9.1.1 DIY Canna-med Production Safety

Rule 1:  First, do no harm.

Learning to grow, extract, and formulate your own cannabis medications includes learning how to do so safely, as to not suffer additional woes beyond why you are medicating in the first place.

While on the surface that seems pretty straight forward, let’s examine the opportunities for mishap in more detail:

1.0  Legal

 1.1  It’s the law! Cannabis is against federal laws, and the state medical and recreational cannabis laws vary considerably, as do local proscriptions within the states.  There are few, if any subjects on which the laws vary location to   location so much and are undergoing so much change. 

Before starting a grow or cannabis processing operation, do check the current status of your local laws regarding cannabis.

1.2  The beggar man will find you. “Cannabis and no money will get you through tough times better than money and no cannabis.”  There will always be “tough” times, so those who have not, migrate towards those that have.

Our combined garden produced a surplus under previous laws, and we donated it to OMMP patients in need, typically in concentrate form.  Not an issue, and as it should be, but word gets around and there have always been non OMMP patients looking for a resource during tough times.

Through deep research over time, those growers operating outside the law (outlaws) determined that the best way to keep their secret and stay out of jail, was to keep the secret themselves.  As proud as you may be of it, don’t mention it or show it to anyone without a great deal of aforethought and vetting. 

If you have an indoor grow, make sure you don’t have tell tale light leaks, and that your grow exhaust doesn’t smell like a cannabis grow.  If outdoors, there is not a lot you can do about the smell, but you can shield them from view with adequate fences, so as to not advertise. 

1.3  Thieves abound. Another key reason to keep your grow to yourself.  Aside from desperation, cannabis grows draw thieves like flies to stink, for the easy money peddling your grow, as well as our equipment.

Besides concealment, another step that you can take to protect your grow, is with locks that slow them down and loud alarms while they are so engaged.   

1.4  The best argument for keeping your grow your to yourself, is thugs. Thugs don’t steal your grow and equipment behind your back, they strong arm you for it, sometimes leaving you severely injured or dead.

Thuggery against legal cannabis growers has not been a high priority with at least our local LEO, who appear more interested in doing a plant count to look for other broken laws than addressing the one at hand. 

In addition, we had to take local Sheriffs all the way to the State Supreme Court for refusing to issue gun permits to OMMP patients so we could defend ourselves and our families against armed thugs.

1.5  Con men/women abound in the cannabis marketplace, looking to swindle you out of any and everything. Trying to either sell you their lame horse or cheat you out of your good one. 

Reminiscent of the California and Alaska gold rushes where the miners and whores were not the ones leaving with the money.

Aside from stealing your money by selling you  lame products that don’t meet the labeling or promotional hoopla, their plaudits range from swindling you out of your grow and money, to stealing any businesses you may found (and your money).

I’ve found there to be more than adequate opportunity to be led astray by such sociopathic charlatans, because they are so charming and good at what they do, soooo the only way to protect yourself is to consider any opportunity warily.  The sort of eye prey animals keep on the predators, even when they are full and bathing in the sun.

Take product claims with a grain of salt, unless backed up with certified or easily verified data.  Make sure it was tested for all the evil spirits like pesticides, heavy metals, molds and aflatoxins, and where applicable, residual solvents. 

Even certified results from certified labs vary considerably where not tightly regulated and strictly controlled by state or local regulations.  Growers understandably migrate toward doing business with the lab that rates their product the highest.

In addition, products like vape carts starkly demonstrate that all products offered on the marketplace as salubrious are not necessarily so.

  • When approached with a business proposition, do a thorough vetting of the prospective business associate before proceeding, and spend the money to have it done professionally, because previous legal proceedings against them may be obscured by non-disclosure clauses.

Have a contract spelling out the key points and the actions required of both sides, and both sides should have their own competent lawyer review it from their interest perspective.

  • If there is more money or other value involved, than you are prepared to just walk away from still smiling, treat it as a given that there is a fatal flaw somewhere and insure the contract spells out all the details, because if push comes to shove, and it isn’t in the contract, you are basically screwed.
  • The Catch 22 is that it doesn’t matter what the contract says. They can always just twist contract interpretation create and create total lies out of whole cloth, and then continue to create legal delays for years to drain away your financial resources. 

Even of you win, you may not recover your losses, and they may appeal or simply ignore the court order.

If you don’t have the resources to match deep pockets and cover your mounting legal fees for the years of legal wrangling that arbitration can take, battling deep pockets, plaudits, and shyster lawyers, look for another solution.

That brings us back to Point 1 above in bold underlined red, which was to vet prospective business associates, before wasting time with Point 2, that doesn’t matter because of the Catch 22 of Point 3.

2.0  There are several opportunities to poison yourself, both as a grower and as a consumer. For instance:

2.1       Pesticides are a mixed bag when growing cannabis.  They can be the last line of defense against cannabis predators, but all pesticides are not suitable for the purpose and close attention must be paid to not only the mixing ratios and dosage, but also to personal protection and the timing. 

If the material is used for concentrates, any pesticide residuals on the product at harvest will be concentrated along with the essential oils.  Even if the plant material tests below maximum residual levels, the concentrate may not.

If you are growing yourself, you are in control of the pesticide use, but purchasing bulk material or extracting bulk material for others exposes you to the potential poor practices of others.  Best to have it tested before wasting time extracting material that is or will be over the limits, and contaminating your extraction system.

If you are growing yourself, use only pesticides approved for use on cannabis, by the manufacturer’s directions, and only when absolutely necessary. 

Wear personal protective gear and observe safety protocol when applying.  Mix and apply exactly per the manufacturer’s directions, and at the exact time in the growth cycle specified.

2.2       Heavy metals can find their way into the cannabis plant material via the soil mix and plant food.  A good idea to check for heavy metals when using bat guano or fish fertilizer, both of which can contain mercury. 

2.3       Aflatoxins are neurotoxins produced by some molds like Aspergillus, and are left behind even after the mold spores and filaments are removed by microfiltration.

Powdery Mildew and Botrytis are molds that attack living tissue and don’t produce known aflatoxins, though some people can have a Type 1 allergic reaction to the Botrytis mold itself.

Aspergillus is a composting mold growing on dead material, does produce aflatoxins, and is most often created by poor drying, curing, and storage practices.

The spores and filaments of both can be removed from concentrates by microfiltration at 0.2 microns, which also removes the moldy odor and flavor, but doesn’t remove the aflatoxins, which will be concentrated along with the essential oils.

Aflatoxins can be removed using chromatography, but not easily by the home grower, so if material is contaminated with Aspergillus mold, it is best to toss it.

2.4       Residual extraction and processing solvents are limited in pharmaceuticals, depending on what that solvent is and how it is ingested.  If doing extraction and processing, it is best to familiarize oneself with the FDA standards, which are:

https://www.fda.gov/media/71736/download

2.5       The terpene and terpenoids found in cannabis are by salubrious at the levels found in the plant material, but when we concentrate these same terpenes, they can be used to strip paint and sanitize toilet bowls.  Because many have been considered flavorings and spices to this point, no adequate chronic or upper exposure limits have been established.

In addition to concentrating the existing terpenes, often suppliers will add additional terpenes extracted from other plants, to enhance the flavor and aroma, without adequate research done on the long term effects.

2.6       Diluents used in vape pens recently made headlines when brothers and sisters started dying with pneumonia like symptoms after using them.  It is currently thought it was due to Vitamin E Acetate, but that has yet to be proven, and there were a litany of other chemicals being used for the purpose, none of which have been demonstrated to be salubrious by extensive testing.

3.0       Immolating yourself

3.1       Electrical fires are not uncommon in home grows, insufficient capacity, undersized wiring, and poor practices like extension cords.  The load from 1000W lamps adds up quickly, as does the heat produced, so thought must also be given to the effects of that heat on anything in its beam, as well as ventilation for temperature control, circulation fans, air conditioning, and dehumidifying, as well as any heat required during the lights off period. 

If you are going to install a grow operation, please have the electrical service professionally installed.

3.2       Extraction fires

3.2.1   At the concentrations that both Ethanol and Isopropyl alcohol are commonly used in cannabis extraction and processing, they are highly flammable, though typically not explosive in our applications.

They do burn with a blue hot flame that is virtually invisible under certain circumstances, so can burn you before you are aware there is even fire present.

Don’t do alcohol extraction or evaporate it off near an ignition source.  Do have a means to extinguish any alcohol fires readily at hand, and adequate ventilation to prevent vapor buildup.

Ethanol has a LEL of 3.3% and a UEL of 19%, which is a wide ignition range. 

Isopropanol has a LEL of 2.2% and a UEL of 12.7%, which is narrower, but Isopropanol can form explosive mixtures and is incompatible with strong oxidizers, acetaldehyde, acids, chlorine, ethylene oxide, hydrogen-palladium                combination, hydrogen peroxide-sulfuric acid combination, potassium tert-butoxide, hypochlorous acid, isocyanates, nitroform, phosgene, aluminum, oleum and perchloric acid.  

3.2.2   The longer chain Alkanes typically used to extract and refine cannabis are all highly flammable and explosive.  Typically those would include pentane, hexane, and heptane.

All of the LEL’s and UEL fall between 1.1% and 7.8%, which is a narrower range than alcohol, but significantly more explosive and in air burn between about 1965C and 2232C (3569F and 4050F).

https://www.mathesongas.com/pdfs/products/Lower-(LEL)-&-Upper-(UEL)-Explosive-Limits-.pdf

https://www.engineeringtoolbox.com/adiabatic-flame-temperature-d_996.html

C-5 H-12 Pentane, C-6 H-14 Hexane, and C-7 H-16 Heptane are the typical components of gasoline and are about as flammable and explosive, so should be treated with the same care and respect.

Processes should be performed outdoors with adequate ventilation in an area free of ignition sources.

Keep a CO2 or chemical fire extinguisher handy.  Alkanes float on water, so the fire spreads without being extinguished. 

Wear eye protection, respirator, and clothes that don’t melt and stick to your skin when heated.

3.2.3   Liquid Petroleum Gasses (LPG)

3.2.3.1            C-3 H8 Propane and C-4 H10 Butane are shorter chain simple Alkanes, that are a gas at room temperature and one atmosphere of pressure.  n-Propane boils at about -42C/-43.6F. and n-Butane at about -1C/30.2F under one atmosphere (~14.9psi) of pressure.

We keep them liquid by either lowering their temperature or by increasing the atmospheres of pressure on them.  The higher the temperature, the more pressure is required to maintain them in liquid state.

The pressure to keep mixtures of the two gasses liquid vary in proportion to the mixture, so the following shows the pressure from various mixtures of propane and butane at different temperatures:

Always store LPG in a vessel certified for that application, in a cool location out of direct sunlight.  Never fill the vessel more than 80% full, to allow for thermal expansion.

LPG storage tanks are typically rated by how many pounds of water they will hold.  To calculate how much LPG the tank will hold at 80%, full, simply multiply the tank rated by 0.8 x LPG specific gravity.

The specific gravity for n-Propane is 0.504 and n-Butane is 0.601.

For instance a 100# tank n-Butane would contain 100# X 0.8 X .601 = 48.08 lbs

3.2.3.2            LPG is both extremely flammable and explosive, with the LEL and UEL for Propane at 2.1% to 9.5%, with flame temperatures in air at around 1976C/3589F.

The vapor is heavier than air, so tends to pool and when ignited within its explosive range heats the air it is mixed with to about 1976C/3589F. 

22C/70F is about 295K, and 1976C/3589F about 2249K, which is not only hot enough to melt steel, but the fireball will expand the volume of the air in the room about 7.6 times, removing any walls and roofs in the way as required to find a way to escape.

That leads us to the first rule of LPG extraction, which is to never, under any circumstances do an extraction indoors, unless it is in a properly engineered and certified NEMA Class I, Div I extraction booth designed for the purpose. 

Check out 12.1 for an example of what is required to meet these requirements.

The cost to purchase, install, and operate such an extraction booth is beyond the practical means of most cannabis patients, and certification in a residential zone is highly unlikely, so that leads us to doing the extractions outdoors in a well ventilated area free of ignition sources.

Use a sparkless bladed sparkless blower to disperse any fumes by blowing, rather than sucking.

Even with ignition, if the fumes haven’t accumulated, and the heated air is not prevented from escaping, there may be a brief fireball, but there won’t be an explosion.

Wear clothes from natural fibers that are not prone to building up static charges, including your socks.

Wear eye protection.

Use a certified closed loop system where at all possible.  Consider not only the hazards involved with open blasting, but the price the environment pays for the exploration, drilling, transportation, and refining of the crude oil that the LPG was refined from. 

Better to recycle it to the extent possible, rather than dumping it to atmosphere and contributing to ground fog.

3.2.3.3            LPG is a refrigerant and when changes from a liquid to a vapor, its temperature fall to subzero levels, so getting sprayed with LPG can result in frostbite.  Another good reason for eye protection and a good reason to wear long sleeves, pants, and gloves when handling it.

4.0       Suffocating yourself from CO buildup in a closed space is yet another danger if using unvented gas burners to heat and raise the CO2 levels of your grow room. 

Catalytic propane heaters don’t combust the fuel, and don’t produce CO, but do produce CO2, and regardless of CO2 levels, oxygen levels need to be maintained. 

Adding bottled CO2 has the same issues, as does evaporating dry ice and LN2. 

Be safe and invest in an O2 monitor for the room if you are adding CO2 or using LN2.

5.0       Burns

5.1       Hot water and steam burns are possible with some of the processes.  Especially those involving handling canning jars in hot water.  The same hazards as canning vegetables and requiring the same attention and respect.

5.2       Hot oil can not only burn, but it can also ignite.  If ignited, place a cover over it to remove the oxygen, or use a chemical fire extinguisher, because it will just float on water and spread the fire.

One of the more insidious dangers is the steam explosion that occurs if water is dropped into 250F oil.  Hot oil is blown in all directions.

Sticking an ambient temperature glass jar into 250F oil will break the glass from uneven thermal expansion and dump its contents into the hot oil.  If there is moisture content, there will be a steam explosion and a spattering of the hot oil in all directions.

When working with hot oil, wear chemical goggles and if you are still pretty, a face shield.  I suggest wearing a long sleeve shop coat that protect your upper body, but which can be quickly shed afterwards if necessary, as well as gloves.  Closed toe shoes are also a good idea in case of spills. 

5.3       Chemical burns become a hazard when working with chemicals like Sulfuric Acid and Acetic Anhydride that are extremely corrosive, and the latter is also highly inflammable.

It’s also possible to burn your lungs seriously enough inhaling their vapors to die from it.

 If you don’t have at least high school chemistry lab experience, take a chemistry lab class at your local community college.  The safety and protocol for handling and combining dangerous chemicals is too extensive to cover in this article and best learned under supervision.

That said, I recommend chemical goggles vis a vis safety glasses and a face shield when handling corrosives, as well as a lab coat, long pants, chemical apron, and long sleeve chemical gloves.  Wear closed toe shoes.

5.4       Equipment like grow lamps, pump heads, hotplates, as well as other equipment used in our processes can get hot enough to sear flesh.  Wear appropriate protective clothing around them and treat them with the respect they deserve.

5.5       Grow lights can also damage your eyes and promote the growth of cataracts, so wear protective wrap around sunglasses when working in lighted growrooms.

5.6       Some of the processes call for using -78C/-109.3F dry ice or -196C/-321F LN2, both of which can produce freezing burns instantly on contact. 

Propane and Butane LPG are both refrigerants, which can produce frostbite if sprayed on skin, albeit not instantly or as badly as dry ice or LN2.  

Always wear long sleeved and full legged protective clothing with closed shoes.

Always use chemical goggles when using any of them.  LPG is painful in the eyes, even if it doesn’t frostbite, and while frostbitten skin is one thing, frostbitten or chemically burned eyes are a whole different level.  Wear a face shield as well when LN2.

Always wear gloves handling dry ice or LN2.

Here is a link to SafetyInfo.com outlining how to handle dry ice safely:

https://www.safetyinfo.com/written-safety-programs-dry-ice-solid-carbon-dioxide-safety-program-free-index/

Here is a link to a link outlining handling LN2 safely:

https://www.wpi.edu/sites/default/files/docs/Offices/Environmental-Health-Safety/liquid-nitrogen-handling-procedures.pdf

Here is a cut and paste of the Office of Environmental Health Safety article:

                             Procedures for Handling Liquid Nitrogen (LN2)

Liquid Nitrogen is a cryogenic material with three main hazards: asphyxiation, frostbite, and explosion.

Death by asphyxiation can occur if the liquid is allowed to boil off or is spilled in confined, poorly ventilated areas.

When in the liquid or cold gas phase, it can cause severe frostbite to the eyes and skin. Do not touch frosted pipes, valves or other metal parts that have been in contact with LN2.

Generally, frostbite is accompanied with discoloration of the skin, along with burning and/or tingling sensations, partial or complete numbness, and possibly intense pain. If you observe any of these symptoms, immediately remove the affected body part from the LN2 transfer system and warm them by contact with other body parts or with running water.

Protect your eyes with safety goggles and cover skin to prevent contact with the liquid or cold gas. Protective gloves that can be quickly and easily removed and long sleeves are recommended for arm protection.

Wear cuffless trousers over shoes (no sandals or opentoe shoes).

If accidental exposure occurs that causes an injury, a physician should be consulted immediately.  

Liquid Nitrogen is cold enough to condense liquid oxygen from the air.

It can also freeze water vapor from the air into ice. Ice can clog tubes, leading to a pressure explosion.  

LN2 may only be dispensed into dewars specifically designed for LN2 use. This excludes any home thermos designed for coffee, etc.

All glass dewars must be wrapped with tape to avoid flying glass if the dewar is broken.

Do not dispense or transport LN2 in a container that can be easily be broken or spilled; certain plastics can shatter easily when chilled to extremely low temperatures.  

For additional information, please contact the Environmental and Occupational Safety Office at 5088315216.     

5.7       Dangerous chemical reactions are possible with some of the chemical that we use, so to repeat my statement of 5.3:

If you don’t have at least high school chemistry lab experience, take a chemistry lab class at your local community college.  The safety and protocol for handling and combining dangerous chemicals is too extensive to cover in this article and best learned under supervision.

6.0       Electrocution can ruin your day, even if it stops short of being fatal, and a wet growing environment is a perfect place to discover that you are a lower resistance to ground than system ground.

Lighting loads can be heavy, and there can also be AC, circulation fans, pumps, and dehumidifiers, et al, so a dedicated NEC compliant service installed by an accredited electrician with a permit is recommended.  Not only can substandard wiring start fires, it can electrocute you, and I mention permit so that if there is a fire, your fire insurance isn’t void. 

All electrical around wet areas should be on separate GFC protected circuits, and all ballasts and other high energy electrical should be elevated off the floor and protected from contact with water.

Don’t use extension cords, run hard wiring to the load devices.  Keep plug whips short. 

Provide breakers for the individual motors involved, to avoid simultaneous locked rotor load surges at start up that may trip the breaker.

7.0       How complete would our safety discussion be without discussing simple strains and sprains, as well as things like slip and trip hazards. 

All of the above items rely on good practice, with the latter requiring that there be no preceding unsafe acts leaving a trip hazard like hoses and trash or slick wet surfaces.  When working on wet surfaces, insure you are wearing suitable footwear.   

Not straining yourself relies on your using good lifting practices and minimizing your exposure as much as possible with lifting devices and plumbing.  

Since some items like full smart pots can get heavy.  Consider what you will be doing with them as they mature and consider loading them on a dolly while still manageable, so they are more easily manipulated. 

Consider how you will be supplying water and nutrients in the quantities required, without undue lifting or carrying on your part.

When dipping large plants, consider something like the plant turnover device featured at 15.6. 

When lifting a pot and plant to judge water saturation level, learn to squat and rock back using your forearms against your thighs to lift the plant the fraction of an inch it takes to judge weight,

Sooo, that covers some of the most common ways brothers and sisters have injured themselves or others in our industry.  There are any number of other creative ways, so I will plan to added to this list as new ones are revealed to us.

 

 

 


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