Understanding Propane Hash Oil (PHO) Extraction
As cannabis enthusiasts, we know that there are various extraction methods used to create concentrates like shatter, wax, budder, oil, and sap. These methods often involve solvents such as hydrocarbons like butane and propane, as well as ethanol and carbon dioxide (CO2). Some manufacturers prefer using propane exclusively to produce a range of concentrates known as propane hash oil (PHO). Propane has unique chemical properties that make it great for extracting a wide range of compounds, including the aromatic terpenes found in the plant’s trichomes. Let’s explore PHO dabs, how they’re made, and their safety.
What exactly is propane hash oil?
Propane hash oil, or “PHO” for short, is created using only propane as a solvent, which has a boiling point of -43.6ºF. This extremely low boiling point, compared to other solvents like butane, allows extraction technicians to separate more terpenes from marijuana during the extraction process and remove more of the solvent when purging.
PHO products can come in various consistencies, but most PHO extracts have a budder-like consistency. Cannabis budder is a concentrate with a creamy and pliable texture that’s easy to dab. While PHO can also come in other concentrate forms, you’ll most likely find softer consistencies of PHO. You can consume PHO in several ways, including using a dab rig or dab pen, or even in a joint or blunt.
Comparing PHO and BHO
Propane hash oil has a similar counterpart made from butane called butane hash oil (BHO). BHO is a type of cannabis concentrate created using the butane solvent instead of propane or any other solvent. Butane has a low boiling point (30.2ºF), but propane’s boiling point is even lower. PHO extraction also tends to run at higher pressures than BHO extraction, which helps preserve the strain’s terpenes and produce a lighter hue.
Extraction artists have noticed that 100 percent propane solvents extract fewer fats and lipids compared to butane extraction. However, propane extraction can be more unstable without proper distillation and purging procedures. For a skilled extraction technician, propane can help produce a lighter and more flavorful concentrate.
BHO, on the other hand, produces a broader range of concentrate consistencies, including hard shatter and wax consistencies. BHO can also create a full-spectrum product with a strain’s entire available compounds. Both solvents carry a similar risk of flammability but can be safe for use under appropriate conditions with approved equipment. As a result, some operators choose to blend propane and butane to achieve better yield and consistency.
Making PHO dabs is quite similar to making BHO concentrates since both solvents are hydrocarbons. The entire cannabis extraction process can take weeks and requires expensive extraction equipment and vacuum ovens to purge the residual solvent from the extracted product. Attempting to make PHO at home can be dangerous, as proper ventilation and gas detection systems aren’t available, and operators may not have the necessary skills.
In a professional lab setting with specialized closed-loop equipment, extraction technicians pass propane through a material column full of dried cannabis material, ranging from whole-flower buds to trim and leaves. As the nonpolar propane passes over the plant, the solvent dissolves the cannabinoids and terpenes responsible for the potency and aroma of a strain and separates them from the rest of the harsh plant matter.
After separating the cannabis resin from the rest of the unnecessary material, the concentrate undergoes a post-processing purge in a vacuum oven to evaporate any leftover solvent. Under normal atmospheric pressure, low temperatures help off-gas the propane into a vacuum pump and out of the PHO concentrate, leaving behind a pure and propane-free extract.
Is PHO safe to use?
Like many other solvents, there’s always a risk of a gas leak that can come into contact with a spark and lead to an explosion. Generally, PHO extraction is safe for extract manufacturers operating in a licensed facility that meets all state building and fire codes. A closed-loop extraction system approved by an engineer ensures no propane leaks out and, if it does, a failsafe system keeps the operators safe.
These systems are equipped with ventilation and gas detection systems that automatically turn off the equipment if a certain level of gas is detected in the room. The meticulous and time-consuming extraction and purging process produces a safe and effective product without any pesticides, heavy metals, or residual solvent.
PHO concentrates from licensed producers who lab test their products for contaminants are safe to consume. Lab testing ensures residual solvent levels are below a state’s cutoff limits, which aim to protect consumers from inhaling toxic by-products. With proper extraction and purging, PHO dabs are safe to consume.
How to enjoy PHO
PHO can be consumed in various ways, but one of the most common methods is to dab the concentrate using a traditional glass dab rig or an electronic nail (eNail). A dab rig resembles a bong with a mouthpiece and heating surface, but instead of a bowl, a dab rig has a nail that can be heated with a small blow torch.
Dabbing PHO can take some practice to properly decarboxylate the extract’s cannabinoids. Applying too much heat to the nail can burn away the terpenes, while not applying enough heat can leave behind unvaporized PHO liquid in the nail. An eNail takes out all the guesswork by allowing you to heat the nail to an exact temperature, using a heated coil attached to a controller device capable of heating up a nail quickly and consistently.
A dab pen is a portable and convenient way to enjoy PHO without a bulky dab rig. Dab pens or cartridges filled with PHO can be easy ways to consume the product without having to use a blow torch. Finally, PHO can be added inside or on top of joints, blunts, or bowls to give your smoking session an extra kick of potency.
While PHO isn’t as popular as BHO or CO2 concentrates, a handful of extraction technicians are harnessing PHO’s power to separate as many of the plant’s compounds as possible. As consumers, we should always ensure a PHO product is lab-tested and purchase from a licensed retailer. As one of the most potent products available, PHO can provide an intense and relaxing experience