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What are the risks of residual solvents? Here’s everything you need to know

Our first glimpse of what can happen when harmful or illicit contaminants are found in cannabis products occurred during ‘Vape…

Our first glimpse of what can happen when harmful or illicit contaminants are found in cannabis products occurred during ‘Vape Gate,’ the recent vape crisis that affected cannabis consumers across the Nation. Beyond knowing that Vitamin E acetate is a harmful ingredient and shouldn’t be contained in vape cartridges – now the spotlight has shifted to other cannabis solvents used during various extraction methods.

So, what do producers, manufacturers, testers, and consumers alike, need to know about leftover solvents in cannabis oil extracts and concentrates? We’ve put together your ultimate guide to the top risks of residual solvents, including regulations, side effects, and ways to avoid any issues with residual solvents testing.

What are residual or leftover solvents?

For specific extraction methods, solvents are used to isolate cannabinoids, terpenes, and compounds from the plant material – such as butane, propane or ethanol, and carbon dioxide. Even though the processes also allow for the removal of these solvents, this process isn’t perfect. There’s almost always a trace amount of leftover solvents in the final concentrate product.

How much residual solvent can be leftover and still safe for consumption is a matter of compliance testing and adhering to specific state regulations for regulated markets. Which highlights the overall risk of ever consuming a non-regulated or illicit vape cart, extract, or concentrate that hasn’t been through the residual solvent testing cannabis process. Let’s cover what California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) compliance testing allows for residual solvent analysis next.

Residual solvents regulations & compliance

All solvents in most states are classified in three different categories – Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3. These categories are based upon the toxicity of each solvent that’s included, with Class 3 being the lowest toxicity overall. With Class 1 and Class 2 solvents considered to be the most harmful, you may be wondering – how are they allowed in any amount at all? Some Class 1 and Class 2 solvents are by-products or impurities of Class 3 solvents, making trace levels almost impossible. An example is benzene, a Class 1 residual solvent, natural to butane or propane.

That’s why regulations restrict the PPM (parts per million) in residual solvent testing to limits that are under the threshold of causing harm when combusting (lighting) and inhaling the product. Here’s California’s accepted PPM for the most common cannabis residual solvents:

  • Butane: >5000 PPM
  • Propane: >5000 PPM
  • Hexane: >70 PPM for inhalable goods >290 for all others
  • Ethanol: >1000 PPM for inhalable goods >5000 PPM for all others
  • Benzene: >1 PPM

All limits in California coincide with the limits set by the FDA’s Good Manufacturing Practice guidelines.

Risks of residual solvents

To understand the importance of solvent analysis and residual solvent testing, you’ve got to understand the risks surrounding inhaling or consuming the solvents. Here’s a quick breakdown of the biggest risks that can occur regarding cannabis solvents in unregulated and untested products.

  1. Butane – The risks of butane are highly debated since the medical community is unsure of its long-term effects. However, the few studies on the dangers of butane do cite organ failure and cardiac issues from extreme high exposure.
  2. Ethanol – Ingesting small amounts of ethanol is unlikely to cause much harm, even over an extended period. On the other hand, inhaling ethanol could pose more harmful effects, according to a recent study. The study concluded that inhaling ethanol could cause dependence, tolerance, or cravings.
  3. Benzene – Benzene is a carcinogen that can negatively affect bone marrow, neurological, and immune system function. As for side effects, benzene can cause dizziness and drowsiness at high levels, or extended amounts of exposure may cause anemia or leukemia.
  4. Xylene – When vaporizing, xylenes can depress working parts of the central nervous system. Categorized as a ‘Class 2’ solvent, symptoms of overexposure to xylenes can include headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, amongst others.
  5. Hexane – Similar to xylenes, hexane is another Class 2 solvent that has comparable side effects. When inhaled, hexane can also inhibit the central nervous system’s functions and cause symptoms like headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting too.

Improving residual solvents testing

To improve your reputation and reliability across the industry, it’s essential to rigorously test your products for compliance purposes and quality assurance or R&D purposes. Beyond ensuring your product is safe to go to sale, internal quality assurance tests can review small batches of your extracted concentrate or oil products for residual solvents to see if you need to change or improve your processes and systems.

At LabPlex, we took the time to design and build the most state-of-the-art cannabis testing facility in California. Our mission is to serve our state’s marijuana brands and consumers’ needs with the most advanced solvent analysis for safe consumption. Plus rigorous, accurate testing altogether for the most premium product and experience. Rest assured, if your cannabis good is LabPlex tested – you’re treated to the highest quality of standards as a producer and consumer.

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