Walk into your local dispensary and there's a good chance that CBD/THC vape pens are being called “better” than smoking your plant material out of a pipe or a bong. You don't have to grind up your buds or pack a bowl. All you need to do is twist your new cannabis cartridge into your vape pen and take a hit. The effects are almost immediate, without the lung burn or smell.
But are CBD or THC vape pens healthy?
Here's what we do know:
Cannabis research is still heavily regulated, so other than what vape companies are claiming, there is limited data to back up what these companies have to say.
Some vape oils on the market have known cancer-causing (carcinogens) additives inside the vape oils, but we don't truly know what the long-term effects are.
What's Inside Marijuana Vape Cartridges?
Simple answer: It depends on where you got the cartridge from.
The box you purchased your cannabis vape cartridge from should have:
- The type of extract (example: “full-spectrum hemp extract”)
- The carrier oil
- Other additives
However, these ingredients don't tell the whole story.
You may not know what type of metal is being used in your vape cartridge (especially important for those who have metal-based allergies) or where the plant material came from.
You wouldn't smoke a bowl packed with bud that's been laced with pesticides or other harmful chemicals, right?
It would make sense that you wouldn't vape oil that's been made from pesticide and chemically treated cannabis. Unfortunately, most dispensaries or ingredient labels don't disclose where the plant material came from.
To give a real-life example, a lab in California tested 44 cannabis oils for 12 different pesticides. 93% tested positive for pesticides that were high enough to ban the product in pesticide regulated states! However, none of these products were banned in California since California doesn't have pesticide regulation when it comes to cannabis (at the time of writing this post).
What to Avoid When Buying Cannabis Vape Oil
There are some things that you'll want to look out for if you're buying vape oil:
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The FDA has approved polyethylene glycol as generally safe but when it's vaped, it can break down into formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, which are both carcinogens.
Vegetable glycerin is one of the most common ingredients in “vape juice” and will be commonly found in vape oil. The problem with vegetable glycerin is that even though it's okay to ingest (we even have a recipe for vegetable glycerin based tinctures) doesn't mean it's okay to vape.
When vegetable glycerin gets too hot, it will break down into acrolein, which is toxic.
You'll find vegetable glycerin in so many vape cartridges because it helps create a huge cloud of smoke for aesthetic effect.
Other medium-chain triglycerides (MCT)
MCT oil seems to be the current go-to for vape oils because MCT oil doesn't contain the carcinogens that occur when polyethylene glycol or vegetable glycerin is heated.
However, MCT oil has been shown to put you at risk for lipid pneumonia, especially after prolonged use.
Plastic, leaky, ill-fitting cartridges
Low-cost vape cartridges are often made from plastic, which interacts and deteriorates with the vape oil over time. Some of these plastics are imported from China (because of the low cost) so we don't know how it was produced. The longer vapes sit on the shelves, the more time the oil has to interact with the plastic.
The vape cartridge may have certain metal parts to it, like the coil. Some cannabis vape cartridges are made with nickel, which can trigger an allergy. If you don't have an allergy to nickel, you're still at risk for lung issues stemming from inhaling nickel particles. Vaping nickel can lead to lung and sinus cancers.
So, What Cannabis Oil Can You Safely and Healthily Vape?
Vaping cannabis oil is a gamble since most vape cartridges on the market are still unregulated. Even companies that claim to lab test their cannabis oil may conveniently leave out any information containing pesticides or metals.
Still, it's no secret that vaping is one of the most convenient ways to ingest cannabis.
While we can't recommend a company deemed safer or healthier with their vape oils (since it'd be difficult to keep up to date with each batch of testing), here are a few things to look for when considering a healthier vape cartridge:
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Hopefully, as legalization continues across the country, we'll have access to more information, research, and data.
We'll update this post as we learn more.