The case for legalizing extracts

In my last article I described visiting the BC Court of Appeal, and laid out some of the arguments for and against the legal extraction of medical cannabis in Canada. As we wait for a decision on my constitutional challenge, south of the border, in the U.S., there is a growing movement pressing for regulations that permit medicinal cannabis extracts. At the heart of this movement, a major cultural valve has been opened as reports from first experiments in legal cannabis regulation ripple out across the globe.

Colorado is making waves, becoming a hub for cannabis tourists who may spend a weekend touring cannabis farms, sampling the finest extract products, and relaxing with a medicinal massage. In Washington state, tours are a little more reserved. Kush Tourism takes participants to see glass blowers, trim flower buds, do some baking, and get a general education on the plant.

These states are serving as social experiments for the possibility of a new un-prohibited cannabis culture. Without the fear of prosecution, cannabis producers and manufacturers have unprecedented abilities to craft unique and novel products. The immediate surge in popularity of concentrated cannabis products shows us one thing we can expect in this 21stcentury cannabis revival. The process of making concentrated cannabis oil has been known for a long time but legalization has brought a new rigor to the cannabis chemist.

BHO, or Butane Honey Oil, is the most common and popular method of making concentrates, popularly known as dabs. Butane extraction introduces a toxic solvent and then attempts to remove, or purge, it at the end. Laboratories in California fail a BHO sample if the butane level is over 500 parts per million. For medicinal users, contamination with butane may be detrimental, even though most may already be getting a dose if they use a butane lighter.

If done poorly or without safeguards, the risks of making a solvent extraction include slowly poisoning yourself or blowing yourself up. Due to the growth of interest and the need for a greater understanding to prevent these occurances, companies like Extractiontek Solutions in Denver, Colorado are building and patenting safe and effective extraction machines.

Larger companies are using CO2 extraction to provide solvent-free cannabis oil, but the equipment prices are prohibitive. Meanwhile, the California Police Chiefs are attempting to ban physicians from recommending “high-concentrate derivatives such as Butane Hash Oil [a chemical derivative of marijuana that can contain 80 percent THC] to anyone” in their state, because of the risk of explosion and a perception that concentrates are the “hard liquor of marijuana.”

Considering that concentrates currently account for 40 percent of sales in some California dispensaries, a law that bans extracts could be overly punitive. It would make more sense to regulate cannabis and its concentrates under proper industry standards, and ensure oversight so that cannabinoid extraction could be done professionally in a controlled environment.

They’re clean and consistent

Extract producers are striving to ensure cannabis users have access to clean concentrates, as well as the proper tools to safely make their own. Secret methods, like that of BudderKing, have been revealed so that the growing numbers of interested people can emulate his techniques. I have written articles about some of the processes [pullquote align=”right”]The same idea of standardization is applicable to extracts, as the medicine can be blended into a more homogenous form. Patients have reported more consistent doses with extracts than with dried bud.[/pullquote]<> by which cannabinoids are extracted from the plant to remove contaminants like mold, residues, and unnecessary plant material. Fortunately, the trichome, which stores all of the cannabinoid compounds, is built to easily shed from the plant surface, making the job easier.

Companies like Top Shelf and Pink House, who supply extracts to dispensaries in Colorado, have the facilities to explore and develop the extraction process in greater detail. They use tools like a sonicator to break open the trichomes and a vortexer to stir the compounds in the solution to evenly distribute the cannabinoids. They “winterize” the extraction by keeping it at very low temperatures to isolate residual waxes that make up the shell of the resin glands. They then filter this before continuing the process.

After the filtration and removal of unwanted non-cannabinoid material, you are left with a hard glassy substance that melts into a resinous oil. A dab of this oil is plucked by a pin and placed on a heated plate on an often elaborate piece of glassware, sometimes called an “oil rig,” which resembles a bong.

When using a concentrate, little is needed to achieve a desired effect. When making edible products, a measured amount of extract can be mixed into a recipe, providing more consistent, long-lasting doses. Dispensaries provide extract products of varying strengths and with effects that are suited to each individual’s needs.

During growth, the resin is concentrated on the upper parts of the plant, closest to the light, and distributed unevenly among the flowers and leaves. This means that the dried buds you receive may differ slightly, as they originated from higher or lower branches. Prairie Plant Systems, who were the government’s licensed producer in Canada for the last decade, were criticized for blending their dried cannabis into a powder. They did this to evenly distribute and test for cannabinoids, keeping a mean THC level of around 12 percent.

The same idea of standardization is applicable to extracts, as the medicine can be blended into a more homogenous form. Patients have reported more consistent doses with extracts than with dried bud.

During my constitutional challenge in 2012, we attempted to more accurately classify cannabis under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as all products of the cannabis plant, including the resin and all the compounds within the resin; not just the “dried marihuana” that Health Canada permits. This challenge made it legal for patients and designated growers in my home province of B.C. to make extracts, and could eventually affect how cannabis is classified in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, which applies to all people in Canada. Similar cases in the U.S. are refining their cannabis laws to meet the increase in scientific understanding.

Available for those truly in need

In Arizona, the case of a young boy named Zander, who has severe epilepsy and uses a high-CBD edible cannabis oil, has led Judge Katherine Cooper to recently decide that:

“It makes no sense to interpret the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act as allowing people with these conditions to use medical marijuana but only if they take it in one particular form” … “Such an interpretation reduces, if not eliminates, medical marijuana as a treatment option for those who cannot take it in plant form, or could receive a greater benefit from an alternative form.”

Zander’s parents are among many in the U.S. and around the world who are seeking a new possible solution for their child’s life-threatening medical condition. Realm of Caring, a Colorado company that makes CBD-rich extracts, helps a growing number of families who have brought their children to Colorado to receive treatment for rare, life-threatening forms of epilepsy. These families are being forced to leave their home states as there is no adequate way to obtain the particular extract product they need for their child.

CNN’s Sanjay Gupta recently released the second edition of his documentary “WEED,” in which he follows the story of these medical cannabis refugees. In reference to her three-year-old child Hannah’s condition, mother Amber Loew says, “You’re living every day on the edge of your seat, not knowing if you’re going to have to rush to the emergency room”. The Loews and other families are desperately seeking to expedite the policy shift, as their children risk suffering severe developmental setbacks from their continuous seizures.

Their efforts are paying off as recently Alabama passed “Carly’s Law,” named for three-year-old Carly Chandler, and Georgia passed the “Haleigh’s Hope Act,” named for four-year-old Haleigh Cox. Each is intended to provide CBD-rich oil for children. This positive change in medical cannabis law continues to advance on the heels of tragedy. Utah governor Gary Herbert recently signed “Charlee’s Law,” giving people with intractable epilepsy access to CBD-rich cannabis oil, unfortunately only after its six-year-old namesake had passed.

The U.S. federal CDSA has come under fire, as it clearly needs some serious review. It classifies cannabis alongside substances with high abuse potential and no medical value. The hypocrisy grows clearer, as 20 states now have medical cannabis legislation, and the states of Colorado and Washington have now legalized its use for adults. Millions of dollars in tax revenue are now being collected by the cities and states that permit cannabis sales.

To eat or to vaporize

The federal Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations came into force in Canada on April Fools Day. A supposed improvement on the previous program, it prohibits personal [pullquote]Although the new Licensed Producers are not allowed to make extracts under the federal MMPR regulations, they are hopeful that the law will change in the near future.[/pullquote]medicinal gardens and excludes extracts. Patients in the program organized a national day of protest on April 1stto bring attention to these issues. Lawyers for the MMAR Coalition were successful in preventing the removal of personal cannabis production licenses and at trial they will get to argue the case for extracts.

Although the new Licensed Producers are not allowed to make extracts under the federal MMPR regulations, they are hopeful that the law will change in the near future. One LP, named Tweed, owns an abandoned Hershey chocolate factory and believes that “it would be a bit more compassionate if we could post process and provide people with […] other products, so that they can ingest it in different ways”.

In an interview on the CBC’s The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, CEO Bruce Linton said that “most medical patients never would smoke, they would use a steam-based vaporization, so what then they’re doing is releasing the oils, which are the active ingredients they want, without combusting the carbon and getting all the negatives of smoking.”

Contrary to the assumption that most would never smoke, vaporizing is still a new method of ingestion and carries its own challenges. From the simple jar and tube model, there has been a steady evolution of the vaporizer technology over the last decade, with the introduction of vapor bags, handheld devices, and more precise temperature gauges. Recently, vapor pens have become a common sight, as flavored water or glycerin is vaporized for recreational purposes and as an alternative to smoking cigarettes.

All this emerging technology requires some degree of orientation. The V-CBC vapor lounge is a place where patients familiarize themselves with the use of a vaporizer. Staff as well as club members show newcomers the basics of vaporization, as well as helping them learn finer details to target the particular cannabinoids they desire. The temperature gauges of vaporizers have varying degrees of accuracy, and some less sophisticated models require the user to pump the heat instead of sustaining it to avoid combustion. V-CBC has a digital volcano that allows you to set a particular temperature for vaporization.

In a learning environment

Ron Vanzetta is one V-CBC member who is helping medical cannabis users discover how to make the most of a vaporizer. Using data from (Russo & McPartland 2001) and supplementing it with updated information gathered from Wikipedia and other sources, he has made graphs and charts of the approximate temperatures ranges at which specific cannabinoids and terpenes vaporize as well as for what conditions certain cannabinoids and terpenes are shown in help.

Courtesy of Ron W. Vanzetta:  ©2014
Courtesy of Ron W. Vanzetta:

The dial is designed to fit the temperature gauge of the German-engineered Volcano type vaporizer. From 7-9 o’clock it shows the approximate temperatures at which cannabinoids decarboxylate. From 9-2 o’clock it shows the temperatures at it which some of the major cannabinoids vaporize. At 3 o’clock Benzene, a toxic gas is introduced. Beyond that, there are a few remaining cannabinoids, and finally combustion.

To obtain THCA and other compounds that are decarboxyized by the heat of the vaporizer, it is necessary to eat them. This is often done by putting the raw leaves into a juicer. The temperature can be adjusted to include compounds such as THC and CBD but exclude CBN, which some people find makes them dizzy or lethargic. To obtain THCV and CBC, and avoid Benzene, it may be necessary to make vaporized material into an edible product.
Although our knowledge of these tools and the dynamic whole plant effects of cannabis are still developing, Ron’s ingenuity and creativity represent the community spirit of the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, which strives daily to provide to its members. Ron has designed colorful tesseract balls that hang from the ceiling of the vapor lounge, informing about the properties of different cannabinoids.

Inventors continue to seek new ways of ingesting cannabis. A sublimator resembles a bong, but has a special kind of heating device that attaches to the medicine chamber. Instead of being vaporized, the cannabinoids are sublimated, transforming them directly from a solid to a gas. The sublimator, among other innovations, is slated to become a part of future cannabis users’ toolkits.

A culture that governments have attempted to eradicate, marginalize, and stereotype for many decades is slowly emerging from its protective shadows. Led by a need for this plant’s medicinal qualities, new voices are merging with the chorus, calling for compassion and reason. Under the spotlight, legal regulations are helping make breakthroughs as the stigmatization of cannabis users goes up in a puff of smoke. The long-entrenched underground is preparing to declare victory in the war on drugs.

However, in Canada, cannabis regulation is still in transition and turmoil. With recently introduced mandatory minimum sentences, and the attempted federal ban against home grow operations and extract production, patients are facing unfair pressure and stress. Compassion clubs and dispensaries are dedicated to helping patients wherever the federal regulations fail to provide for their needs. Some of these groups have been in operation for over fifteen years, despite the threat of prosecution.

As these groups grow and join forces, improvements are inevitable. Dispensaries are currently assisting patients participate in the Canary Project, which seeks to learn more about how the new federal regulations of medical cannabis in Canada are impacting patients. Find out more about the Canary Project <> and visit <> and leave a question or comment.


By Owen Smith


1. VIDEO: A look inside Seattle’s first legal pot tour




3. Law Would Ban Potent Marijuana ‘Concentrates’ in California


4. Bill to Ban dabs in Cali


5. VIDEO: The Art & Science of Cleaning Concentrates, Part Two: Organic Budder




7. In Defense of Dabs


8. Maricopa judge allows medical use of marijuana extracts


9. Family moving to obtain medical marijuana for 3-year-old


10. Utah governor signs ‘hemp supplement’ bill




12. VIDEO: High expectations for Tweed medical marijuana business


13. (Russo & McPartland 2001) Cannabis and Cannabis Extracts: Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts


14. NORML / MAPS Study Shows Vaporizers Reduce Toxins in Marijuana Smoke