If you have been paying attention to the news recently you have probably heard about cannabis oil vaporizer related injuries and deaths that have been happening in the United States.  As of October 10th, 2019 there have been 1,080 vaporizer related injuries and 26 vaporizer related deaths. These are incredibly concerning statistics as we all thought vaporizing was supposed to be the healthier alternative to smoking, with limited health concerns.  We are seeing now that this is not the case.  Currently, it is unclear what exactly is causing these injuries and deaths, as many news outlets throughout the U.S. have reported a multitude of reasons for them.  In this article, we will examine the potential causes of these injuries and deaths, and provide you with information regarding cannabis vaporizers to empower you to make an informed decision when at the dispensary counter.

First, we must acknowledge that there are many different ways to vape.  There are e-cigarettes to vape nicotine, flower/dry herb vaporizers and cannabis cartridges that can contain oil with THC, CBD, terpenes or artificial flavoring.  While vaping flower has been around for almost two decades, the invention of e-cigarettes and cannabis oil cartridges is fairly new.  Cannabis oil cartridges have become one of the most popular and accessible cannabis products on the market and black market. Their popularity stems from their discreetness and ease of use.  Due to this popularity, many people in the black market are creating knock-off cartridges of popular brands and selling them as the real thing.

Now, before we discuss black-market cartridges, let’s define vaping…

Vaping is the heating of a substance until the point of evaporation.  The vapor created is then inhaled into the lungs and the consumer should feel the effects from it almost instantaneously.  To learn more about vaping check out Bioavailability and Consumption Methods – What’s Right for You. When vaping flower (bud), we are using a process of convection vs smoking which is combustion. Stripping the flower of its natural resins (trichomes that house cannabinoids and terpenes) on the outside of the flower that is being vaporized. The resins are in their natural concentrations in the flower and there are no additives or hazardous materials that are being consumed provided you are consuming flower that is free of residual pesticides.  To learn more about identifying clean flower check out Do You What is in Your Cannabis.  It is our opinion that consuming cannabis flower with a vaporizer is the healthiest form of consumption through inhalation.

Oil cartridges provide the consumer with a much more potent consumption experience.  It should be noted that the extraction process highly concentrates the terpenes and cannabinoids far beyond any concentration that occurs in nature.  Currently, there is very little research surrounding the health effects of vaping highly concentrated cannabinoids and terpenes.  When going through the extraction process, the natural plant oils are extracted from the cannabis plant using different methods of chemical extraction.  If the oil is properly extracted and all the solvents are purged correctly, then you will have clean oil. The oil from the cannabis plant can then be vaped without the need of a cutting agent. However, terpenes can be added back into the oil to decrease the viscosity of the oil and add flavor and effect to the consumption experience. Terpenes steer the direction of the high through providing an aromatherapeutic element to the experience.  While terpenes are an integral part of the consumption experience, little is known about their consumption at high concentrations.  This is important to keep in mind when consuming cannabis extracts that are rich in terpenes.

So why are we seeing injuries and deaths related to vaping?  The product lines that seem to be responsible for the vape crisis are cannabis cartridges.  As mentioned before, cannabis vape cartridges are one of the most popular and sought after products in the cannabis market because of their discreetness and ease of use.  Due to this popularity, many people in the black market are creating knock-off cartridges of popular brands and selling them as the real thing.  One of the most knocked-off vape brands is Kingpen from California.  Kingpen recently released a statement that they have been able to identify 25 manufacturers in China that are making knock offs of their packaging which is available for sale on Amazon, eBay, Alibaba, Aliexpress and DHGate.  This means anyone can buy knock offs of their packaging and create a fake version of their product. With that being said, we advise to only purchase cartridges from a licensed dispensary to ensure the cannabis oil is fully purged of any residual solvents and is tested in a third-party laboratory for pesticides and contaminants before it is allowed to be released for sale to the public.  These regulations are in place to keep consumers safe.

When people are making cannabis oil at home there is no telling what kind of toxins are in their oil.  There could be pesticides leftover from the grow process, residual solvents, and heavy metals left over from the extraction process as well as cutting agents that have not been tested for vaping safety.  Many of the vape pens on the black market have been shown to contain all of the above.  One cutting agent in particular that is being used is vitamin E acetate.  Vitamin E acetate is used in the formulation of many skincare products, as a moisturizer.  Little is known about the effects of vaping vitamin E acetate, but it is showing up more and more in the black market knock off cartridges. It is highly possible vitamin E acetate could be causing the health issues we are seeing with vape users across the United States.

Another source of possible contaminants that could be hurting people is from the cartridge hardware. The first thing to know about cartridges is that they are in incredibly high demand and they are manufactured by the lowest bidder in Shenzhen, China.  There are Chinese manufacturers who guaranteed that their cartridges are made with medical grade stainless steel, ceramics core atomizers, and scientific glass. These medical-grade cartridges are bought at a premium price. With the demand for low-cost vape cartridges, we have seen brands cut corners in their hardware and source the cheapest hardware they can get. When a Chinese manufacturer needs to cut costs on a cartridge, they pull material from their waste and melt it down to make the cartridges.  Many times different metals are used, which can be harmful to the human body when heated and inhaled.  Many cartridges from China test positive for heavy metals like lead, chromium, manganese, and nickel.  These metals will melt when exposed to high heat inside the cartridge.  They end up in your lungs and then bloodstream when inhaled.  The other part of the cartridge that creates some concern is the atomizer or heating element.  There are different types of heating elements but the most common are ceramic core atomizers and silica wick atomizers.  Ceramic atomizers are considered to be the safest alternative as ceramic can withstand high heat without degradation.  Silica wicks combust and burn when exposed to high heat.  If you have ever had a cartridge that tastes burnt when using it, this is due to the wick in the atomizer burning.  When silica combusts the smoke that is produced is cariogenic.  We recommend staying away from cartridges that use silica wicks and opt for cartridges that are made with ceramic atomizers. When buying cartridges from a licensed dispensary the budtender will be able to guide you into the cartridge brands that are utilizing ceramic itemizers and medical-grade hardware.

It’s apparent now more than ever that we need regulation surrounding these products.  In legal states, local regulations do what they can to make the products safe for consumers, but federal intervention is needed to help regulate vaporizer products that are being imported from China.  The U.S. government needs to set the standard on all vaporizer products to ensure they are being manufactured with materials that are safe for the consumer.  Federal legalization of cannabis would also allow for more regulations surrounding what ingredients are allowed in vaporizer products and would eliminate the concern that vaporizer products are being made with unsafe materials.  Federal legalization would also open the doors for clinical trials and scientific research into these product lines.  We currently lack any scientific evidence surrounding health risks and long term health effects of vaporizer products.  Much research is needed to ensure companies are providing only the safest products to their customers.

The question remains, are cannabis vaporizer cartridges safe to consume?  After heavily researching this topic we cannot with any certainty tell you that vaporizer cartridges are a safer alternative to smoking cannabis.  The truth of the matter is it’s far too early in the vaporizer industry for us to know the long term effects of these devices.  There is an immense amount of variables that make this a very difficult product to rate for safety.  Tread with caution when purchasing these products.  Make sure you are finding out all the necessary information we discussed in this article about the product you are buying before you make the purchase, and definitely DO NOT buy these products in the black market.  As time moves forward hopefully we will begin to see some research surrounding these product lines and the health effects they have on the body. For now, know that using these products does come with a set of potential health risks, many of which we have no knowledge of at this time.

 

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