Cannabis consumption has progressed far beyond the classic days of just rolling the plant into a joint. We’re sophisticated now; modern tokers can enjoy not only the banal joints and pipes, but also oils, tinctures and even vape pens.
This latter invention, the sleek and seemingly futuristic vaporizing pen, has raised some concern among the scientific community due to its health ramifications. For the use of CBD, more and more people are choosing vape pens over other alternatives thanks to their smooth taste and ease of use.
But are CBD vape pens safe? In this article, we explore the question in detail and highlight a few (potentially) surprising facts about these little devices that so many people consider to be a “healthy” alternative to smoking.
What Exactly are CBD Vape Pens – And Why Do People Like them so Much?
To understand whether or not CBD vape pens are safe, it’s important to understand what vaping actually is. Vaping is simply the act of using a vaporizer, which is a small machine designed to look like a long cigarette, to vaporize smokable substances and allow you to inhale the vapor.
The original purpose of vapes was to help regulate people’s use of cigarettes, as vape pens (or e-cigarettes as they used to be known) do away with a lot of the unpleasant side effects of smoking cigarettes for passersby.
Additionally, vaporizers gained popularity due to the ease with which users can consume cannabis. As the substance is vaporized and mixed into a water vapor, both the smell and overall cannabis residue was reduced, making it a lot easier to imbibe while on the go and in public.
This is helped by the fact that vaping is considered a more socially acceptable form of smoking. This is primarily due to consumers’ ability to buy a variety of different scented vape fluids, producing smoke that doesn’t smell of tobacco or cannabis, but rather like marshmallow or cherries.
There are actually quite a lot of benefits to using a vape pen for the purpose of cannabis, due to the way in which the drug is imbibed. A study published by Abrams et al. for the Journal of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics found that, when vaping for the purpose of medicating or enjoying THC, vapes actually increased the amount of THC you received per toke.
Due to the way in which the THC or plant extract within the vape pen is utilized, there was an overall increase of THC per breath when compared to simply smoking it normally from a joint or pipe. The lack of regular combustion, as is the case in normal smoking, means that you gain access to more of the important cannabinoids within your cannabis oil, but you also don’t have to deal with the burnt, acrid smoke associated with smoking.
However, is it all benefits and sunshine and rainbows when it comes to using CBD vape pens? Or are there any medical concerns worth considering? Let’s take a closer look.
CBD Vape Pens and the Accumulation of Cuticle Wax
Regular cannabis users might be familiar with the tell-tale sign of high-quality bud – the faint glimmer of crystals along the surface of the bud itself.
This is usually taken to be an auspice for quality, but what lies underneath the THC-laden crystals is actually something called cuticle wax. This wax is essentially a buildup of lipids created naturally by the plant for the purpose of protecting the exterior of the bud itself. The lipids aren’t a problem when smoking normally, but when you vaporize it… well, then it’s a problem.
During the regular process of combustion with joints or pipes, the layer of fatty wax is easily incinerated, allowing you to access the cannabinoids within it. However, when you vaporize it, it doesn’t work quite the same way. This is primarily an issue for CBD oil vape pens as, during the process of making the oil itself, the CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant — along with the cuticle wax.
If you are a regular user of CBD oil through vaporization, it’s possible that you might begin to develop a buildup of this wax in your lungs, causing an accumulation in a similar way to excess use of cigarettes. It’s possible that this could eventually lead to lung cancer, as well as generally unpleasant symptoms as a result of a buildup of unwanted lipids (which can solidify into granulomas) within your lung tissue.
This might all sound pretty terrifying, but there is actually a process that can take of this — called winterization.
CBD Vape Pen Safety: Winterization to Save the Day
Though the reality of cuticle wax accumulation sounds awful, winterization is the process by which the producers of cannabis oils combat it. Basically, winterization is an extra step in the production of CBD oil, which involves soaking the extracted tincture in a mixture of alcohol, and then freezing it.
This process allows you to separate out the cuticle wax (as well as other unwanted cannabinoids and plant substances that were extracted along with the CBD during the extraction process), but costs more time and money to complete properly.
Most good, high-quality CBD oil manufacturers should be including this step, but it’s worth making sure that the brand you’re buying does actually do this – you might be exposing yourself to cuticle wax accumulation without even realizing it.
CBD Vape Pen Safety: Increasing the Threat of Lipid Pneumonia?
Another health risk associated with CBD vape pens comes down to what CBD oil actually is on a chemical level. CBD oil is, essentially, pure extracted cannabidiol suspended within inert oil. This oil is usually a specific type, such as coconut oil or hemp oil, and generally speaking it is inert, non-reactive, and not overwhelming to your senses or strongly flavored.
However, when you vape CBD oil, you aren’t exactly doing something super great for your body. When CBD oil gets vaporized, the CBD is instantly vaporized and mixed with water vapor in the air to allow you to breathe it in easily. However, some of the inert oil is also vaporized and, as it turns out, inhaling vaporized oil probably isn’t a good thing for your lungs.
This is because the oil is a lipid – essentially pure fat. While great for holding substances within suspension, it’s not so great for your lungs. A study by Betancourt et al. for the American Journal of Roentgenology found that, when these lipids get introduced to your lungs, they can become caught inside the alveoli, the inner lining of your lung’s internal passageways.
This begins the risk of a condition known as Lipoid Pneumonia, where there are simply too many lipids within your lungs for them to function properly, causing intense respiratory pain and other serious side effects.
It’s worth noting, however, that this condition is rare and probably would require an extremely large amount of CBD oil vaping per day to be really at risk of this.
Of course, this still doesn’t stop it from being a concern. Also, you likely won’t hear much about this from the CBD oil manufacturers, so it’s important to remain informed about the possible side effects of vaping CBD oil.
CBD Vape Pens and the Undisclosed Risk of PEG/PG
CBD oils for vaping and CBD oils for oral consumption are basically the same substance; CBD suspended within inert oil. However, if you try and vaporize normal CBD oil in your e-pen, it will likely either begin smoking, clog the mechanism, or just stop working.
This is because oral CBD oils are too viscous – essentially they are too thick to be properly vaporized and converted into vapor. To help counteract this problem and make a product able to be used in vaporizers, manufacturers typically mix in substances called PEG or PG (polyethylene glycol and propylene glycol, respectively), or other similar substances to thin the oil out.
While this does make the oil less viscous and more easily vaporized, it comes with a few problems. A study published by Lau et al. for the Journal for American Pediatric Society found that PG can actually break down into carcinogenic compounds – specifically formaldehyde – which can potentially cause cancer later in life.
The consequences of this breakdown are most likely long-term, so we probably won’t be hearing about any “vape-induced” diseases for quite some time. However, some say that this actually makes the whole prospect of CBD vape pen safety a lot scarier – if the vape oil has damaged you, there’s likely no way to combat or treat it until it’s too late.
This increased risk of serious illness and carcinogen inhalation has encouraged some CBD oil manufacturers to drop thinning agents altogether, or at the very least minimize their use of PEG and PG. This means you need to make sure that the CBD vape oil you’re buying doesn’t contain any of this dangerous thinning agent; just one more thing you need to look out for.
Final Thoughts: Are CBD Vape Pens Safe?
CBD vape pens are a relatively recent invention, offering the ability to give people access to helpful medicinal CBD within cannabis, which they can use to try and treat a host of medical conditions.
Despite these perceived benefits, CBD vape pens still have established risk factors. Whether it be the risk of Lipid Pneumonia, the dangerous ramifications of thinning agents like PG and PEG, or any other issue we’ve yet to discover with CBD vape pens and vape oils, the fact remains that there is a health risk in vaporizing CBD oil.
However, it’s important to know that the dangers and risks associated with CBD vape oils are extremely rare; while they might sound bad, the dangers and problems associated with not taking CBD oil may be even worse.
At the end of the day, it’s a decision you need to make on your own – are you willing to risk potential health ramifications over the long-term, so as to help combat the problems you wish to medicate in the short-term?
Luckily, CBD oil manufacturers are working endlessly to make the best and safest CBD vape pens and oils possible, so it’s not out of the question that we may one day have an entirely risk-free CBD vape product.
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