the US and much longer elsewhere around the world, but they are growing in popularity. Likewise, the THC content in BHO years ago was only a mere five percent on average.[5] Marijuana dispensaries in California alone — where marijuana has been decriminalized — report 40 percent of their sales being attributed to BHO.[6] These cannabis byproducts range from amber to dark brown in color.

Who Is Using It and How?

As with most natural or synthetic forms of marijuana, butane hash oil is unfortunately growing in popularity among teenagers in the United States. Recently, a student at a prominent California college was arrested for being in possession of two pounds of butane honey oil, in addition to other charges.[7] Among just those teens aged 15 to 17 years old who sought treatment for substance abuse in 2012, 71.9 percent of them cited marijuana as their primary substance of abuse.[8]

Most people who use BHO are under the age of 25 and smoking it through a vaporizer or charcoal puck.[9] Some people will place a drop or two on the end of a cigarette before smoking it. Others will create candies and edible treats from the resin — something even some dispensaries sell.

BHO is easily accessible for those who don’t make their own; it can even be purchased online in some places if the buyer knows where to look. Though these sites are often shut down, they usually have many subsidiaries and copycat sites in place ahead of time to work with. Furthermore, many websites and stores sell drugs, such as budder, and market them as other products labeled as being “not for human consumption” to bypass drug regulation laws. Thus, there is no shortage of BHO in America.

Dangerous Territory

A common belief among the drug-abusing population is that marijuana is relatively safe, especially in comparison to other substances. Some proponents of the drug even market it as being medicinal, noting that it being legalized must mean it’s pretty harmless.

Alcohol has been legal for many years, but it still isn’t entirely safe and especially not when abused. Evidence has continued to mount over the years that all cannabis products have addictive potential. Among those who use marijuana a minimum of 10 times in a month, seven to eight percent are thought to meet the criteria for dependence.[10]

The butane is actually the more dangerous component involved in BHO. Other chemicals commonly used to manufacture hash oils include isopropyl alcohol, dry ice and ethanol. Of course, one of the biggest dangers involved with butane hash oil is manufacturing it.

The risk of fire or explosion is high since butane is a highly flammable gas. A home lab explosion in California earlier this year caused serious burns to five men and blew the roof off the home.[11] Similar reports have stemmed from states all over the country, but they definitely seem to be concentrated in those with less stringent marijuana laws.


Another danger of using BHO lies not with the butane at all, but the plant structure itself. All plants are coated in a cuticle wax. This wax is inhaled into the lungs when BHO is vaporized. There are theories that this practice can lead to nodules on the lungs that can decrease breathing capacity and cause granulomas. Most BHO contents are comprised of 15 to 20 percent cuticle plant wax.[12]


The residual butane content in BHO is somewhat regulated. Washington only allows for 500 parts per million while Colorado is much lower at 50 ppm.[13] Despite this, even BHO products in which extra effort and care were taken to remove excess butane, the residual amounts reached 50,000 ppm in one analysis — that’s two to five percent residual butane content.[14]

Symptoms of paranoia and hallucinations are not uncommon in those who abuse BHO regularly or in large amounts. There have been no reported deaths caused directly by the ingestion of THC. However, marijuana product abuse can certainly impact the abusers enough to cause serious lapses in judgement and impairment that can lead to worsening side effects or death. A Portland, Oregon, man died as a result of injuries sustained from a BHO lab explosion.[15] Since Colorado legalized marijuana, three people have died from marijuana edibles, which account for 45 percent of the pot market in the state.[16]


The jury is still out, but many view marijuana and its byproducts as a gateway to other, more serious substances. One large study of 55,215 people between the ages of 18 and 25 found that those who used marijuana were significantly more likely than their non-marijuana-using peers to experiment with prescription drugs.[17]Treating a BHO addiction as soon as possible is the best way to avoid further substance abuse and the need for treatment for harder drugs down the line.

Of course, the butane is also an issue. Residue remains and can cause health effects. A lot of people who are getting high off BHO aren’t just experiencing effects from THC, but also from the butane solvent itself. It is thought that most people are unaware of how much higher the THC content is in BHO compared to weed and how serious the side effects can be. Repeated exposure to butane may lead to central nervous system issues.[18]
A spur of dangerous events led to the ultimate decision to ban butane extraction processes in 2013 and home hash oil extraction methods using flammable substances in Colorado in late 2014, and now there is talk of banning all production methods entirely.[19] There were 27 explosions resulting from these processes in the state in the first half of 2014 alone.[20]

Red Flags

Addiction to butane hash oil is possible and affects many. It is thought that BHO addiction may form with an even smaller rate of use. Perpetual use can easily aid in the development of a tolerance to the drug. From this point, dependency grows, and withdrawal might even set in if the person stops using, leading some to use just to avoid it. Thus, the cycle of addiction grows.

The signs of hash oil abuse include:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Poor concentration
  • Fatigue
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased inhibitions
  • Impaired judgement
  • Inability to keep track of time or stay on a schedule
  • Reduced motor skill functioning
  • Neglecting responsibilities
  • Lack of motivation

Treatment Options

While BHO is a concentrated form of cannabis, treating an addiction to BHO would still fall under the category of a cannabis use disorder. Among people aged 12 to 17 years old, 3.4 percent meet the criteria for cannabis use disorder during a year’s span, and 1.5 percent of adults aged 18 or older do.[21] Since the THC level in BHO is far higher than that of typical marijuana, the withdrawal experience is generally far more turbulent.

During detox from BHO, you can expect to have trouble falling or staying asleep. You may feel as though you have an increased level of alertness, and physically, you may experience restlessness. Trembling, stomach cramps, excessive perspiring, an irritable mood, and loss of appetite are also common side effects of withdrawing from BHO. In extreme cases where the addict was using large doses, mood swings may be severe enough to cause anxiety and panic attacks.

Most of the symptoms of withdrawal from BHO will come and go during the initial detox period. However, those who have been using BHO for quite a while or abusing large quantities may have residual stores of the drug throughout their body that could take months to fully detox from. While these scant amounts aren’t of concern to recovery, they can impose delayed withdrawal symptoms and persist for weeks and months to come.

Therapy and support groups are a vital part of your success following detox. Often, addicts make the decision to only withdraw from a drug and then deal with the rest of their issues later, but aftercare is just as important as the detox process. In fact, people who seek follow-up care within a month of detoxing take 40 percent longer to relapse, if they ever do.[22] Treating all physical dependence and mental health issues at the same time and focusing on what led you to abuse BHO in the first place are your best defenses against falling into that pattern of behavior again.


Citations

[1] “DrugFacts: Nationwide Trends.” (Jan 2014). National Institute on Drug Abuse. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[2] Velardo, M. (2013 Sep 17). “Hash oil dabbing, drug’s popularity growing among teens.” Examiner. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[3] Walden, T. (2015 May 26). “UCF butane hash-oil bust: Dangerous drug makes big debut in Central Florida.” Orlando Sentinel. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[4] Breathes, W. (2013 June 10). “Crazy-High Times: The Rise of Hash Oil.” Rolling Stone. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[5] Walden, T. (2015 May 26). “UCF butane hash-oil bust: Dangerous drug makes big debut in Central Florida.” Orlando Sentinel. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[6] Chicago Lewis, A. (2015 Apr 30). “Wax Is Weed’s Next Big Thing And No One Knows If It’s Safe.” Buzzfeed. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[7] Radin, D. (2015 May 9). “Chico State student arrested for honey oil lab.” KRCR News. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[8] “Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions Aged 15 to 17.” (2012). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Treatment Episode Data Set. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[9] Kaste, M. (2014 Jan 10). “Marijuana ‘Hash Oil’ Explodes in Popularity, and Kitchens.” NPR. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[10] Cousijn, J., Goudriaan, A.E. & Wiers, R.W. (Sept 2011). “Reaching out towards cannabis: approach-bias in heavy cannabis users predicts change in cannabis use.” Addiction. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[11] Serna, J. (2015 Apr 13). “Suspected honey oil lab explosion in Redding burns 5 men, blows off roof.” Los Angeles Times. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[12] Chicago Lewis, A. (2015 Apr 30). “Wax Is Weed’s Next Big Thing And No One Knows If It’s Safe.” Buzzfeed. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Crombie, N. (2014 May 12). “Butane hash oil: Dangers shadow the quick, powerful marijuana high.” The Oregonian. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[16] “Third Death in Colorado Linked to Marijuana Edibles.” (2015 Mar 27). Food Safety News. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[17] Cuda, A. (2012 Aug 12). “Yale study: Marijuana may really be gateway drug.” Connecticut Post. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[18] “Human Health Effects.” (n.d.). Toxnet. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[19] Associated Press. (2015 May 4). “New limits for homemade hash oil extraction head to Colorado governor.” The Cannabist. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[20] The Denver Post Editorial Board. (2014 Sept 5). “Ban butane hash oil extraction.” Denver Post. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[21] “Cannabis Use Disorder.” (n.d.). Internet Mental Health. Accessed June 2, 2015.

[22] Join Together Staff. (2006 Nov 1). “Does Relapse Mean Failure” Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. Accessed June 2, 2015.

Further Reading About BHO and Butane Toxicity

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