This weekend, an explosion rocked the home of a licensed medical marijuana grower in Breckenridge, reportedly because roommates of the owner who were injured in the accident were trying to process hashish using butane.
If that's what happened, the people in question were taking a considerable risk, says Timothy Tipton, founder of the Rocky Mountain Caregivers Cooperative.
"I knew one of these days something like this would happen," Tipton says. "It's not anything to be playing around with. It's a very dangerous process."
According to Tipton, "California, where medical marijuana has been legal since 1996, has had prohibitions in place associated with the use of petroleum products such as butane in extraction" -- a process probably used in this case to produce hash oil, which is often referred to as honey oil.
That's not the case with the constitutional amendment that sanctioned medical marijuana in Colorado. Still, Tipton feels locals interested in using butane to make honey oil -- which can feature as much as 96 percent pure THC -- should know going in how delicate the procedure is.
"Honey oil is made or extracted using bud or leaf matter in a cylindrical metal tube that is set on top of a glass Pyrex plate," Tipton explains. "At the end of the tube is a fitting that would accommodate a butane cartridge, and as that butane cartridge is released into the tube with the marijuana matter, the butane leaks through onto the Pyrex plate, which has a film on top of it. Over time, the butane airs off and all that remains, with the exception of residual matter, is honey oil that is scraped with a razor blade off the bottom of the plate after the butane has successfully evaporated."
It doesn't always, though.
"A common problem associated with the use of this therapy revolves around the persons participating in the extraction process not having gotten rid of all the extracted chemicals," he maintains. "So there's very little understanding of the chemical makeup of the honey oil, and whether it has residual butane, petroleum or chemical products that may be detrimental to our patients' health and welfare."
Similar issues involving the safety of medical marijuana-related products were mentioned by Senator Chris Romer in a Monday blog about his visit to the Cannabis Holiday Health Fair. In this case, however, there's a way around such difficulties -- by using a different method to make honey oil.
"Normally, hash medicine is made with bubble bags and an ice process that doesn't involve chemicals such as ether or butane," Tipton says. "And there are honey oil extraction processes that don't incorporate volatile materials."
For instance, "there's a glycerin-based process, and there's also a food-grade cylindrical-tube press method, where the raw matter is compressed under considerable force to extract any oils without any use of petroleum-based products for extraction."
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Learning how to do this ain't easy. Indeed, Matt Schnurr, a molecular biology grad student, has offered classes to teach the method that Tipton describes as "the equivalent of a basic chemistry course."
Of course, people interested in taking a short cut to honey oil production can find manufacturing tips on the Internet, too. But those who choose this short-cut need to remember something extremely important when it comes to the use of butane.
"This process needs to be done outdoors in a safe environment with the realization of butane's volatility and the possibility of fire or explosion," Tipton says. "Because one spark as all of that butane is being released has the potential of creating disaster."
Like, for instance, what happened in Breckenridge this weekend.