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The Dangers of Solvent-Based Concentrates

Concentrated cannabis curls up into a twisted design.
Photo courtesy of Steephill Lab


The Dangers of Solvent-Based Concentrates

Back in 1996 when California passed Prop. 215, which made the state the first to legalize cannabis for medical use, the idea of residual solvent testing, threshold- and standard- setting, or even the current popularity of cannabis concentrates was a figment of our collective imagination.

However, 18 years later, the differences between our unregulated market for medical cannabis concentrates and the markets in states like Washington and Colorado are stark.

Colorado strictly regulates residual solvent testing, whereas in California, in many cities and counties, untested cannabis products of all kinds are widely available at legal dispensaries.

Recent social media buzz in regards to a nearly across-the-board failure to produce medicine free of neurotoxic solvents at a concentrate competition in Los Angeles has sparked a fierce debate on this issue.

If you are lucky enough to find a collective or dispensary in California that does test their concentrates not just for cannabinoid and terpenoid content but also for mycotoxins and microbiological agents, pesticides and residual solvents, it is important to find out who tests their medicine, and how it is done (which testing methodology is used).

An additional variable is the selection of samples.  Often when solvent-based concentrates are produced they are unstable, and a “better-looking” sample may be selected for testing depending on the motivations of the tester.

Additionally, each dispensary is then left responsible for setting its own thresholds for human exposure, placing this responsibility in the hands of individuals or groups who may not understand the long-term and environmental health effects of butane, hexane, neopentane and the other common contaminants in commercially available canned butane.

When properly produced with N-butane in a closed-loop system, or made with another clinical-grade solvent that is completely removed upon extraction, solvent-based concentrates can be fantastic.

However, to knowingly expose yourself or others to chemical and possibly neurotoxic contamination, especially in the guise of medicine, is irresponsible and reprehensible.

As a public health professional working in this industry, despite my lack of clinical training, I steer patients away from solvent-based concentrates as hard as I can.

The State of California’s lack of regulation of cannabis concentrates for medical-retail sale can only work against the health of our patients and our communities. Colorado and Washington’s standard setting are an improvement on our system but are they enough? As a viable alternative, I recommend water hash dabs; given safe access to good full melt, they can be even more effective.

Do you use solvent based concentrates or do you prefer dabbing water hashes? Tell us in the comments below!

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