There is an abundance of cannabis oils available to the South African self medicator, ranging from crude to pure. With the amount of misinformation and outright falsities making their rounds on the internet, we have compiled a reliable and authoritative step-by-step guide to buying cannabis oil in South Africa.
Firstly, is cannabis oil legal?
Before we are accused of inciting any illegalities, let us remind you that purchasing any part of the cannabis plant, its’ derivatives (oils) and isomers thereof, is still a criminal offence. Despite the media frenzy that followed Judge Davis’ recent ruling, no laws have changed and no legislation amended. As is, if you are found to be trading cannabis and/or cannabis products, you are still deemed delinquent by the state. Until otherwise notified, do not presume your innocence. Yes, the MCC has rescheduled the substance and the Constitutional court is expected to rule in our favour, but that does not mean you cannot be charged with a criminal offense.
What is cannabis oil?
Cannabis oils are simply crude and/or refined derivatives made from the cannabis plant. The oils can vary greatly in content and there is no way to test the contents of the oil outside of a laboratory. While certain aspects are indicative of the properties of the oil, there are no absolutes when it comes to untested oils. It is very simple, if you are purchasing oils that are produced and sold sans a laboratory test, you cannot be assured of its’ contents. The variance in oils can be as diverse as alcohol and as simple as pharmaceuticals, everything from single compounds to crude amalgamations are considered cannabis oils.
Before buying, do your homework.
Your local supplier is not likely to be selling a product that is certified by an authority, similarly there is no official authority. This effectively means many are buying blind and very few producers are able provide enough data to eliminate the suspicion of contaminants. In the same breath we are not condemning producers nor assuming guilt, cannabis oils have shown promise as effective health remedies and there are many products available that are entirely safe, beneficial and in some cases, curing.
Buyer beware, black market dealers are brazen and many producers shameless
But buyer beware, black market dealers are brazen and many producers shameless, the onus of responsibility lies on the user. After all, you are the one seeking the products. As a potential customer, it is up to you to seek out and decide upon the risks. Beyond the legality, some extraction methods will leave behind contaminants and residual solvents, ultimately defeating the point of a “clean” or “natural” product. And that’s what this article is all about, so continue reading to find out what you need to consider when buying cannabis oil in South Africa.
The many types of cannabis oils
There are many forms of cannabis oils and ultimately they all end up in the same form, an oil. The oleoresins are usually defined by their extraction process and vary as widely as their extraction method. The goal of each method is effectively the same, extract the “good” and leave the irrelevant.
These are a few of the most popular types of extracted oils you might find on the market:
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO)
RSO gained popularity amongst medical users when a person popularised the use of simple hydrocarbon/alcohol solvent washes to extract the desired oils. These oils usually contain the most amount of plant compounds and are popular with medical users. Essentially a crude oil of the cannabis plant, RSO is usually high in cannabinoids and associated compounds.
Butane Honey Oil (BHO)
As the name implies, these oils are extracted using Butane. Generally producing a recreational product, most BHO users tend to “dab” or vaporise these oils. These oils are usually high in THC and flavours or “terps”. BHO is simply the term coined and these days producers use a variety of light hydrocarbons, most popularly Butane and Propane. BHO may vary in consistency from crumbly waxes and glass-like shatters to golden, sticky honey.
Supercritical CO2 oil
Supercritical CO2 oils are made by using carbon dioxide at extremely high pressures to extract the oil from the plant. Often hailed as the holy grail of extracts, CO2 extractors tend to produce mostly medical oils and many believe it to be the only safe form of extract. Similar to RSO in the sense that it contains more plant compounds than BHO, or the extraction process is not as fussy.
Rosin is an oleoresin extracted using heat and pressure to effectively “melt” the oils and squeeze it out of the material. This method has gained popularity as many believe the products to be an ideal cross-over between medical and recreational. Rosin provides a concentrated and flavourful product similar to BHO and is considered the “safer” alternative. (Unfortunately this an outright lie, and a topic for another time).
Typically made using a solvent or oil, tinctures are concentrated liquids that often include a small amount of alcohol, allowing for rapid absorption in the mouth. As with the previous alcohol based oils, tinctures are primarily for medical use and often disregarded as a recreational substance.
A popular, safe and effective method of ingesting cannabinoids, natural oils can be used to strip the plant of its’ active components and assimilate them into the oil itself. Favourites include grape seed oil, sunflower oil and even olive oil for cooking enthusiasts. A well respected method of producing medical oils includes using coconut oil and creme to carry the cannabinoids. Revered for its’ unique properties, coconut based oils are safe, effective and difficult to dork the process. If you can, always opt for a coconut oil or natural oil infusion.
Balms and creams
Balms are cannabinoid infused creams and lotions for topical use. Often produced using an alcohol based extract, balms are almost the only preparation of the oils that has almost no application in the recreational scene, with exception for things like lubricant, in which case we might not consider the actual cannabis the primary source of recreation.
Cannabis oil for medical use
There has been an increase in research and literature, but as many an activist will point out, the plant is so diverse and her effects equally so. This leads scientists down a nefarious path of assumption based medicine. Words such as “entourage effect” are catch phrases that hold precarious positions in the scientific world and “it’s natural” is not an adequate description of anything. Rather we find a small body of reliable placebo controlled clinical studies pointing toward the palliative care cannabis oils can provide. This does not exclude other applications nor dismiss the evidence in support thereof, but it is important to remember the standard to which the health sector must abide.
There is a large interest in the treatment of cancers
Many medical users report benefits and in some cases claim outright curative properties of cannabis oil. There is a large interest in the treatment of cancers as well as a variety of non-communicable diseases and research is steadily gaining momentum. Many people use the oils as a pain reliever and appetite stimulator in palliative care cases and some simply as “prevention”. Either way it is clear that there are medical applications, especially when used as a supplement or as a replacement for undesirable substances producing the same effect.
If you want a definitive answer as to when and how to use cannabis oils, the statement is simple: The medical community at large is still undecided and in some cases blatantly opposed to the medical claims many make. However the evidence is plain to see for many and it won’t be long before western science begins to uncover the intricacies of the plant and its’ medical application.
Cannabis oil for recreational use
Recreational users of oils tend to be among the 1% of cannabis users and usually consider themselves connoisseurs, if not experts. Recreational use of cannabis oils is usually limited to products bearing the most flavour and potency. The oils may begin as a wax, shatter or simply: dab. Upon heating, usually on a titanium nail, the user inhales the vapor as the dab melts and changes phase. Dabs tend to be very strong and concentrate all the important parts of the flower into one little dab, and that’s all you need. Notorious for its’ strength, dabbing is the new cool kid on the block and the majority of recreational users will dab their oils.
In a similar vein the craze of “vaping” has gained great momentum and following. Recreational users are often sporting an E-cig with a blend of their desired oils mixed into the e-juice. This stealth method is steadily gaining popularity but still doesn’t beat a well rolled joint. Even in states with laws permitting recreational use, where one might assume the pinnacle of cannabis culture, users still opt to roll a fatty and kick back to enjoy a good old fashioned toke. After all, nothing beats sharing the enjoyment of this plant with others and passing left makes much right.
How to tell if my cannabis oil is good quality?
While a laboratory test may be out of the reach for many users, one can follow some rough guidelines when buying oils to avoid being the victim of poor quality or poisonous oils. The first thing to look for is saturation of colour, typically an oil with more compounds of little medical relevance will be dark and almost black, even when held against a light source. Pure cannabinoid oils are clear to yellow and anything short is indicative of pigments, waxes and fats. Secondly one can consider the consistency, the oil should be viscous but not like a vegetable oil. Rather you should look for a consistent density that does not hold its’ shape.
Do as much research as you can. Always question your supplier.
Some people might suggest holding a flame to the oil to see if there are any residual solvents. While not an inept idea, this method is by no means a foolproof method, just because it does not ignite, doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain residual solvents.. The concern of contaminants is centred mostly around the residuals that are blended into the oil. Finally, always look for particles or plant matter, no oil should ever have any solids in it and the presence there of indicates a poor process in general.
At the end of the day, as an illegal substance, cannabis oils are not regulated or controlled. So as a user the responsibility of safe and metered use is yours. Do as much research as you can about the different types of oils and their main application. Always question your supplier and if they don’t know the origin or process, insist they find out. The more you know about the oil the safer your purchases will be.
Where to buy cannabis oil in South Africa?
Finding cannabis oil is not difficult and many sites trade openly. Your best bet is to compare as many sources as possible, you might even find some of the vendors have the same supplier!
Sites like Zolr.co.za make your life easier and are a great way to compare the quality of oils on the market. The government seems to be dragging their heels on the issue and their regulatory stance is simply absurd. Clandestine oils and the black market will not disappear and so it is up to the community to maintain the standard appropriate for safe use.
Until the government and private sector can provide services to assure the safety of unregulated oils, it is pertinent to find the higher road. Accepting poorer quality oils or processes is only contributing to prohibitive rhetoric. Many states in the USA have managed to maintain an exceptionally high standard, shouldn’t we too?