Given recent events reported in the news about illness, lung damage and deaths from vaping, we wanted to provide you with information about vaping cannabis. We’ve been proponents of vaping over smoking cannabis for a few years now. The main reason we’ve favored vaping over smoking is because there should be fewer toxins and carcinogens to inhale, but that isn’t always the case.
Note that there are major differences between vaping cannabis through a vaporizer or vape pen and vaping nicotine or other chemicals through an e-cigarette.
When you combust cannabis using a joint, pipe or bong, you are combusting or burning plant material which can produce byproducts such as hydrogen cyanide and nitrogen-related chemicals that could be attributed to pesticides, not to mention sulphur from matches or butane from lighters and ash from burnt dried herb or papers. Some studies show that compounds contained within cannabis and cannabis smoke can actually minimize carcinogenic effects while tobacco smoke can enhance some of them.
Vaping cannabis consists of using an electronic device – a vaporizer or vape pen – to warm cannabis plant matter or a concentrated cannabis substance. Cannabis concentrates are produced by extracting cannabinoids and terpenes from cannabis plant matter. Extraction methods vary and some involve the use of carcinogenic compounds (solvents such as butane), all of which are supposed to be removed before the concentrates are sold for consumption. Other extraction methods are solventless such as C02 Extraction.
In order for the concentrated cannabis substances to be of a consistency that makes it easier to warm and vaporize, an additional compound is added – a thinning or cutting agent. Standard cutting agents have been PEGs (polyethylene glycols) and glycerin. These can be problematic because warming them could break them down and produce formaldehyde, acetaldehyde and acrolein. Some manufacturers are producing cannabis-derived cutting agents to avoid the use of these potentially problematic additives.
The substances being vaped that we are hearing about in the news posing health dangers may contain vitamin E acetate as the cutting agent, and while this substance is used topically, it can be toxic when inhaled.
New York State Department of Health put out a statement that they found high levels of vitamin E acetate in some cannabis concentrate samples they tested. Vitamin E acetate is not a commonly used additive in cannabis concentrates but it could be in black market or home-made products, which are unregulated and untested. The photo below shows the products tested in New York.
While vitamin E acetate is being investigated further, other additives are also being called into question.
Know The Source
Until there are definitive answers about the additives in vaping, we’re taking the position that cannabis may be best consumed as a tincture, tablets or edibles made with pure, clean extractions unless you know what is in the concentrates you’re vaping. Keep in mind that all manufactured cannabis products are only as good as the source and can be altered with a variety of additives.
Some tips for vetting manufactured cannabis products:
- Make sure you buy from reputable dispensaries.
- Ask to see test results and check for pesticide testing.
- Read the product labels carefully and if you can’t identify an ingredient, Google it and check for any health warnings.
- Look for products with the fewest amount of additives.
- Look for products derived from clean cannabis (organically grown).
- Look for cannabis concentrate cartridges made of glass (versus plastic or metal).
- When in doubt, contact the manufacturer and ask about their extraction and purification processes.
Anything we inhale can affect our lungs and enter into our bloodstream. To minimize risk, particularly for those with lung issues or breathing difficulties, avoid inhalation of smoke or vapor until further research can be done and either consume cannabis in other forms or identify cannabis concentrates that do not utilize harmful additives. If you know what you’re vaping, inhaling vapor without additives is still less problematic than smoking.
One company that claims to have developed an additive that is made out of cannabis is EvoLabs. They developed a “CO2 fractionation process to extract and purify a combination of cannabis terpenes, terpenoids and other phytochemicals” that they call CDCA which stands for Cannabis Derived Cutting Agent. Their products are currently available in Colorado.
As cannabis becomes legal in more states and regulations mandate testing and the implementation of health-related safeguards, the manufactured cannabis products available to all of us should become safer to consume. Until then, be a smart consumer and know what you are putting into your body.