Making cannabis concentrates, such as hash oil, wax, shatter and honeycomb, is a tedious process that must be completely with the utmost precision. For individuals who aren’t familiar with the extraction process, it can also be very dangerous. That’s because butane hash oil (BHO), as the name implies, requires large amounts of butane for extraction.
Butane is a colorless, extremely flammable gas. Outside of cannabis extraction, it can be found in liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), synthetic rubber and more commonly in lighters as fuel. At concentration levels between 2-8 percent, it can turn flammable. Because of this, proper equipment must be used in the cannabis extraction lab to prevent combustion.
Class I, Division 1 Equipment
Ignition sources in an indoor cannabis extraction facility can come from virtually any unprotected electrical source. You don’t necessarily need to flick a lighter or turn a burner on to set off a flammable gas. Theoretically, a tiny spark is all it takes to ignite a volatile substance at highly concentrated levels. This means that most lights, switches, fans and ventilation systems from local appliance or hardware stores are not suitable for such facilities. For full protection (and peace of mind) when handling butane, explosion proof equipment must be installed in a proper lab..
Liz Greusel, Laboratory Manager for Cresco Labs, the largest medical cannabis producer in Illinois, explains that in her lab, they check and recheck equipment.
“For both Butane and CO2 extractions we check all fittings and seals prior to extraction to assure that equipment can withstand a pressurized and temperature altered environment. In some instances, certain fittings have to be tightened further and some seals need to be cleaned or replaced. Once equipment is deemed in operation, we check seals again to assure we have no leaks throughout the system.”
According to Greusel, this is because,
“The environment we are extracting in is a Class 1 Division 1 enclosure that is static and spark resistant; this enclosure also has a steady airflow throughout to mitigate the chance of solvent building up in the environment. Our equipment was built for exactly how it is being used, and the environment we extract in has all safety features needed to prevent any accidents.”
Explosion proof refers to a special design that prevents sparks or ignitions from escaping the unit, where it can interact with a flammable gas and cause deadly combustions. The National Electric Code (NEC) governs the classifications of explosion proof protection, based on dangerous elements floating around in the location: Class I (vapors and gases), Class II (dust) and Class III (fibers). Butane falls under Class I, Division 1 and 2 Group D.
Division 1 is reserved for locations where hazards are known to exist under everyday operating conditions. Division 2 locations are environments that could contain flammable vapors or gases (Class I) under special circumstances, such as accidents or equipment malfunction.
Safety and Compliance
From a cost perspective, explosion proof equipment is more expensive to acquire than mainstream, non-classified variants. However, businesses that produce BHO on a commercial level must install Class I, Division 1 or 2 components – depending on the configuration of the applicable room – in their lab in order to comply with operational regulations. In Colorado, the Denver Fire Department under the Fire Prevention Division, using the the Denver Fire Code (DFC), governs the application of explosion proof equipment for cannabis extraction facilities.
In addition to equipment and environment safety compliance, the technicians at Cresco Labs are thoroughly trained, according to Greusel.
“They must follow strict Standard Operating Procedures and record all processing parameters to assure each extraction is performed in our controlled and established method.”
Unlike the high-tech requirements of a professional extraction lab, Greusel admits, “Home extractors are more likely than not piecing together equipment that was not intended to be used for these kinds of extractions, are not operating in an environment with the safety features we have in place here to assure technician and facility safety, and are not following a well-established procedure.”
As mentioned earlier, butane is dangerous when it pools in low areas (since it’s heavier than air). To prevent build up, one could either perform extractions outdoors, where accumulation would be difficult to achieve or set up an active ventilation system indoors. A light gust of air is all that is needed to force butane to scatter.
Is it worth going through all this trouble for BHO? Yes! Wax and shatter being sold at dispensaries, with 55-92 percent THC, are some of the most powerful cannabis concentrates available today. Manufacturing BHO should never be attempted at home and should always be left to experts who understand the dangers involved in the extraction process.