What’s in that vape? Cannabis & vaping
You’ve probably seen a lot in the news lately about the youth vaping epidemic sweeping the country – we’ve also covered it in a series of posts from our Tobacco team. What you may be less familiar with, however, is that vaping applies to more than just tobacco: people (including kids) also vape cannabis, which comes with many of its own health and social implications.
Vape pens (also called “e-cigarettes,” “vapes,” or “vapor products”) are the battery-powered devices used for vaping. Although they are typically associated with nicotine or tobacco, some vape pens can also vaporize dried cannabis leaves, buds, or oils and waxes made with THC (the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis) and CBD (another compound in cannabis). Vape pens heat contents until they aerosolize, which a person then inhales.
The aerosol of a cannabis vape pen is more than just “water vapor:” it can contain residual solvents, pesticides, and other toxic by-products, depending on the vaping device and the form of cannabis vaporized.
- Many vape pens have poor temperature control, meaning they heat cannabis to combustion, or beyond the point of aerosol. This means that users inhale cannabis smoke, which can contain carbon-monoxide, tar, ammonia, and other by-products that are harmful for lung and respiratory health.
- Vaping cannabis oils and waxes (e.g., cannabis concentrates) carries additional concerns. To create concentrates, THC and CBD are extracted from cannabis plant material. It’s possible that “safe” levels of pesticides in a cannabis plant exponentially increase when the product is concentrated. Plus, extraction requires solvents, most frequently butane. It’s not currently known how much of these pesticides and solvents remain in cannabis concentrates, or whether those quantities are risky for users to inhale.
- Finally, it’s possible that vaping may expose users to heavy metals. Studies show that in vaping devices used with nicotine, metals can leech from the device’s metal coils, filaments, solder joints, etc. As the line between nicotine and cannabis vaping devices becomes increasingly blurred (cannabis is now being offered in vapor cartridges or in solutions that can be used in the vaping devices more commonly used with nicotine), there are concerns that heavy metal exposure may occur regardless of whether it nicotine or cannabis is vaped.
The concentrated cannabis inhaled during vaping can deliver a highly potent dose. Some concentrated products (like oils and waxes) are 50-80% THC, compared to 10-15% in dried cannabis plant. This can trigger anxiety or paranoia in some people, or increase their frequency of use, quantity used, and/or risk for addiction and cannabis use disorders. New cannabis users, in particular, are at higher risk of these negative health effects from high potency products.
Vaping cannabis involves more than just health risks. Although vaping may seem more discreet than smoking, it is still illegal to use cannabis in public places like parks, bars, on sidewalks, or any other place visible by the general public. It’s also illegal to vape cannabis while driving or as a passenger in a moving vehicle. You can brush up on this and other important cannabis laws in our post on the 10 laws to know.
Kids can experience additional health and social risks. Our knowledge about vaping cannabis is still growing, but we know that kids are using cannabis in vaping devices: according to the 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey, nearly 1 in 3 high school students and 1 in 4 middle school students who reported e-cigarette use additionally reported using cannabis in their e-cigarettes.
Because their brains are still developing, kids can experience unique risks from cannabis use, including problems with memory, attention, mental health issues, addiction, and poorer school performance. Plus, purchasing, possessing and using cannabis is only legal in Washington for adults ages 21 and older—youth who vape cannabis can face legal consequences. Learn more about the health and social effects of youth cannabis use here.
Interested in learning more? Check out these resources on vaping and cannabis:
Cannabis Vape Pens: What You Should Know
Vaping has been popular for many years. In fact, “vaping” was Oxford dictionary’s word of the year in 2014. The demand for cannabis vape pens has continued to increase due to the advantages vaping offers. The benefits are clear: the ease of use, the discretion of medicating without the typical cannabis smell and vaporizing is easier on your lungs than smoking. There are many options available, so it is important to know what to look for before going off and investing a large sum of money. Vape pens have two major categories: dry-herb vaporizers and concentrate vaporizers.
Dry-Herb Vape Pens
A dry-herb vaporizer uses the ability of cannabinoids like THC to be transformed into a water vapor at lower temperatures than needed to combust plant material. This means that no actual smoke is produced when you use a vaporizer as cannabinoids can turn from liquid to gas without igniting. Dry-herb pens are beneficial as you are vaporizing cannabis in its natural state; meaning, you get the original spectrum of cannabinoids and terpenes that the plant produces naturally. This is one of the cleanest ways to inhale cannabis. The pen has a chamber that you pack with ground herb much like the bowl of a pipe. Depending on the pen, it will take several moments or a few minutes for the pen to reach the temperature needed to vaporize.
The major concern with dry-herb vape pens is the price. You get what you pay for. While there are dry-herb pens available for relatively cheap, generally an investment of over $100 is standard while spending over $200 will buy a nicer model. Dry-herb pens are meant to be reused and typically come with a cord to charge it.
Concentrate Vape Pens
As the world of cannabis concentrates continues to grow, so does the technology of concentrate vape pens. Most concentrates can be vaporized but require the proper pen to suit the medium. For a better understanding of concentrates, consult our blog “A Beginners Guide to Concentrates”. The two major categories of concentrate vape pens are those meant for wax and those meant for liquid, oil concentrates.
Wax Vape Pens
Vape pens made for wax are either disposable or have a dedicated battery with a chamber. As these concentrates are more potent than the dry-herb they are made from, not much is needed when loading the chamber of the pen. Disposable pens have the advantage of requiring no charging or cleaning. They are, however, lower quality and are to be disposed of when clogged or empty. Pens with dedicated chambers are of a higher quality but do need to be cleaned after a time. Build up of undesirable concentrate residue will occur, how much build up will depend on the consistency and cleanliness of the concentrate. Most pens can be cleaned using a cotton swab and isopropyl alcohol, but consult the manufacturer’s specifications for clarification.
There are several types of chambers available for dedicated vape pens, and each offers a particular experience with advantages and disadvantages. A common chamber that comes with dedicated vape pens are those that have atomizers made of a metal coil that vaporizes concentrate through conduction heating. Most chambers have a single or double coil atomizer. A single coil atomizer uses less battery power but takes slightly longer to heat up a larger volume of concentrate. A double coil takes less time and creates more vapor overall but consumes more battery power as well.
There are also coil-less chambers that utilize quartz, ceramic, or titanium atomizers. Quartz atomizers heat up quickly, do not dilute taste when clean, retain heat for a shorter amount of time than other materials, and are liable to succumb to wear and tear more quickly. Titanium atomizers heat quickly, are very sturdy, can retain heat for a long period of time, but may detract from the overall flavor of the concentrate. Ceramic atomizers are fantastic for retaining the taste of the concentrate, holds heat longer than other materials, but takes the longest to heat up initially. Depending on what feature is most important to you, choosing the appropriate atomizer will enhance your wax vaping experience.
Oil Vape Pens
Vape pens that utilize oil concentrate typically come in either pre-filled cartridges that are screwed into a battery or as a specific chamber included with some high end vaporizers. Most oils on the market today are preloaded in a cartridge, so you simply screw it into the battery. Common batteries for such cartridges either have a single button that powers the unit or are buttonless and activate when you inhale from it. The quality and strength of these pre-filled cartridges depend upon the type of concentrate and the cartridge itself. Cartridges come in either plastic with a wick system that draws the oil in or high end glass and metal with dual coils in the center of the cartridge.
The two major oils found in pre-filled cartridges are CO2 oil and distillate. CO2 oil is made using cold temperatures, high amounts of pressure, and CO2 gas which is non toxic. Distillate is made using more harmful solvents like butane or alcohol. When properly produced, however, distillate should only have trace amounts of these solvents left in the final product. Distillate is the more potent of the two oils, but both are capable of being diluted or “cut” with solvents to make the oil less thick, easier to vaporize and also less potent. Whether or not an oil is diluted depends on the manufacturer.
Both CO2 and distillate can have terpenes reintroduced to the oil to give them a more nuanced effect and flavor. Common solvents used to dilute oil are MCT oil and propylene glycol (PG). Polyethylene glycol (PEG), though not as common, is a thinning agent that has been linked to harmful effects when heated; to a lesser extent PG has been similarly linked. If you are unsure of whether a particular cartridge has been diluted with a solvent, always ask the store clerk for clarification.
Interested in learning more about using cannabis vape pens? Schedule a consultation with an expert. If you’re in the Ann Arbor area, contact the team at Arbors Wellness for a free consultation.