Hotel explosion exposes danger of solvent-based marijuana hashish extraction

Butane hash oil cannot kill you… but making it can! (photo:

A Best Western hotel was rocked by an explosion in Newberg, Oregon this morning.  According to reports from our local FOX affiliate KPTV, around 3am the windows were blown out of a room as a man who suffered severe burns admitted he was “cooking hashish”. A woman and a 2-year-old were in the room at the time, but not severely injured.

“Cooking hashish” is not exactly the right terminology and, from a public relations standpoint, an unfortunate choice of words. The only drug the public associates with explosions and cooks until now is methamphetamine. What the man was probably doing is making a form of concentrated cannabis.

This isn’t exactly hashish, which usually a dried, pressed form of cannabis concentrate, but a sticky or buttery substance that is also a form of cannabis concentrate. Its popular name around here is “BHO”, which stands for “butane hash oil” (or “butane honey oil”), though some will sarcastically say it stands for “Barack Hussein Obama”, as in, “hey let’s smoke some Obama.”

Nothing is “cooked” when making BHO in the sense that flame is used to heat combined chemicals into a new molecule like meth; rather, the butane acts as a solvent to extract the THC from the plant. There are other ways to achieve this – micro-mesh bags and ice water, for example – but the butane is used because it evaporates quickly and tends to make a more potent concentrate. It’s also dangerous, because it is a heavy, flammable gas that explodes at the slightest spark or flame, like a pilot light, cigarette, or electric switch.

This BHO is becoming very popular. While the prices of high-quality “flower” (what the BHO enthusiasts call cannabis buds and you might know as good ol’ fashioned “pot”) have plummeted in the Pacific Northwest to around $5 to $10 per gram, the price of BHO ranges from $20 to $40 per gram. Just as prohibition in the 1920′s led consumers and producers to seek the most bang for the buck, preferring whiskey over beer, prohibition today is driving the market toward stronger concentrates of cannabis like BHO. And just as bootleggers with lots of profit motive and little chemistry training led to clandestine alcohol distilleries exploding in the backwoods, greedy weed dealers without much common sense are messing around with heavy explosive gases in un-ventilated hotel rooms.

For medical marijuana patients, the BHO can be the only effective medicine, as smoking or vaporizing relatively-low-potency cannabis can be impractical and ineffective. My pal Cannabis Cure UK, a sufferer of Crohn’s disease, can make it through an entire workday* on one morning “oil hit”. Smoking “flowers” doesn’t achieve the same relief and requires hourly hits for him. Plus there is a zealous movement behind “Rick Simpson’s Oil”, a recipe that uses a cannabis concentrate oil, that claims it doesn’t just treat but cures cancer.

This in turn has created a whole new sub-genre of paraphernalia and terminology among cannabis consumers. While the oil in its more liquid forms can be spread on a joint and in it’s more solid forms spread over a pipe-load of cannabis, most oil enthusiasts prefer to smoke it directly. To do so, one must heat up a “nail” (a piece of glass or titanium) or a “skillet” (a flat piece of metal) with a “torch” (like a chef would use on crème brûlée). Then one places their “dabs” of “oil” (or “wax” or “butter”) on the “nail” or “skillet” and the hot surface immediately turns the BHO into vapor captured by a “globe” or “bell” (a glass piece added to a bong that keeps the vapor from escaping) which is then inhaled like any hit of cannabis.

Click here to view the embedded video.

The problem with BHO is not the substance itself. While it is more potent and has been known to lay out an inexperienced toker, it is just cannabis and is non-toxic and incapable of overdose. The problem with BHO is propaganda. For years, the prohibitionists have proclaimed, “This is Not Your Father’s Woodstock Weed!” in reference to improved breeding and harvesting techniques that have about doubled raw cannabis potency. This line has had only limited success, because anybody who remembers Woodstock knows there was powerful weed then, too, and it didn’t kill anyone. But now we’ve given the prohibitionists something that really isn’t “Woodstock Weed”, really is more potent, looks like opium, uses a crack torch, and blows up like meth labs.

Of course, we know the solution is legalization. There aren’t too many backwoods moonshine stills blowing up these days, are there? Legalization would regulate the production of hash oils, instill safety standards, and drive down profit margins to the point where some dude in a Best Western can’t compete.

*Cure is a blogger and video producer who works from home, so don’t worry about any morning commute or safety-sensitive-job issues.

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