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.
- try your darnedest to find organically sourced ingredients
- only purchase vape carts filled with pure cannabis oil with no propylene glycol or carrier oils
- buy a pen or device you can control the temperature
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.
P.S. If you’re concerned about the long-term effects of vaping, you can experiment with different methods of ingestion such as edibles or tinctures. You can even use a vaporizer for plant material.
Damn, I love your posts! You are so knowledgeable about everything Cannabis.
Keep up the good work!
Oh, about the whole vaping thing, I prefer my flowers any day of the week!! I love the feel, the smell, the ritual of preparing to smoke and of course the smoking!
I do have a vape pen for emergencies. like when I’m at the casino, but I’m super picky about my cartridges. Ya gotta be anymore. Cause some people suck. ?
Hi! Great post, thanks. You mention the bad carrier oils but not any good ones…is there a reason for this?
Although this focuses more on tobacco-related vaping, some information in this article might be useful to know in order to see both sides of some of these issues:
Thanks for sharing your knowledge Corrine.I really have allergies to pesticides, herbicides and so many environmental additives here in Florida. I always had a suspicion about nickel It is also probably one of the culprits that make me have a breakout in certain parts of my body . Never thought about the coils. I use your green monsta oil everyday in my coffee and must keep edible things at all time here for us. I have to combat the roadside pesticide and herbicide applications the county applies routinely. they still apply and sell Round Up! I feel I am the only one to recognize….. what happens to me when they do this. oh wait. The county has a call list to advise you they will be spraying . If it is not harmful why the list?Oh yes they know, Mosie O! Now I think I will put that vape pen in the recycle. WAIT I don’t believe that has been addressed yet either. The recycle of the vape pen batteries and cartridges. Corrine I love you and hope to make it out west one day to meet you. Meen while I share your monsta oil with friends and family that love it and my mom with severe psoriasis uses it everyday and it keeps it under control 100%. if she does not use it she will flake right up itch and be miserable. I can keep going on because I love cannabis! I will be working somewhere in this business one day in Florida and everyone i meet will hear of you CoachCorrine!!!!!
Do you think the LouAnn liquid coconut oil would be a good medium to use for the cannabis infused coconut oil for an oil that retains its fluidity? It’s supermarket stuff in the oil section
I’d like to see you reference articles on these claims.
They’re linked in the articles. You can click on them 🙂
My daughter works in CA and keeps me posted on the newest developments from the scientists in her company. Most vape cartridges have been outlawed there because of the metals which change with heat. Also, as you said, most of the vehicles for thinning the cannabis oil are dangerous. Her company produces supercritical oil which is a stand-alone oil for vaping (no thinners or other agents). It’s more expensive but is one of the only ones that is now legal. I’m hoping that the technology improves so that we can produce the supercritical ourselves and winterize it less expensively and more safely. The SuperC is a wonderful machine but not cost-effective and too small to be used in a growing operation, and the equipment needed for winterizing is really made for larger batches. Hopefully, the industry will hear this and work on new, and more cost-effective, small-scale equipment. In the meantime, the Magical Butter Machine is my go-to as it makes consistent, wonderful products that help with pain.
Here is a real resource of a study done in 2017 on the inhalation of the aerosol inhalation of vg and pg in an addition to tobacco carts with and without nicotine, which is stating the lack of change and a lack of toxicity in vg and pg. They have been doing these studies since the 90s and there are even newer ones, just atm it’s late and I really dont feel like looking them up. The following is the link and abstract:
While the toxicity of the main constituents of electronic cigarette (ECIG) liquids, nicotine, propylene glycol (PG), and vegetable glycerin (VG), has been assessed individually in separate studies, limited data on the inhalation toxicity of them is available when in mixtures. In this 90-day subchronic inhalation study, Sprague-Dawley rats were nose-only exposed to filtered air, nebulized vehicle (saline), or three concentrations of PG/VG mixtures, with and without nicotine. Standard toxicological endpoints were complemented by molecular analyses using transcriptomics, proteomics, and lipidomics. Compared with vehicle exposure, the PG/VG aerosols showed only very limited biological effects with no signs of toxicity. Addition of nicotine to the PG/VG aerosols resulted in effects in line with nicotine effects observed in previous studies, including up-regulation of xenobiotic enzymes (Cyp1a1/Fmo3) in the lung and metabolic effects, such as reduced serum lipid concentrations and expression changes of hepatic metabolic enzymes. No toxicologically relevant effects of PG/VG aerosols (up to 1.520 mg PG/L + 1.890 mg VG/L) were observed, and no adverse effects for PG/VG/nicotine were observed up to 438/544/6.6 mg/kg/day. This study demonstrates how complementary systems toxicology analyses can reveal, even in the absence of observable adverse effects, subtoxic and adaptive responses to pharmacologically active compounds such as nicotine.