Vape and Stay Safe
Some people have been asking me for my thoughts on recent vaping health concerns - and for good reason. Since August 2019, there have been over 350 reported cases of illness and lung damage associated with vaping, including 7 deaths. The Trump administration has responded, CNN, NBC, and other major media outlets are covering developments, and many brands in both the e-cigarette and cannabis vaping communities are coming out to share educational resources and statements on the matter.
For the past several weeks, new stories have been released on this “vaping crisis” nearly every day. Public health officials are still investigating the issue to confirm the root cause of the illnesses, but many are aligned that at least some of danger is associated with the use of vapes that contain additives that shouldn't be combusted, including but not limited to Vitamin E Acetate.
This is an ongoing situation, so check the CDC’s website for up-to-date information on their assessment on the health risks associated with vaping.
Unfortunately, some of the media coverage has contributed to misinformation and confusion among consumers. Some of the coverage has even insinuated that the danger lies in vaping THC.
I have a bone to pick with this coverage because I believe that consumers deserve a more nuanced understanding of the situation. Because, while there are dangerous vaping products on the market, vaping pure cannabis is not dangerous. In fact, vaping cannabis can be a great addition to one’s wellness routine.
Since I am an avid cannabis vaper (vapist?) myself and I share the benefits of vaping cannabis with family, friends, and blog readers alike, I have been paying close attention to the growing health concerns around vaping.
So that you can better understand this issue and make informed choices about how to stay safe when it comes to vaping, I have included my summary of the issue below as well as safe vaping tips.
The topic is nuanced and complicated, and I would argue it is even emotional for many people, particularly those invested in businesses that sell cannabis concentrates or vaping products. I have read through enough emotionally-charged social media posts on the topic to understand that this is a divisive topic, even among the cannabis consuming community.
Please note that I am not a medical professional, and so I encourage you to complete your own research in order to make the best decision for you. However, my goal is to educate and inform. If I don’t cover a question or concern that you have about vaping, please leave me a comment below and I will do some research and get back to you!
So, here’s the skinny. Vaping pure cannabis oil that has been produced through safe extractions methods (including CO2 and BHO extraction) is not dangerous to the body. What is dangerous is vaping the fillers and additives that less-quality conscious concentrate manufacturers are putting into their products.
There are vape cartridges on the market, both the legal and illicit markets, that contain dangerous fillers and additives. Until the cannabis industry and government can align on smart regulations to keep dangerous additives out of cannabis concentrates, vaping consumers need to be on high alert.
Unfortunately, it is generally more expensive for manufacturers to produce a quality cannabis concentrate, and so there are many less-careful companies out there that are adding cheap additives to their products, including Vitamin E acetate (“Vitamin E”), to stretch their product and increase profit margins.
Vitamin E is able to be digested by the human body, but when it is combusted, it has a different effect; through combustion, this additive gets into the lungs and reconstitutes, getting in the way of typical lung function. The human digestive system is designed to get rid of toxic external elements, but our lungs are not equipped with this same “flushing” system, so the combustion of certain foreign substances, like Vitamin E, can lead to inflammation or even pneumonia.
Many of the experts responding to the vaping crisis have highlighted that in the majority of cases, vapes associated with illness/death have been sourced from the black (or “illicit”) market. This means that many of those who have fallen ill sourced their cannabis cartridge on the street, from a black market dealer, in states that have not yet legalized cannabis.
The black market is a particularly dangerous place to source cannabis products because there is zero regulation of these products. Think back to when all cannabis was illegal. In those days, there was a heightened risk that the cannabis purchased from a drug dealer could would be “laced” with another substance, such as cocaine, to increase the dealer’s profit margins.
The Need for Consistent, Informed Government Regulation
My hope is that this vaping crisis sheds light on the fact that the cannabis industry and the government need to work together to insitutute proper regulations in order to keep consumers safe. In the absence of this type of collaboration on policy, consumers are at risk.
One can draw parallels between this moment and when consumer health suffered after the passage of the 18th Amendment. Once alcohol was officially prohibited, bootleggers were able to take advantage of the situation and create a black market for illegal alcohol and spirits derived from industrial alcohol sources. But this sale of unregulated alcohol had deadly consequences. During prohibition, hundreds of Americans died from drinking un-regulated bathtub gin.
I share this example to illustrate why it is imperative that appropriate regulations are applied to the sale of cannabis and cannabis products, including vape cartridges. In the absence of regulation, people could continue to get sick by ingesting tampered cannabis. This is not acceptable because cannabis consumers should be able to use this medicine in order to improve their physical and mental health.
Hopefully, cannabis industry leaders and policymakers can turn this tragedy into action. This is an opportunity for us to do better for consumers in the future. This is an opportunity to revisit and revise cannabis policy.
As we step forward from this crisis, policy changes shouldn’t be created in a vacuum. Rather, policymakers need to work alongside growers, manufacturers, and leaders in the cannabis community to align on regulations that work for businesses and consumers alike. They also need to consult people who have worked in cannabis pre-legalization as well as those who are committed to upholding equality and social justice in cannabis. Investing time into improved cannabis policy gives lawmakers the opportunity to correct some of the pending evils associated with cannabis prohibition.
When it comes to creating effective regulation, I also want to say that I do not think that a state-by-state approach to cannabis regulation works. All this does is contribute to a confusing web of laws and contradictions that even cannabis policy experts cannot wrap their heads around. And honestly, why shouldn’t knowledge about what keeps consumers safe be applied to all Americans? If experts do end up confirming that Vitamin E is the culprit behind these deaths, then why should it be acceptable for one state to outlaw Vitamin E in vapes while another state drags their feet on regulating this additive, putting more consumers at risk?
It’s time for common sense, consistent, and informed cannabis policy - federally.
Along these same lines, the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) has released a statement calling for the end to federal cannabis prohibition:
I’m thankful for groups like NCIA for bringing the need for proper regulation, and the end of federal cannabis prohibition, to light.
Tips for Safe Vaping
1) Educate yourself on the issue
Keep up-to-date on current articles about the vaping crisis, including statements by the CDC. When selecting media coverage, find sources that have taken an in-depth view of the situation and are not glossing over the key details.
2) Source vape concentrates from reputable companies
If you are an avid user of cannabis vape products, then I recommend that you research reputable and quality-conscious cannabis concentrate producers in your area.
For example, in Washington state, I recommend sourcing vape products through Heylo Labs who operate out of Seattle. They use a clean CO2 extraction method they refer to as “RawX”. Their mission is to create an extract that is as close to the plant as possible. I believe in their commitment to quality as I have seen their extraction process in person.
Do you know of any other cannabis vape manufacturers who are producing pure cannabis oils and are on the right side of the vape crisis? If so, please share below in the comments. Us consumers have got to stick together!
3) Do not purchase vape cartridges from the black market
This one’s easy. Don’t buy anything out of someone’s trunk. If someone you know has “tampered” with a vape cartridge, don’t vape it.
However, I acknowledge that if you live in an illegal state, this tip isn’t fair to you because you don’t have the same plethora of options that consumers in legal states have. My advice is to continue advocating for cannabis legalization in your state and broader federal legalization (I will, too!). Additionally, look for other ways to source high-quality cannabis products you can use within the confines of your state law, even if that means relying on accessible CBD oils or pills for now.
4) Do not knowingly purchase vape cartridges with the following ingredients:
Vitamin E Acetate
Propylene Glycol (PG or PPG)
Polyethylene Glycol (PEG)
Vegetable Glycerin (VG)
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT)
If you do not know whether or not your vape cartridge supplier includes these substances in their vape oils, just ask. Any worthwhile company should be able to respond to your question and high-caliber companies should even be able to provide testing results.
*Remember that not all of the substances listed above are dangerous to the body when ingested through eating/drinking. For instance, when following the keto diet, I often add MCT oil to my coffee to increase my fat intake. That said, these substances are not healthy when ingested through combustion (via vape or smoke).
I hope that the information above has helped to elucidate the ongoing vaping issue and provided you some helpful tips as you make your own healthy vape choices.
I am dedicated to sharing this message because I do not want canna-curious people who could really benefit from using cannabis to be coerced into thinking that vaping cannabis is inherently dangerous. The reality is that when cannabis concentrates are pure and well-sourced, vaping cannabis can be a simple, accessible, and discrete way to incorporate cannabis into your everyday life.
That said, those of us who are cannabis advocates have a lot of work to do. Let’s put the pressure on “the powers that be” to federally legalize cannabis. People using this medicine shouldn’t be getting sick on their path to getting well.
Other Resources on Safe Vaping:
From Heylo Labs’ Blog: Is Vaping Cannabis Safe? How To Protect Yourself with Cannabis Vapes
From Puffin Farms’ Blog: Vape Dangers: What We Know