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More Research Needed Regarding Solvents and Cannabis

Written by Cara Wietstock

Colorado changed their health standards in 2017 to allow much higher ppm levels of dangerous residual solvents in cannabis concentrates. Many avoid solvents because they believe that industrial solvents are hazardous to their health which is why tons of concentrate manufacturers prefer solventless options like rosin or bubble hash. Though this is an inherent feeling in many consumers, scientists laugh because a whiff of a butane Bic lighter will cause us to inhale more butane than an entire day of dabbing.

The US Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study in 1981 that found butane exposure for 10 minutes at 10,000 ppm causes drowsiness but had no systematic effect in humans. The average dab consists of anywhere from 10 to 20 mg of concentrates which obliterates the cause for concern since the acceptable Colorado ppm and the dosage make it somewhat impossible to be poisoned.

The Truly Dangerous Solvents

Though these butane levels leave no cause for concern, there is a problem with allowing xylenes and benzene. The problem is that these are an unwanted byproduct of the extraction process and are often left behind from cleaning equipment. Some worry that if we allow levels of these solvents we might open the door for careless methodology or low-quality products entering the market. At certain levels these solvents are unequivocally dangerous and at high concentrations over long periods of exposure they have been linked to tons of health conditions (irregular heartbeat, nausea, cancer, etc.).

In other contexts these solvents are highly regulated. Benzene is limited by the US EPA in drinking water to 0.005 ppm while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration limits exposure in the workplace to 0.005 ppm. Colorado’s concentrate limit is at 2 ppm and marks the most modest increase of the bunch.  The real issue to pay attention to is that there is zero research into the solvents and their relation to cannabis. Regulators and industry advocates fight to keep the residual solvent levels low but it isn’t based on research, there aren’t studies on how these solvents react when vaporized.

Aside from the desert that is research on this topic, the published scientific data that is out there is pulled from all sorts of different base information. Colorado and Oregon health agencies both looked into the pharmaceutical production guidelines to deal with residual levels while other studies scoured the effect of solvent exposure among industrial workers. But many think that simply relying on pharmaceutical guidelines will miss the point entirely. Some solvents are necessary to make certain drugs in a pharmaceutical context but they are not crucial to cannabis extraction. For example, there is absolutely no need for benzene in the process and therefore it should never be inside of a legal concentrate. The cannabis industry is one of a kind and may require an entirely new perspective when being regulated.

Time to Worry?

Without a proper understanding of how residual solvents interact with the plant it is impossible to properly react to Colorado’s new testing limits. Since no one is exactly clear on how these solvents behave it is hard to know exactly where to stand on the issue. Though nearly all Colorado extraction companies are still operating under the 2016 guidelines for solvents it is wise to take the time asking a dispensary how an extraction is made.

A consumer that is worried about these new limits will find it easy to avoid butane extractions and volatile solvents altogether in regulated markets. Rosin and bubble hash are solvent free products and some concentrates are extracted using carbon dioxide. It should also be mentioned that state regulators are aware of the huge gaps in relevant data and measure are being taken.

What happens in Colorado has been setting the standards in other states and these new residual levels should be highly understood before they’re accepted nation wide.

About the author

Cara Wietstock

Cara began working in the retail cannabis industry of San Francisco, CA in 2011 and continued in that sector for years. In 2015 she dedicated herself to writing full-time. Her passion for the written word and deep respect for the healing properties of the plant have brought her to Terpenes and Testing magazine. She now helps keep us on the cutting edge of scientific cannabis discovery as the Editor-in-Chief of the print publication.

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