Vaping is the newest craze for smokers and tokers everywhere. A convenient way to imbibe your chosen substance, vaping allows you to avoid the intense, burning heat of a regular cigarette or joint, as well as doing away with the social stigma of smoking in a public space.
It’s also known as the safer option; you avoid the toxicity of smoke and tar damaging your lungs, plus you get a purer, more distilled concentrate of whatever you’re inhaling.
But still, the question remains – for those that vape CBD oil, are you completely safe? Here are the facts about vaping CBD oil, and whether or not it truly is “safe.”
What is Vaping, and Why Do People Do it?
Vaping is the act of inhaling steam (vapor) through a vaporizer – it really doesn’t get much more obvious than that. It works by vaporizing the substance at a far cooler temperature than smoking (around 200 deg F compared to about 2,000 deg F), meaning there is (or should be) a total lack of combustion.
Originally, vapes were created to help regulate people’s use of cigarettes, encouraging them to quit by using e-cigarettes instead, but the ability to more easily and handily get a hit of marijuana – whether through dry herb or through oils – has meant that vapes have become incredibly popular.
The act of vaping carries with it less of the social issues that smoking in public has, thanks to the fact that you can get your vape smoke flavored with any number of different tastes. The process of vaporization also limits the amount of excess THC or CBD in the exhale, meaning you don’t force your substance on those passing by.
A famous study published in the Journal for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics by Abrams et al. is frequently quoted in news articles concerning vaping. The study extolled the virtues of vaping for the purpose of ingesting THC, thanks to its high rate of THC utilized per vape as well as its seeming lack of side effects or long-term health consequences.
The study, as well as numerous others, advocates for the use of a vape instead of regular smoking due to lack of combustion, as the acrid smoke and tar produced from cigarettes and joints can (obviously) be damaging to your health.
However, this study famously only works when considering vaping dry herb, as well as the fact that it only looks at the ability of the vaporizer to retrieve THC. It doesn’t take into account the act of vaping CBD oil, nor does it fully explore the potential consequences of vaping with regard to side effects. So what are some of the potential problems with vaping? Does it pose any kind of a risk to your health?
Vaping Fatty Oils May Cause Lipid Pneumonia
One of the concerns with vaping CBD oil is that, as the name implies, the CBD is suspended in oil. This oil is typically hemp or coconut oil, either for the purpose of creating brand consistency or to imbue it with a certain flavor or aroma.
However, vaping an oil isn’t exactly a good thing.
When you vaporize a substance, you are aerating it and entering it into your respiratory system. This vapor is breathed in, affecting your bloodstream in the same manner as taking oxygen from the air and then exhaling it.
But oil isn’t like air.
A study published in the American Journal of Roentgenology by Betancourt et al. has found that, when you imbibe vape oils, you are introducing fats – known as lipids – into your lungs. When you do this, there is the potential for an accumulation of lipids to occur in the alveoli. This essentially means you will find yourself with fat clinging to the interior of your lungs — not good at all.
When you do this, you become increasingly at risk of Lipid Pneumonia, a medical condition wherein your bronchial tubes become obstructed due to the fats blocking them up, resulting in severe respiratory distress and even possible death.
However, this is an exceedingly rare condition, one that only affects a small minority of extremely frequent marijuana oil vapors and, even then, doesn’t happen very often.
Even though it’s rare, though, it doesn’t stop it from being a concern. There are no public warnings or information sheets informing you of this possibility when you imbibe CBD oil, so how else would you know about it? And of course, there are also other lipid concerns when vaping…
Cuticle Wax Accumulation
If you’ve ever smoked marijuana in its more traditional, dry herb form, you might recognize a shimmer on the surface of your bud; a slight, almost unnoticeable gleam that seems a premonition of the good high to come.
Well, this sheen is actually from a layer of lipids that forms on the surface of many flowering cannabis plants. This surface substance is known as cuticle wax, and is usually of no concern if you’re simply smoking it in a joint or a pipe. When smoked through combustion, this layer of wax is burnt away easily – it’s actually what’s responsible for that first, slightly acrid and burning taste when you first light up.
However, this substance is not destroyed through the act of vaporization. This is a concern for CBD oil because, when making it, the CBD is extracted from the cannabis plant in a way that can allow the fatty substance to “come along for the ride.”
There isn’t exactly an actual problem with this cuticle wax – it doesn’t kill you or cause any bad flavor – the actual problem just occurs when you vape it. When you vaporize CBD oil that contains cuticle wax, the wax is not burned away, instead joining the CBD and other lipids in the oils, all of which enter your lungs.
Once inside your lungs, the cuticle waxes can build up, settling finally in a small, waxy lump inside your airways. This is not dissimilar from the process of tar settling that occurs in frequent tobacco smokers. However, this danger has been recognized and is being tackled thanks to a process known as winterization.
Winterization is a recently formulated process with the intended purpose of clarifying and purifying CBD oil. Normally, when CBD oil is produced, the CBD is extracted using different heating solutions and pretty standard extraction methods.
With winterization however, the CBD is soaked in an extract of alcohol and then frozen, hence its wintery name. Though this obviously takes more time and money, the process means that no other substances can be brought along with the distilled CBD, as it is frozen out. This process is actually similar to the one used in the production of brandy and other spirits; by freezing the substances, you can actually separate out the chemicals or other elements that you don’t want in the final product.
Thanks to winterization, CBD oil is getting safer to vape. However, there are still other concerns with CBD oil that actually arise after the oil is made.
Propylene Glycol & Mysterious Thinning Agents
One of the problems when manufacturing CBD oil for vaping is the fact that oils are too viscous. When attempting to vaporize a substance, or even just bottle it for transport and sale, you want the oil to be as liquid-like as possible.
With CBD oil, the CBD is suspended in a solution of either coconut or hemp oil, which is pretty viscous and thick. To make the process of vaporization easier, a number of substances can be added to CBD oil to make it thinner, including the infamous Propylene Glycol, or PG.
PG makes the CBD oil smoother and easier to imbibe, but it carries with it some significant risks. According to numerous studies, including this study published in the Journal for American Pediatric Society by Lau et al., Propylene Glycol has the potential to break down in carcinogenic compounds that could pose serious health risks.
The consequences of this breakdown are long-term, so it’s likely that the side effects wouldn’t even be noticed for years.
Furthermore, the same study found that excessive quantities of Propylene Glycol can cause apoptosis – which means the death of cells – in the developing brains of mice. This could have far reaching implications to adults and adolescents who use CBD oil containing this compound, as we have yet to fully explore the potential side effects of Propylene Glycol. After all, the human brain continues to develop well into our early twenties.
This risk of cancer and damaged brain development has caused many CBD oil vape manufacturers to forgo the inclusion of these thinning agents, so try to keep a lookout for whether or not your CBD oil contains Propylene Glycol as an ingredient, and avoid it if it does.
Is Vaping CBD Oil Safe? Final Thoughts
CBD oil has been established to have the potential to help a huge amount of people with their medical conditions, anxieties and problems, thanks to its effects on the endocannabinoid system.
However, as with any medication, CBD oil has some problems and dangerous interactions with the human body when vaporized.
Whether through extensive risk of lipid pneumonia, or the potential for future cancer risks associated with the addition of Propylene Glycol as a thinning agent, it’s clear that we don’t know enough about the issues with vaping CBD oil.
Though vaping CBD oil has innumerable benefits, it might instead be best to stick to oral application of CBD oil through droplets, or through its inclusion in food, at least until further studies and investigations can be conducted into the long-term consequences of CBD oil. No one wants to treat one condition with a medication, only to then suffer more complications in the future as a result.
Thankfully, manufacturers are wising up to these problems, and are striving towards purer, additive- and lipid-free CBD oils that will hopefully mean there are no limited amounts of long-term health problems associated with vaporization.
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