Cannabis Production & Manufacturing

With legalization, the growing popularity of vaping, and the increased understanding of cannabis’s health benefits, the cannabis oil market is taking off. This market includes various types of products with differing cannabinoids and concentrates, ranging from high-inducing THC vape pens to medicinal CBD tinctures.

But whatever the desired end result is, the first steps of production are to grow the cannabis plant and then extract its essential oils. Both of these processes require the use of flammable  or otherwise hazardous gases, underlying the importance of having a reliable gas detection solution on hand.

Gases Found in Grow Operations

Indoor grow rooms and greenhouses, while providing a controlled environment in which to grow cannabis plants, can present various health hazards because of the following gases:

  • CO2: Most growers use carbon dioxide enrichment to increase CO2 inside the grow operation to levels that are optimal for plant growth. Although CO2 is intentionally pumped into grow rooms, it can become a hazard when levels rise too high.
  • CO and NO2: Various options are available for carbon dioxide enrichment. If the CO2 is produced on-site using carbon dioxide generators and fossil fuel combustion, the process may produce carbon monoxide (CO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2).

The Risks

Low concentrations of carbon dioxide aren’t dangerous and are in fact normal to the outdoor environment, but higher concentrations may disrupt respiratory functions and cause the central nervous system to become excited and then depressed. High concentrations of CO2 can also displace oxygen in the air and thus reduce the oxygen available for breathing, potentially causing fatigue, emotional upsets, clumsiness, rapid heart rate, and rapid breathing. As oxygen levels continue to decrease, nausea, vomiting, collapse, convulsions, coma, permanent organ damage, and death also become possible.

For these reasons, it’s essential that your gas detector be set up to activate your ventilation system and dampers that can help remove CO2 from the grow operation.

Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, and colorless gas produced by burning various types of fuel. If carbon monoxide reaches hazardous levels, which is a danger in enclosed or sealed places, individuals inside the space may suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning, leading to tissue damage and potentially death. This most often occurs when using natural gas or propane heat sources.

Nitrogen dioxide is part of a group of gases referred to as nitrogen oxides. Inhaling nitrogen dioxide can have various negative effects on the lungs, including coughing, inflammation of the airways, increased asthma attacks, and reduced lung function.

Gases Found in Extraction Labs

Solvent extraction is an essential part of cannabis processing, and can be quite dangerous. This step involves extracting the essential oils from the cannabis plant and then distilling it to separate the desired compounds from the solvents.

What exactly are these solvents? They commonly include dangerous gases such as ethanol, butane, propane, hexane, and carbon dioxide (CO2). Most of the gases produced during cannabis oil extraction are toxic and highly flammable — making monitoring crucial.

The Risks

The gas solvents produced during cannabis oil extraction present two primary hazards: combustion and poisoning.

High heat and pressure from the machinery used for the oil extraction paired with butane, CO2, and any combustible liquids that are being used create the chance of explosion and fire hazards. Sources such as static electricity, electrical connections, metal cutting, open flames, motors, fans, or heating elements can also serve to ignite flammable gases.

  • Ethanol: While ethanol is not hazardous when being consumed in alcoholic beverages, consuming ethanol by itself may lead to coma or even death. Studies suggest that ethanol may also be carcinogenic.
  • Butane: Butane inhalation is associated with everything from slower reaction times and slurred speech to asphyxiation, suffocation, choking, and a form of heart failure called “sudden sniffing death syndrome” (SSDS). Other long-term physical and mental health issues are also possible. Of note, more than half of deaths caused by solvent abuse are attributed to butane.
  • Propane: Propane gas is also called liquefied petroleum gas or LPG.  It is a flammable gas that is heavier than air, and thus sinks and pools in low areas of a  building.  It is clean, abundant, and affordable, but the risk of fire and explosion can be significant if not properly handled and monitored.
  • Carbon dioxide: See above.

Many of the hazardous gases produced during cannabis oil extraction can exceed the lower explosive limit (LEL) before being detected by the human nose, meaning that you can’t trust yourself to know once levels are dangerously high.

Gas Monitoring Solutions for Cannabis Production & Manufacturing Facilities

While regulations vary by state like the legality of cannabis itself, gas monitoring is typically required for cannabis grow operations and extraction labs. Gas sensors must operate continuously and be designed to sound an alarm and even shut down the extraction process and activate ventilation fans when vapours are detected.

As marijuana legislation continues to be developed across the U.S., regulations will almost certainly change — but the need for continuous gas monitoring isn’t going anywhere. Investing in reliable gas detection systems will help your cannabis oil operations meet compliance requirements and keep everyone involved safe.

Check out our gas detectors for cannabis extraction and processing to get started.

[Related: FAQ: Gas Detection & Calibration Questions Answered]

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