Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News

Wax Is Weed’s Next Big Thing And No One Knows If It’s Safe

California dispensaries say butane hash oil, or “wax,” now accounts for 40% of sales — despite potential health risks and home lab explosions on the rise. With no regulation and a lack of good information, stoners turn to self-appointed, and self-interested, “experts” like Matt Rize — but at what cost?

Django Broomfield wasn’t even supposed to go to the pot shop that day. It was his wife’s birthday, back in January 2013, and he should have been spending the day with her, but one of the Northern California dispensaries where the longtime marijuana grower sold his seeds had called that morning, asking for a re-up.

So Broomfield headed over, completely unaware of the fact that he was about to bump into Matt Rize.

The last time they’d seen each other, nine months earlier, Rize had accused Broomfield of selling an unsafe product and gotten him fired from managing another dispensary. In the intervening time, Rize sent out hundreds of messages warning people in the cannabis industry to avoid Broomfield.

He’s a dangerous guy, Rize told anyone who would listen. And the hash oil that he’s selling will make you sick.

Broomfield had done his best to ignore the smear campaign, blocking Rize on Facebook and Instagram, but now Rize was here, in person, calmly buying edibles with his girlfriend.

“Hello, Matt,” Broomfield said, visibly flustered.

“Hi, Django. Nice to see you.”

Broomfield turned around, walked out to his car, took something out of his trunk, and waited. After months of Rize trashing Broomfield and his product online, seeing Rize in person, smug and acting like nothing had happened, was infuriating.

The dispensary, Peace in Medicine, stands at the northwest corner of a Sebastopol strip mall that looks like a frontier-town train depot, populated by barnlike buildings in sage-green clapboard siding, with rust-red accents, engraved wooden signs, and corrugated metal roofs.

When Rize and his girlfriend walked outside, they saw Broomfield standing next to Rize’s Prius. It wasn’t until they were almost at the car, however, that they noticed Broomfield was holding a 18-inch-long metal bar. Rize swiveled and took off running, with Broomfield close behind.

“I was going to beat the crap out of him,” Broomfield told BuzzFeed News.

He chased Rize around the plaza and threatened to hit his girlfriend, but when Rize called the police — the last thing anyone in the drug business is supposed to do — Broomfield jumped in his car and took off.

This is how product safety disputes sometimes get settled in the barely regulated marijuana market. In the past five years, no product has perplexed, mesmerized, and divided the cannabis world quite like the increasingly popular and incredibly potent form of concentrated marijuana known as butane hash oil, or BHO. Demand for the intense high BHO delivers has birthed a massive underground industry, with federal and state governments at a loss for how to regulate it and potheads and entrepreneurs accidentally incinerating themselves trying to make it. Several pot-shop owners in California, where selling BHO is legal but making it is not, told BuzzFeed News that it now accounts for about 40% of sales. But while many stoners take BHO’s presence on dispensary shelves as a sign that it is just as safe as weed itself, others find the noxious goop inherently suspicious, and the people who are making, selling, and regulating hash oil admit they know very little about the product.

As the cowboy entrepreneurs who built the cannabis industry step out of the shadows, no one is quite sure which companies, practices, and products will survive the transition to legitimacy.

There is hardly any peer-reviewed research on cannabis, and absolutely nothing on BHO. Marijuana is undergoing an awkward transition between an illegal drug and a mainstream pharmaceutical product held accountable for quality and side effects. In the absence of trustworthy information, unbiased experts, and an effective regulatory scheme, stoners are left with self-appointed whistleblowers like 33-year-old Matt Rize, whose concern for public health conveniently coincides with his bottom line. Over the past few years, this frenetic and sarcastic know-it-all has become famous in marijuana circles as butane hash oil’s most vocal critic, the one person warning consumers about its potential risks — except for when it comes to the butane hash oil that he himself is now making.

That stuff, he says, is perfectly safe.

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News

For as long as humans have been aware of the psychoactive powers of cannabis, we have been trying to create more efficient ways to get stoned. The marijuana of today has been bred for THC content, and regularly tests at potency levels of 15–20%. And yet as recently as the 1970s, most pot was less than 5% THC, which meant that turning weed into hash was one of the only ways to guarantee a long-lasting buzz.

Unlike sieved hash, records of which date back as far as the 13th century, or black blocks of pressed hash, which turned up around the 16th century, hash oil seems to have been a 20th-century invention. In 1970, after American hippies had been smuggling hash home from abroad for almost a decade, a group called The Brotherhood of Eternal Love set up hash oil factories in California and Afghanistan. But by the end of the decade, mass production had ceased.

In his 1998 book Hashish!, marijuana historian Robert Connell Clarke described hash oil as causing health problems, saying, “Knowledgeable Cannabis users feel that making hashish oil is overkill, and simply a method for passing low-quality Cannabis products off on unsuspecting and uninformed consumers.”

Rize first tried hash oil in Milwaukee in the late ’90s, when he was a rebellious, tie-dye-wearing high school student named Matthew Ritz. He was already growing pot in his closet and using the silk screens he’d found in his grandmother’s garage to sift out a more traditional form of marijuana concentrate, now known as “kief” or “dry-sift.”

Then a friend found instructions on Overgrow.com, an early marijuana web forum, about how to use butane to spin their schwag, or low-grade weed, into gold.

All they had to do, the Overgrow thread explained, was release a canister of lighter fluid over a pipe stuffed with marijuana, and they would chemically wring every drop of psychotropic and palliative compounds out of the plant. Throw the snotlike result in a Pyrex dish on top of some boiling water on the stove to purge out the residual butane, and voilà! A product that’s over 60% THC.

“It tasted terrible, and it was the strongest thing I had ever smoked in my life,” Rize said. “I was like, I hope nobody finds out about it, because it’s fucking strong and we made it from garbage.”

As a junior in the chemistry department at North Carolina’s Warren Wilson College, armed with a master key to the lab, Rize decided he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experiment with hash oil extraction on professional equipment. He started coming in late at night, when no one else was there.

“I thought it was butane that was the problem,” he said, “[so] I kept trying to do it with different solvents.” He poured or released whatever was lying around — hexane, ethanol, ether, isopropyl alcohol — on his cannabis, just to see what would happen. Most of it was gross, and he still preferred his private stash of sieved hash to hash oil.

Rize didn’t see or smoke other people’s hash oil until 2009, when he moved to Northern California and started working at the Peace in Medicine dispensary.

“All the employees smoked BHO, and they treated it like crack,” Rize said. “No one would talk about how they made it, and they were all like, ‘Don’t tell the patients about it. It’s too powerful. Only sell to the patients if they bring it up.’”

The quasi-legal medical marijuana market in California had been booming since 2003, when the state passed a law allowing dispensaries to distribute weed to anyone with a doctor’s prescription. With more cannabis being sold, it was only a matter of time before the farmers figured out that BHO was the best way to profit off of their trim — the leaves and stems that are too weak to smoke.

In the early aughts, when hash oil was still an obscure fad among those who worked with pot, those caught making BHO in California were given the minor charge of marijuana processing. Then, in August 2008, an appeals court decided butane extraction is so prone to causing an explosion that it should be prosecuted under a statute written for methamphetamine and PCP labs. Anyone caught extracting could now be sentenced to up to seven years in prison.

The change did little to stop BHO from spreading. After all, lighter fluid is cheap, and in Northern California, trim is plentiful. And once pipe makers began mass-producing the new equipment and tools necessary to vaporize hash oil, around 2009, the drug began to get popular outside of the insular world of those who had turned cannabis into a profession.

Soon, instead of throwing trim away or cooking it into butter for edibles, more cultivators were selling it to whichever BHO chemist could pay the most. To conceal the use of butane and legitimize the drug’s variety of textures and colors, dispensaries came up with names for every possible consistency, ranging from the sheet of brittle, translucent amber known as “shatter” to the golden sap known as “honey oil” to the soft green fudge known as “budder.” Many people, however, refer to all BHO as “wax.”

Hash oil also began serving as a form of crop insurance, as growers found they could recoup their losses on any moldy, mite-infested, or unattractive cannabis by making it into hash oil.

“Moldy weed does not become moldy shatter,” said David Babtkis, who makes BHO under the brand StuckUp Extracts. “The majority of growers that come to me come to me when they fuck up their crop.”

But because hash oil manufacturing remains illegal almost everywhere, the majority of self-styled “extraction artists” make their own as unsafely as Rize did in high school: dripping out of an open-ended tube in a steady stream that Babtkis compared to the sound of someone peeing, and allowing invisible, flammable butane gas to escape into the air.

During the year he worked at Peace in Medicine, Rize said he started to hear rumors about how easily this process, called “open blasting,” could cause an explosion. However, firefighters weren’t yet trained to recognize the signs of a hash oil lab, so few were reported that way. Rize said he even heard that one of Peace in Medicine’s suppliers had had a fire at his home (Peace in Medicine denied this in an email).

With thousands of BHO tutorials now posted online, every state that has legalized or decriminalized marijuana is arguing internally over how and whether to stop people from making hash oil at home. Plant extraction is a complicated process understood best by chemists with advanced degrees, but nearly all of the people making hash oil have no chemistry background whatsoever, and therefore very little understanding of what they are actually doing.

Even in Washington and Colorado, which began regulating hash oil and offering licenses to extract in 2014, weed is so widely available and BHO so simple to make that many people choose to make their own. Though there are now a handful of licensed extraction labs in Washington and a few hundred in Colorado, including popular brands like TC Labs and Mahatma, butane explosions in both states are on the rise. Nationwide, hundreds of BHO-related fires occurred in 2014, up from dozens in 2013. According to Special Agent Gary Hill, who led a handful of raids on BHO labs in San Diego last summer, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has no idea how to disincentivize people from doing something so easy and so cheap.

When home meth lab explosions became a problem a few decades ago, the DEA made it almost impossible to access precursor chemicals like methylamine, which is what Walter White and Jesse Pinkman siphon out of a freight-train tanker on Breaking Bad.

“But a pipe? Butane gas? I mean, that’s virtually impossible to regulate,” Hill said. “We wish we could.”

Even though he himself had studied chemistry for only three years in college, Rize said he grew more and more alarmed about the idea of people with no scientific background doing advanced analytical chemistry in their houses. This should be done in a proper laboratory, he thought. And why would anyone release lighter fluid over weed to extract the THC, he said, when there were more natural ways to separate the THC-rich resin glands from marijuana?

Though sieving and pressing hash had long since fallen out of fashion, in the 1990s hash makers began vigorously stirring marijuana in ice water to loosen the resin from the buds and then pouring the mixture into several layers of nested mesh bags. Eventually this created a dust that was even more potent than sieved hash and could be smoked on its own or sprinkled on top of a pipeful of pot for an enhanced high.

Rize began devoting all of his time to making water hash after being fired from Peace in Medicine in the middle of 2010. It frustrated him to no end that hash oil, which he saw as a nasty, inferior product, was making more money than hash. So he decided to figure out how to make ice-water hash that had the same look, feel, and cost as BHO.

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News

Maybe you’ve seen people at concerts or bars discreetly taking hits of hash oil in vaporizer pens, but serious stoners consume BHO by doing “dabs” — dropping globs of hash oil onto a surface that’s been heated electronically or with a propane torch, and then inhaling the resultant vapor through a bonglike device called a rig. Even a small dab packs the same punch as smoking a fat joint by yourself in 10 seconds flat, and the process looks more like smoking crack than what smoking cannabis has long looked like to most Americans. Back before vape pens became popular, Rize thought the act of dabbing itself was part of hash oil’s appeal.

“It instantly vaporizes, it gets you higher than you’ve ever been, and it feels like fucking drugs,” he said. These days, hundreds of accounts on Instagram, the weed world’s social media platform of choice, are devoted to young men and women dabbing and provocatively exhaling for the camera.

Rize spent months in the middle of 2010 tinkering with existing water-hash technology and ultimately created one of the first forms of water hash that could be dabbed. He achieved this effect by collecting the granules in a folded piece of parchment paper and pressing them together into a dab with a hair straightener or a hot knife. And while most water hash at this point was black or brown, Rize figured out how to make his into a light golden color, just like high-quality hash oil.

He called his water hash “ice wax,” and brought a jarful to Peace in Medicine, hoping to charge more than he had before.

“Unless you make a brand, and have a following, and deliver these prepackaged and labeled, I can’t pay you more,” he said the buyer told him.

It was then that Matthew Ritz decided he needed to create a new persona for himself, one that proved he was smarter and better than everyone else in the cannabis industry. He began posting online under the name “Professor Matt Rize” as a way to highlight his chemistry background and the fact that he taught a few classes at an outpost of Oaksterdam University, an Oakland-based school for marijuana cultivation, business, law, and science.

At first, he came off as earnest and friendly, putting ice-wax tutorials on YouTube and every cannabis website he could find. He felt he had invented something new and special with this dab-able water hash, and everyone in pot should sit up and take notice.

But in the brusque world of anonymous internet forums, where members of the cannabis community had been comparing notes and talking shit for many years, his naked self-promotion didn’t last long. It was like a home brewer was trying to post photos of his latest batch on the internet and claim his beer was better anything sold by a well-known craft brewery.

“He was trying to write himself into history. People would tell him to go fuck himself,” said Marcus “Bubbleman” Richardson, a Canadian hash maker who became famous in the 1990s as one of the first to mass-produce the mesh bags necessary for water hash. High Times published a handful of fawning profiles and photo spreads illustrating the high-quality water hash Bubbleman’s bags could produce, and to this day some people still call water hash “bubble hash,” in honor of Richardson.

So Rize turned to scare tactics. Instead of trying to claim his innovations were just as good as that of established hash makers like Bubbleman, he compared himself to the backyard chemists making BHO. In the context of the centuries-long history of hash, Rize was still a nobody. But when he positioned himself as an activist and compared his water hash to hash oil, the stuff he was making looked a lot safer, and his following grew. He called anyone who open-blasted a “BHOtard,” and said that the homemade hash oil on dispensary shelves had a lot more residual butane in it than anyone realized.

Instagram celebrities like @DabulousChandler gain followers with photos and videos of themselves dabbing BHO. (She boasts nearly 37,000.)

Back then, no one had any idea whether he was right or just being self-serving. But now, according to the chemists who have since analyzed hash oil samples, it’s clear Rize’s suspicions were correct.

“We see stuff that is dripping with residual solvent. It’s running with it, literally dripping — more contaminants almost than product,” said University of California, Davis, analytical chemistry professor Don Land, who works with a major Northern California–based marijuana-testing lab called Steep Hill Laboratories.

No one is quite sure how many parts per million of butane, if any, might be safe to leave in hash oil. Steep Hill’s chief research officer, Kymron deCesare, who also oversees all of the analytical chemistry labs at UC Davis, said that the recommended Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) numbers that exist for butane inhalation refer only to exposure in a work environment over the course of an eight-hour shift.

“You can’t apply those numbers to this,” he said, referring to dabs. “We’ve never done the studies on what happens if you’re inhaling a higher concentration than is allowed, a hundred or a thousand times as much as the limit, and you’re doing it repeatedly, over and over again, in a very intense, momentary way.”

Rize played on anxiety about BHO’s appearance by reposting photographs of any opaque or green wax, saying anything that looked like that was poisonous “poop soup,” full of butane. The only way to stay safe, he argued, was to avoid butane altogether and stick to dabbing his ice wax.

To his thousands of Instagram and Facebook followers, Rize seemed like a rude but trustworthy chemist looking out for their safety. But for those making BHO, he was an asshole who cared only about painting their products as unsafe in order to sell more ice wax. A guy named Daniel de Sailles, whose Top Shelf Extracts Rize mocked mercilessly, made a video portraying Rize as Hitler, adding subtitles over a scene from the 2004 German film Downfall.

But Rize’s plan to get attention by bashing BHO worked, and soon everyone in weed knew his name.

In the fall of 2011, a friend connected him with Broomfield, who had just started managing a dispensary called Collective Conscious Apothecary (CCA) and wanted Rize to make ice wax for him.

Until it closed this past January, CCA operated out of a forest-green building in the town of Hopland, over an hour north of Rize’s home, where the 101 freeway turns into a two-lane street surrounded by mountains and redwoods and Mendocino County begins. In Mendocino, the vineyards can be seen from the road but the marijuana farms are concealed in state-owned forests or down long dirt roads, hours from civilization.

Broomfield provided Rize with trim to turn into the ice-water hash that would be sold at CCA, and the two men split the profits. But Broomfield was also giving trim to a guy named Vernon Phillips, whose Phillips Rx–branded BHO won High Times’ Cannabis Cup awards in 2010 and 2011, back when the concentrates category was new and only a handful of people were competing. These days, hundreds of individual extract artists offer samples of their stuff to the Cannabis Cup.

By late 2011, Broomfield told BuzzFeed News, CCA was making about $6,000 a week, and the Phillips Rx BHO went for $100 a gram. (Marijuana typically goes for $15–25 a gram.) According to Broomfield, Rize was pissed because he had to share trim with Phillips when he wanted it all for himself.

Rize said he and Phillips were more like frenemies. Even though he spent his days trolling extract artists, Rize respected Phillips for putting his name on his product before others did and for producing his BHO with a closed-loop extractor, which is an expensive, stainless steel apparatus standard in other plant extraction industries, such as aromatherapy oils made from lavender or mint. By trapping the spent butane to later be recycled or released into the atmosphere, a closed-loop extractor significantly decreases the chances of an explosion.

Outside of the licensed labs in Colorado and Washington, very few extract artists use closed-loop extractors.

“I have the equipment to do it,” one major California extract artist told BuzzFeed News. “But it takes 10 times longer.” Other extract artists insisted that open blasting can be done safely indoors. All of the professional chemists that BuzzFeed News spoke with disagreed with that claim.

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News

Then, Rize said, his friends and the patients at CCA who were dabbing Phillips’ BHO started to get sick.

“All my friends were all having weird panic attacks from it. Everyone had chronic bronchitis. Everyone had a really nasty, phlegmy deep cough,” Rize said. “The general opinion was … no matter how poorly made it is and butane-rich it is, none of that matters because weed is medicine, and I just strongly disagree with that on, like, every level.”

Rize said the final straw was the night he gave Broomfield a ride to Phillips’ house and saw for himself how Phillips was making his BHO. Yes, he was using a closed-loop extractor, but he was purging out residual butane by dumping his hash oil into boiling water.

About two years ago, when Steep Hill Laboratories began testing BHO for residual butane, they found that extract artists using boiling water to remove excess lighter fluid were producing hash oil that was about 2–5% butane, or as much as 50,000 parts per million. The legal limit for residual butane in state-certified hash oil labs is 500 ppm in Washington and 50 ppm in Colorado.

But most of the hash oil consumed in the United States is made outside of those labs. Still, in the past few years, “purging” out most of the butane in a vacuum oven has become standard among brand-name hash oils, partly as a result of Rize’s social media activism. The longer it stays in the oven, the more butane is removed.

However, convincing extraction artists to completely eliminate residual butane is not easy, because the temperature and pressure needed to get below about 1,000 ppm also starts removing the organic compounds known as terpenes and terpenoids, which contain the flavor and smell of the original weed. Many BHO consumers also believe that terpenes and terpenoids serve a medicinal purpose. (There is no scientific evidence one way or the other.)

Certainly BHO with amounts of butane over about 2,000 parts per million can lead to the nasty taste and nauseating high Rize described Phillips’ BHO as having. Rize also became obsessed with how he said Phillips was cleaning his butane between runs, using aquarium charcoal instead of regular charcoal.

So in early 2012 — almost a year before Broomfield charged after Rize with a pipe — Rize came to CCA, the dispensary where Broomfield sold Rize’s ice wax and Phillips’ BHO, to ask Broomfield if he could take over making the BHO for the shop.

This was a dramatic shift for someone who had spent two years publicly criticizing hash oil, and Broomfield was shocked. But Phillips was making an unsafe product, Rize said, and they shouldn’t be selling it, so he wanted to step in and do it better.

Broomfield refused to let Rize take over, so Rize bad-mouthed him online. Rize claims Broomfield threatened him in response. Eventually Rize took his complaints about the safety of Phillips Rx above Broomfield’s head to the dispensary’s owner, and Broomfield and his wife were “aggressively fired,” according to testimony she gave in court in February 2013, when Rize was trying to get a permanent restraining order against Broomfield.

This is part of the hurdle faced by anyone, like Rize, who professes concern about the dangers of making and consuming BHO: Pretty much everyone who smokes marijuana is skeptical of the medical and law enforcement professionals who have overstated its negative effects for decades. As a result, stoners accustomed to trusting cultivators and budtenders know little about the oily contents of their vape pens.

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News

With the help of several chemists both inside and outside the marijuana world, BuzzFeed News identified three additional possible problems with the safety of hash oil beyond residual butane.

The most blatant risk comes from unsafe pesticides, which are found in weed from Colorado to Nebraska to California. Rodger Voelker of the OG Analytical laboratory in Oregon, which has legalized both medical and recreational marijuana, said over half of the several thousand BHO samples he has tested contained illegal pesticides, including one known to cause brain damage. As bad as these toxic compounds might be in smoked weed, they’re made several times worse when they are concentrated and dabbed, chemists who have analyzed the product say.

“If people were aware of the level of pesticides we’re finding, especially in concentrates, compounds that are absolutely banned by the EPA for human consumption — people have no idea. They hear it’s tested and it looks clean, but they’re being lied to,” Voelker said.

In addition, all BHO contains concentrated versions of the lubricating chemicals added to lighter fluid to make sure the butane flows well through pumps. As several chemists repeated to BuzzFeed News, there is no such thing as food- or medical-grade butane. Even companies in Colorado and Washington use lighter fluid. While butane itself has a low boiling point and is not difficult to remove using a vacuum oven, these heavier, harmful compounds — including benzene, methylbutane, neopentane, and hexane — remain.

Finally, the least understood health risk posed by hash oil is that of plant waxes, which make up about 15–20% of most BHO. All plants are coated in a film of lipids known as cuticle wax: This is what makes bell peppers shiny. When you smoke marijuana, those waxes burn up, but when vaporizing BHO, the lipids get concentrated and go directly to the lungs, where some chemists believe they form nodules called granulomas on the tissue.

“We have no idea how many people are suffering lung damage from cuticle waxes,” Steep Hill’s deCesare said.

Those extract artists who make an attempt to “dewax” do so by throwing their BHO in the freezer, or putting it over dry ice, which eliminates just some of these lipids. The only way to fully remove them is with ethanol, and very few companies choose to do that, because it lowers the amount of hash oil in the batch. When you’re making a product that sells retail for $40–100 a gram, mass is money.

It’s not clear which of these factors, if any, may have led Rize’s friends to become ill from Phillips’ BHO. Broomfield freely admits people were getting sick from the dab bar at CCA. However, he attributes that to the fact the budtenders didn’t clean the mouthpieces often enough, not to the safety of Phillips’ product.

“When you share pipes with more than 20 people, you’re bound to get sick,” Broomfield told BuzzFeed News. “From Vern’s first Cup [in 2010] to this morning, there have been very few days I didn’t dab Vern’s oil. I would definitely stand behind the product in terms of my own health.”

When asked to comment on Rize’s accusations about his hash oil, Phillips immediately called and threatened me. “Shut the fuck up and pull your head out of your ass,” he said. “If you mention me, you’re gonna end up getting hurt.”

Ten minutes later his girlfriend called to apologize. In the background, Phillips could be heard shouting about wanting to beat up “that faggot” and wanting to “kill everyone.” Phillips’ girlfriend reiterated that because BHO is still illegal to make in California, she didn’t feel Phillips should be mentioned, even though his name and face have been associated with his hash oil for years.

“The truth is ugly,” she said, “so it’s not something we want published.”

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News

In the spring of 2012, Rize starting making BHO at his home under the name Shatter Brothers, while redoubling his social media campaigns against Phillips and Broomfield, specifically, and butane hash oil, generally. To save face, he pretended friends of his were making BHO and running Shatter Brothers and he was just helping them with marketing. But at the dab bar at CCA, where Rize began working full-time, it was clear he was doing everything himself.

Like Rize, pretty much everyone who knows anything about hash oil has some kind of business interest at stake. Even the dozens of marijuana-testing laboratories that have popped up on the West Coast and in Colorado in the past six years are all for-profit businesses that tend to test only for potency. These labs are not required to be accredited by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and are not overseen by any regulatory agency.

“It’s insane,” said OG Analytical’s Voelker, who only got into the marijuana world in 2013 after a decade doing analytical chemistry with pesticides at the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “I just expected my colleagues and competitors would actually be chemists. That isn’t the case. … The sheer, complete lack of any kind of attempt to try to do this right, I just can’t get over it. All other commodities are held accountable.”

Within the pot industry, most testing labs are rumored to be shady: delivering inconsistent results, selling butane, and accepting money to refine BHO to its most purified state. The Werc Shop, a prominent cannabis analysis lab in Southern California that had been certified by Americans for Safe Access, was raided on April 7, 2015, by Pasadena police, who arrested its founder for allegedly manufacturing hash oil.

So even though Rize was now selling his own BHO, his fans still saw him as the most reliable person addressing potheads directly, spreading the word through memes and tirades about how to prevent explosions and how little butane gets removed when you purge butane with heat — even if some of those memes and tirades seemed directed specifically at his ex-business partners.

All of the negative online chatter about Phillips’ BHO forced Broomfield and Phillips to start selling it for far less than $100 a gram. Rize said he saw it for $20 a gram in late 2012. These days, a gram of Phillips Rx goes for between $30 and $60.

After Broomfield stopped managing CCA, he and Rize never interacted in person. Not until they ran into each other at Peace in Medicine on Jan. 23, 2013, and Broomfield went to his car to get a tire iron.

In the weeks after their encounter, Rize tried and failed to get a permanent restraining order against Broomfield. When the assault charges finally made it to trial, in February 2014, Broomfield pleaded guilty, and Rize was given a yearlong restraining order.

Days after it ended, in February of this year, Rize saw on Instagram that a friend of Broomfield’s had posted a legal document including Rize’s phone number and testimony in the assault case, tagging Broomfield with the caption “Thanks for exposing this piece of shit.” Within minutes, Rize’s phone was buzzing with threatening calls and texts like “Snitch ass bitch” and “Matt ritz fuck u narc.” Overwhelmed, Rize turned off his phone and decided to finally close his Instagram account.

“I’ve been playing the calling-out-the-bad-stuff guy for so many years now, and I just don’t think I can do it any more,” he said.

At the same time, Rize acknowledged he has come to play a complicated role in the marijuana industry, selling the stuff he had denigrated for so long. To this day, he continues to make Shatter Brothers BHO in his home.

“I’m a fucking hypocrite in the general scheme of things. I wish I didn’t have to make BHO, but I couldn’t pay my bills if I didn’t,” he said. “I’m opposed to the unsafe practices and the poor quality, but the idea itself has merit and is a serious part of our future. If you’re not going to do it, you’re going to be left behind.”

And he may be right. Concentrated marijuana oil is much more similar to commercial pharmaceutical products than cannabis buds, and vaping oil might appeal to new users more than smoking. But whether an entirely benign version of the drug might be possible under ideal lab conditions has yet to be determined.

Regulated and mass-produced BHO could end up like cigarettes, available to adults who choose to accept the medical risks, or like genetically modified crops, feared but not proven to damage health, or perhaps even just another way to consume marijuana. But even if Congress passes and President Obama signs the recently introduced CARERS Act, which would allow federal agencies like the FDA to start studying hash oil, it will take five to ten years of research before we know anything definitive.

Until then, potheads continue to debate the safety of hash oil among themselves. Rize’s disagreement with Broomfield, based more on a hunch than on proven science, is one that has repeated itself over and over in stoner communities across the country during the past few years. One person might get dizzy and nauseated off of a hit of wax and swear to never try it again, while another might find themselves switching over, convinced dabbing is cleaner and more effective than smoking weed.

Meanwhile, many of the people who make BHO are eager for more research and smarter regulation.

Harold Winston, who produces both BHO and ice-water hash in California under the respected BAMF brand, said that even though he uses a closed-loop extractor, he worries constantly.

“I hate making BHO, because I’m so scared,” he said. “I just have this vision that something is going to go wrong, you know what I mean? It’s like a nightmare.”

Macey J. Foronda for BuzzFeed News

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