When it comes to cannabis concentrates, there is a lot to know.
Recently, when considering cannabis concentrates as a viable option for safe medicating, I found that the variables involved in the production of the concentrate mattered nearly as much, as from which strain the concentrate was made. In other words, BHO is different from bubble hash, which is different from kief, that is not at all like Rick Simpson Hash Oil. Yet, all are recognized forms of cannabis concentrate and often get lumped together in the "concentrates" category.
I'll admit to being somewhat confused, at first, as to what each or any of the differences were. From my previous experiences, I had heard of and even seen some of the more common types before they became available at medical access points. I had always called anything of that nature "hash" as I had no real idea how the plant was processed to make the different types.
As I began to understand cannabis as medicine, I quickly found that the active ingredients (cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.) are located mainly in the trichomes. Further, I learned that removing these trichomes from the other plant material leads to a safer method of inhalation, owing to the lack of tar and other harmful compounds produced by burning.
Enter The DAB(on?). Okay, kinda cheesy Bruce Lee movie reference. Moving on. Dabs, to put it simply, are vaporizing collected trichome material and inhaling it. In common practice, this is done using butane hash oil or BHO and placing a small "dab" onto a heated surface and inhaling the resulting vapor by means of a pipe created for this purpose.
The result is a large dose of cannabinoids and terpenes quickly absorbed into the system. Depending on the amount of THC in the dab and the tolerance of the user, the effects can be quite powerful. I would certainly not recommend a high THC dab for an inexperienced user as the psychoactive effects can be uncomfortable. As a medicinal user with a high tolerance and a person who enjoys the psychoactive effects of THC, I strongly suggest a slow approach to using dabs and other concentrates.
Why dab at all? The best answer is because it's easier on my lungs than smoking flowers/buds. Another answer is, it's the fastest way to get large and measurable amounts of cannabinoids into my system. For me, those 2 answers are enough.
Although my list of benefits now outweighs the risks involved, it wasn't always that way. Especially with BHO, if I don't know who processed it, how much THC it contains, how or IF all of the butane was removed, and what material it was extracted from, I'm not likely to use it.
In Washington State, any of the BHO available at a licensed recreational cannabis store will have been tested for THC levels as well as residual butane and other impurities including pesticides. That is NOT the case with any of the "black market" products I've seen.
One of the producers I met who had been making oil for medical cannabis patients was kind enough to allow me to observe his process. I noticed that there were many steps and some specialized equipment involved. I wouldn't feel comfortable giving a tutorial on what all was done but there were some aspects I can easily relate.
First, it is important that the proper type of butane be used. The above picture is a brand of specialized "zero impurities" butane referred to as N-tane. It's worth noting that this isn't available in most stores that sell butane for lighter refilling.
Additionally, after the butane was run through the plant material, it was collected in a container and then placed into a vacuum chamber oven to remove the butane still trapped in the oil.
Since, I've been informed that parts of the process I saw have been changed to comply with new laws. I imagine this makes the process more complicated and or involves other specialized equipment. I have also seen youtube videos and heard horror stories that make this a "Don't Try This At Home" activity.
To sum up. Cannabis is a great medicine. Cannabis concentrates are a great way to use that medicine without some of the negative side effects. BHO is a reasonably safe product, IF it's made by someone who knows what they're doing. Buying BHO at a recreational cannabis store is probably the most safe way of getting it.
I love cannabis, I like dabs, I think both kinda have gotten a bad rap. I hope information and careful, responsible use can lead to a bit less misunderstanding of a wonderful plant.