Butane Hash Oil: The Medical Godsend and the Media Villain

For at least the past three years, every time a new cannabis scare story has emerged – particularly the periodic, hyperbolic wailing about ‘super-strength skunk’ – wry smiles have spread across the faces of legalisation activists. “Just imagine,” reformers have always pondered, “what the Daily Mail are going to do when they discover concentrates.”

Now those fears have finally come true, and the results have been only too predictable. The BBC have undertaken an investigation into explosions caused by the production of Butane Hash Oil (BHO), and have discovered that since 2014, at least 2 people have died and 27 have been injured in accidents linked to the drug.

The BBC’s investigation hit the news on the same day as a man from Glasgow was jailed for 6 years after his ‘drug lab’ exploded.

The popularity of BHO and other concentrates has grown rapidly in the past few years, partly because of their strength. Cannabis concentrates are produced in various ways, but the resulting drug is always essentially the same – an oil or ‘shatter’ consisting almost entirely of cannabinoids, terpenes, and the like, without the bulky plant matter getting in the way. As a result, a much smaller quantity of BHO is needed in order to achieve a high, when compared to traditional cannabis flowers.

The added strength does come with its own dangers, however, but interestingly not the ones typically associated with ‘super-strength’ cannabis. Usually, stories about high THC contents go hand in hand – in the British press at least – with wild claims about the dangers to mental health that allegedly go along with increased strength.

With BHO, though, the dangers are different, and real. This particular kind of concentrate is produced using butane, a highly flammable gas that is used as a solvent to extract all the good stuff from the cannabis plant. Obviously, this can be risky, especially if done in inadequately ventilated areas. Something as innocuous as a light switch being turned on can cause enough of a spark to ignite the gas and trigger a fireball, endangering the lives of those making it and anyone who happens to be in the firing line.

These dangers, as I’ve said, are not imagined. They are a genuine worry for people on all sides of the drug policy argument. But whereas the media inevitably paints those involved in tragic accidents as “stupid” and “selfish,” the truth is far from that simple. If anything, the selfishness and stupidity is coming from those who insist on keeping such activities illegal.

Global prohibition has singularly failed to control cannabis use in any form, and has succeeded only in making drug markets and use more dangerous. The same is true now with cannabis concentrates. Clandestine labs in people’s garages, producing BHO in the most dangerous way imaginable, is the direct result of the illegality of cannabis. A regulated market would allow for control and regulations that would, if not eliminate such practices altogether, certainly reduce the potential for harm.

Those who vilify the people producing BHO dangerously whilst ignoring the role played by drug policy, also display staggering selfishness by ignoring entirely the plight of those who use cannabis medicinally. BHO and other concentrates might just be a great way to get really high, really quickly for some people, but for those who rely on the medical benefits of cannabis it is in many ways a godsend. No one really wants to consume their medicine by setting fire to it and inhaling the smoke, and concentrates allow a new, efficient, method of consumption that is only made dangerous by the laws that hold it back.

Deej Sullivan
Deej Sullivan is a writer and activist from the UK. He regularly writes on drug policy and politics for NORML UK, the UKCSCs, London Real, Politics.co.uk and his own blog, www.thedomesticextremist.co.uk



  1. Lou says:

    Excellent article. I’m not huge fan of the butane method of producing concentrate simply due to the dangers involved. People should perhaps try making pastes – using high quality olive oil or coconut oil – instead until the cannabis movement facilitates real change. All the benefits, but none of the safety issues; you can make it safely in your kitchen and all you need to do to find out how is do a google search.

  2. Norman Boxshall-Smith says:

    Ingesting butane is contra-indicated for patients with cancer, rather use a high THC oil that has been extracted using a good quality grain alcohol!

  3. I saw this coming immediately I saw the article about BHO on the BBC I Thought “this is some thing they will vilify us for” but at the end of the day the making of another yet and undoubtedley more danderous to health drug, namely Alcohol, would have serious health consequences too if it was made at home BECAUSE it is distilled alcohol, which is highly volatile in the wrong circumstances, quite apart from what it does to ones liver and its extremely addictive nature.
    I am still perplexed as to why Cannabis is still illegal throughout the world apart from the USA, Canada, The Nederlands, Portugal and Eastern European country.
    David Cameron had appointed a drugs minister, I think to allow the U.K. to move toward legalisation,Ihave been using Cannabis all my adult life of 71 years with no consequences except having to face the knowledge that plod may arrest and jail me and or fine me for it.
    I am sucessful milionare business man can some one please tell me a rational reason why it is STILL Ilegal in the U.K.?

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