Butane hash oil (BHO) is any cannabis extract that was produced through an extraction process using butane as the primary solvent, and is most commonly referred to by the acronym BHO. It encompasses several specific types of concentrates, each of which is defined by its unique texture and consistency. These include badder, wax, crumble, sauce, shatter, and more. The specific type of concentrate produced from BHO depends on the strain of marijuana used, as well as the apparatus and techniques applied to the production process.
More about BHO
A label that reads BHO only tells part of the concentrate's story and does not necessarily indicate anything related to effects, potency, or quality. It simply means it was produced using butane.
Remember that the starting material — the marijuana plant being used — will dictate the quality of the finished product. A combination of the flower used and the purity of the final product are what separate high-quality concentrates from lower-grade ones.
The consistency of BHO derives primarily from the techniques used during production. Though extraction methods may vary from one producer to another, and between batches, the goal is largely the same: Deliver the desired characteristics of the cannabis plant with as much flavor as possible, sans the tar- and ash-producing matter. This is accomplished through a steady series of separation and purification.
BHO extracts by texture and consistency
Shatter boasts a smooth, hard surface and, as the name indicates, shatters into rigid pieces when broken apart.
Unlike shatter, this BHO concentrate breaks apart or crumbles easily.
Sometimes referred to as udder for its soft, buttery texture, badder has a soft consistency like cake batter or frosting.
Sauce is a viscous and super-sticky BHO concentrate.
How to consume butane hash oil
Like other weed concentrates, there are a variety of ways to consume BHO. Dabbing is arguably the most common. This method involves a small water pipe equipped with a flat bowl designed to tolerate high temperatures.
To take a dab, begin by preheating the nail with a small gas-powered torch until it reaches the optimum temperature. Using the flat end of a dabber tool, scoop up a dab of your BHO concentrate and carefully drop it onto the nail. When the BHO comes into contact with the hot nail, it will vaporize instantly. Place a cap over the nail to capture the vapor and inhale through the mouthpiece, pulling the vapor up through the water chamber.
Along with using a dab rig, you can also enjoy BHO using smaller handheld vape pens and other vape devices. With these devices, a small amount of BHO is put into a heating chamber. After pressing a button, the chamber will heat up electronically using a built-in battery. When it's hot enough to vaporize the BHO, put the mouthpiece to your lips and give it a pull.
Finally, twaxing refers to rolling BHO wax or shatter into a string, then wrapping it around a blunt or joint for extra potency. Similarly, you can break apart a chunk of BHO wax or crumble and use it as a potent topping for a bowl of flower or roll it into a joint or blunt.
How to store butane hash oil
When stored improperly, BHO can begin to break down and lose its texture, flavor, or potency. To prevent this degradation, marijuana extracts should always be stored in an airtight and lightproof container in a cool environment. To ensure that the BHO stays fresh and potent for as long as possible, protect it from high temperatures, moisture, oxygen, ultraviolet light, and direct sunlight.
Remember, heat is the enemy. It causes the cannabinoids and terpenes to activate, and that should only happen upon consumption — not while it's resting in a container. Dispensaries, smoke shops, and many online stores offer storage accessories, such as silicone containers, to store BHO. No matter what you use, do your best to keep your BHO in an airtight container, away from direct light, and out of extreme temperatures.
Why do people like BHO?
Most BHO fans choose it simply because they like weed concentrates — which tend to have much more THC than flower — and also because vaporizing concentrates produces cleaner, more robust flavors and aromas than burning flower.
Another selling point is that in some cases, BHO concentrates may be more affordable than concentrates made through different methods, such as carbon dioxide extraction and other popular techniques. That's because while BHO can certainly produce consistent products, it is not as clean, pure, or safe as other, newer, arguably more advanced techniques. This may be appealing to consumers looking for a more affordable dabbing option, or who are less concerned with the production process.
Is BHO safe?
BHO carries some degree of inherent risk to both producers and consumers.
On the production side, the risk has to do with the volatility and flammability of butane, which can become dangerous if a producer does not fully know how to handle the chemical and if BHO is made using unsafe equipment. Butane is a highly flammable substance and hash oil production is extremely dangerous if done by inexperienced technicians with improper equipment and ill-equipped facilities.
And on the consumer side, there are health concerns arising from the chance that there may be residual butane left over in the final extract.
These days, much of the industry is erring on the side of caution when it comes to residual butane in extracts. While butane is classified generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, most states have set their own residual solvent limits.
How butane hash oil is made
Warning: The manufacturing of butane hash oil and other cannabis concentrates should only be performed by experienced, licensed professionals since these processes can be extremely dangerous. This section is to be used for informational and educational purposes only.
For safety and health reasons, producing extracts is best left to professionals, as the setup and materials are expensive and require precision and accuracy. More important than knowing how to make hash oil is knowing how commercial concentrates and extracts are made, so you can find the right cannabis products for your needs.
All weed concentrates come from a series of separation and purification procedures. The basic idea is to isolate the inactive elements of the plant from the elements that produce flavors and effects. BHO extraction operations run through various cycles of flooding the cannabis with butane, purging the solvent, and collecting the extract.
Step 1: Getting started
To begin the process, producers need cannabis plant material. Theoretically, any part of a marijuana plant can be used—as long as it has trichomes. Technicians who know how to make hash oil most commonly use trim or whole buds. BHO derived from whole flower results in extracts with richer flavor and higher potency, pulling cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds from the areas where they are most abundant.
There are three main types of starting cannabis material:
- Live resin uses fresh flowers that are newly harvested and flash-frozen to trap any terpenes that would otherwise be lost during the drying stage.
- Nug run is flower that has been thoroughly dried and cured after harvest, similar to nugs used for regular weed smoking.
- Trim run consists of the leftover parts of the plant after the initial trimming.
Trim run is generally considered the lowest quality starting material, with nug run and live resin being higher quality.
Step 2: Introduce the cannabis to solvent
Extractors pack the starting cannabis material into the material column, which is a tank inside the closed-loop system that is dedicated to holding the nugs or trim. The tank must be purged of any oxygen prior to passing the butane through to ensure that there is no explosion and unnecessary pressure.
The butane is chilled, then passed through the starting material, releasing the trichomes from the plant matter. To remove the butane from the solution, heat is applied to the combined mixture of marijuana and butane, causing the chemical to turn into a vapor and rise into the solvent column.
As the vapor reaches the solvent column, it is cooled and condensed back into a liquid.
Some concentrates undergo additional processes, such as charcoal washing or additional wash cycles with other solvents, to render a purer final concentrate.
Step 3: Purging residual gas
When ready, the extract is poured into a pan and placed into a vacuum oven to purge any residual butane. Those who know how to make hash oil will know that BHO extracts develop their texture during the purging stage of production, which is shaped by time, temperature, pressure, and agitation.
Extractors must always pay careful attention to temperature. Too much heat can ruin the entire process. Heat evaporates volatile terpenes that give cannabis its aroma and flavor and triggers decarboxylation, which rids the concentrate of its translucent appearance and turns it into a darker oil. Producers must find the perfect balance of purging out excess gas without harming the cannabis compounds being extracted.
The first purge is conducted with a vacuum pump, and when completed, the extract will not look anything like the liquid consistency that was initially poured into the tray.
Extractors use a pump to create a vacuum within the oven to manage "loafing" and heat to expel residual solvents. Loafing refers to the point when the extract rises, just like what yeast does to a loaf of bread. It happens when the pressure inside the oven drops and the temperature increases, causing the butane to boil out. If the material boils at a rapid pace, there is too much butane in it, and it is not ready to remove from the oven.
Extractors want the bubbles in the extract to pop on their own, the goal being to have them as sparse and large as possible. Bubbles with walls too thick to allow the butane to escape will need a slightly higher temperature to decrease the viscosity of the oil.
Step 4: Winterize the raw extract
The winterization, or "dewaxing," process happens after the butane is purged from the oil, creating a purer final BHO. In this step, technicians remove the undesirable waxes, fats, lipids, and chlorophyll in three main steps:
- First, the oil is mixed with ethanol and the mixture is frozen to allow the undesirable compounds to fall out of solution
- Next, the solution is passed through a filter that retains the waste products.
- Finally, the wax-free oil is distilled to remove the ethanol.
Step 5: Final processing to create different consistencies
Shatter has been considered by some to be the highest-tier extract. To get BHO in the consistency of shatter, the material must be placed in a vacuum oven for a long period at a low-heat setting. The oven should be about 98 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 36.67 degrees Celsius, and a pressure of at least -28 inches of mercury for anywhere between 24 to 36 hours. Extractors typically flip the slabs over at least once during this time. By the time extractors reach this stage, there are only traces of butane left in the final product.
Crumble can be made by whipping the BHO under the presence of a heated surface or when the BHO solution is placed in the vacuum oven between 110 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 and 57 degrees Celsius, for 24 to 72 hours.
Badder requires higher temperatures and agitation. The slab is placed in a vacuum oven at 115 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 46 to 60 degrees Celsius, and the solution whipped after it has been removed from the vacuum oven.
BHO sauce is not made using the same method that is typically applied to BHO extracts. For this one, 10 to 15 percent of the initial butane used to make the extract is left in the solution and stored in a pressurized vessel to allow the cannabinoids to start forming into small crystals. The heat and pressure applied can vary greatly among technicians.
The history of BHO
The '70s usher in a new era of hash making
Butane hash oil is hardly the first marijuana extract. Civilizations around the globe have been separating resin glands and trichomes from marijuana plants for thousands of years. By 900 CE, hashish had spread throughout Arabia.
Introducing an extraction solvent was a new innovation documented in D. Gold's 1971 publication, Cannabis Alchemy: The Art of Modern Hashmaking, which was the first time this procedure was explained for the general public. Gold's book supplied a how-to for homemade solvent-based extracts, as well as their mass production. However, at that time, butane wasn't used as a solvent. That would happen later, in the 1990s.
The use of butane: Indra B. Gurung and the Vaults of Erowid
The Vaults of Erowid, or www.erowid.org, was the ultimate online gateway to psychedelic knowledge in the '90s. The website contains in-depth information on drugs from LSD to cannabis.
On May 1, 1999, Indra Gurung (real name John Henry Davis) added instructions to the website on how to “turn trash leaf to honey oil in minutes.” This was the first time butane was mentioned as a solvent for cannabis extraction, and Gurung even patented his Oil and Fat Extraction Apparatus. What Gurung didn't foresee was the onslaught of accidents that followed the publication of his dangerous procedure.
Bottom line: Don't try this at home.
After Gurung contributed "Hash Honey Oil" to The Vault of Erowid, a do-it-yourself BHO-making frenzy followed.
"Open blasting" refers to cannabis concentrates made without a closed-loop system, which protects extractors by keeping the solvents contained. As amateurs attempted to create BHO concentrates in their homes, they would expose butane fumes to the environment of their makeshift lab, often causing explosions leading to serious or fatal injuries.
In addition to being extremely dangerous, homemade apparatus are also much less efficient. Even though open-ended systems can be assembled with relative ease, in the long run they're more expensive than a closed-loop system. It would take 80 standard-size canisters of butane to extract compounds out of 5 pounds of plant material, as opposed to the 32 canisters it would take in a closed-loop setup. Cost aside, open blasting is extremely dangerous and without the correct equipment, a recipe for an explosion.
Moreover, those that did survive creating their homemade BHO often rendered “poop soup,” a nickname for low-quality BHO extracts, filled with toxic mercaptan. When these extracts made it to market, consumers had no idea what they were getting due to uneven consistency. These oils were surrounded in mystery and full of contaminants, especially residual butane.
Safety and regulation
BHO continued to evolve, and soon extractors began using the appropriate equipment to prevent butane fumes from interacting with the environment. Closed-loop extraction changed the game for BHO. More cannabis companies outfitted their facilities with these types of machines, and today most legislators have made closed-loop production a requirement for licensed cannabis manufacturers.
Frequently asked questions
How strong is BHO?
The potency of BHO results primarily from the THC content in the original plant materials. A strain that is purer and stronger will result in a more potent BHO, while a strain with less THC will produce a less potent BHO.
Is BHO a shatter?
Shatter is one of several consistencies that BHO may take. Crumble, badder, and sauce are some others. Shatter is BHO only if it was produced through an extracting technique that used butane as the primary solvent, as opposed to CO2 or any other commonly used solvents. Any type of extract — shatter as well as others like wax, badder, and sauce — is considered BHO if it was produced using this technique.
What is BHO extraction?
A process that uses butane to strip cannabinoids, terpenes, and other cannabis compounds out of cannabis plant material. The plant matter is then removed, and the butane is purged, leaving behind a final substance containing high concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes.
What is a crude extract?
Crude refers to unrefined cannabis extract, or the oil produced from the initial extraction procedure. From there, the oil is either winterized for further refinement or decarboxylated and infused into products such as edibles, creams, and tinctures.
Are BHO and wax the same thing?
Wax is one of several consistencies that BHO extraction can render, but there are also many other types of concentrates made from BHO.
Can I eat BHO?
Though the chances of eating BHO with toxic amounts of residual butane are low, eating BHO won't produce the desired effects because the active cannabinoids, including THC and CBD, must decarboxylate to become active.