Concentrates issue: BHO Extractors

May 02, 2013 | WES ABNEY

The folks at Xtracted Labs break down quarantining, vacuum purgers and where two pounds of pot goes

bhoextract2.jpgOunce for ounce, the highest-end Cannabis concentrates are surpassing the value of gold. No, really. A gram of concentrate can fetch about $60, while the same amount of lowly old gold bars would cost you only $47.36 as of press time.

The drive to make an equally valuable product is likely the same desire that motivated ancient alchemists, who strove endlessly to turn lead into gold. Today, high-end Cannabis scientists are taking the by-product of a crop and doing just that.

Inside the Xtracted laboratory, trained technicians are using scientific methods to bring Cannabis concentrates to a whole new level.  

The Purpose Behind Xtracted

A YouTube search for “Making BHO” returns thousands of results, promising everything from ways to avoid purging to a quick-whip budder.

If it were up to Jim Anderson, co-founder of Xtracted, each clip would start with the warning “Do not attempt this at home.” The search term “BHO explosion” shows some shocking examples of what can happen when BHO — butane honey oil — creation goes seriously wrong.

A longtime Cannabis enthusiast, Anderson's partnership with Brent Miller and Ryan Abernathy developed out of the desire to clean up the concentrates industry, he said. Together they have built a top Cannabis extraction lab.

“We do all this because of passion, not profit,” Abernathy explained. “We are more interested in setting the standards for butane extraction than in the business of selling them.”

Only months old, the Georgetown lab is now constantly busy running extractions, which is exactly what they set out to do.

“We are extracting now for growers, for access points, and our own branded concentrates from our in-house gardens,” Anderson said. “It is amazing the interest that is resonating out of our small lab. Getting notoriety from other states, and it is all about the idea that there is a science behind this stuff.”

Their Scientific Process

When a Cannabis sample comes into Xtracted, an intricate and days-long process kicks into gear.

First, the sample is quarantined inside a deep freezer for three days. The lack of light and freezing temperatures inhibit bug or microbial growth, along with preparing the trim or bud for the extraction process. Next, the samples are weighed and logged into the system by means of an assigned batch number. This information is logged by the lab tech, who prepares the sample for extraction.

bhoextract3.jpg“During screening, we’ve found lots of random things,” Jim said with a smirk. “Beer caps, plastic ties, pieces of plastic gloves from trimming, different kinds of hair and a lot of stems. We sift through everything to ensure that only the desired Cannabis enters the system.”

Next, a lab tech weighs the amount of butane that will be used to run the batch. This is important, because after the BHO is processed, the gas will be weighed again. This ensures proper purging, and is part of the scientific method, Anderson said. The extractor is a closed system, meaning that the butane stays trapped inside, never venting. It will be recycled at the end, in a model of sustainability and environmental consciousness.

Next, the sample will be loaded into the system. The average starting size is two pounds of Cannabis, and it’s usually a blend of trim and buds. Once full, the container is subjected to a negative pressure vacuum, which enhances the flow of gas. It also ensures safety, because it allows zero oxygen or the possibility of a leak.

As the processing begins, the butane is pulled through the Cannabis sample, with the solvent process removing the potent part of the Cannabis — specifically the trichomes. Once it is finished running, the gas is weighed again, and the system depressurized. The sample is then poured ou of the extraction canister (see cover). It will be spread on the wax paper almost like a bread dough, and then allowed to settle for up to two more days before going into the vacuum purger.

A vacuum purger looks more like a microwave than vacuum, though you wouldn’t want to put food in one. Xtracted has digitally controlled units, which allow the user to program a specific temperature, pressure level and time periods. When the BHO is introduced to steady heat, the remaining gasses purge in the form of bubbles, and the vacuum pulls the butane out safely. Changes in time and heat can be the difference between shatter and wax, and are proprietary to each batch.

“Even when batches go to testing they are referred to as batch number, not as a strain or brand,” Jim said. “We often run test batches where we manipulate different elements of the process, all in the attempt to find the best possible product. The heaviest testing we’ve done was to ensure the lowest possible residual solvent levels.”

Their thin film and vacuum purging processes have proven effective, and the products coming out of Xtracted are almost always below 25 parts per million. They are also quality in taste and potency, as evidenced by the Williams Wonder Wax featured in last month’s edition of the Leaf. Even the Liquor Control Board has caught wind of the lab in its drive to implement I-502.

“When we had a walk through with the Liquor Control Board, they were blown away,” Abernathy said, beaming. “They couldn’t believe the science behind this.”

For Jim, erasing the stigma behind BHO “blasting” is the ultimate goal.

“If BHO becomes acceptable for recreational use, hopefully it will be from the time that the state LCB has spent inside out lab,” he said. “We want people to know that when BHO is made in a science-driven lab, that it is a safe product.”

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