CO2 vs BHO
If you look at olive oils on a grocery store shelf, you will see labels advertising ‘first pressed’ or ‘cold pressed’ amongst others. Clearly there is a difference in taste and quality in olive oil production methods. Cannabis oil follows this same logic.
Cannabis oil has the same quality issues of production as olive oil, but there is a lot more at stake as you will read. Currently the two most common means for making cannabis oil are C02 and BHO extraction methods. While both create oils currently on the market, they are quite different in terms of safety for maker and user as well as finished product.
We seek after the cannabis plant not for its roots, stems, or leaves, but for the glistening trichome glands that line the leaves and cover the flower buds. In truth, most of the plant is disregarded. So whichever process a licensed producer is going to use, they need to separate the trichomes from the rest of the plant to create oil concentrates. How they do the separation/extraction is the issue at hand.
CO2 is a naturally occurring gas in our atmosphere that only poses a health risk when it replaces too much oxygen. Outside of that, it is harmless and causes no breakdown of the human body. It is an interesting gas; in that when it is put under pressure, it becomes a liquid with gas like properties.
With the right equipment, that liquid property can be used to flush the trichomes free of the cannabis plant. Then, it’s as simple as releasing pressure to convert the CO2 back to a gas leaving behind the separated trichomes. While the setup requires a system with different chambers and tubing, not only can the CO2 be recycled and used again, but the end product is completely safe to make and consume.
Along with safety there is also quality. By configuring pressure levels this extraction method can be very precise. For example, by altering the pressure unwanted parts of the oil, such as chlorophyll, can be removed making the oil purer and better tasting.
BHO stands for Butane Hash Oil. As it says in the name, heated butane is used to wash over the cannabis plant to extract the trichomes. This method is popular because the initial outlay is cheap and can be done small or large scale.
The popularity comes with a different cost though- safety. While people do use butane rigs at home, butane is highly flammable and under pressure can explode. Hence, home fires do and will continue to happen.
Fire and flammability is one part of butane, but the other is toxicity. Using butane to extract puts the workers at risk of inhalation and the ensuing dangers to the heart and lungs. Users are also at risk. Even with the best flushing possible, it is impossible to remove all the butane. Butane residue remains to be ingested.
That’s safety, but what about quality? Yes, butane is good at getting high THC levels. No, it’s not as good for maintaining terpenes because of the burning heat used.
BHO is cheaper to start up, but outside THC levels fails on full-spectrum and safety. CO2 has a higher beginning cost, but since the gas can be reused over and over again has less continual costs, and it wins hands down on greater spectrum and health.