Vaping CBD Guide: What you need to know about vape pens and overall safety
CBD users who’ve made the switch to vaping have found an alternative to smoking that is considered more discreet, and easier to use. These devices generally consist of a battery (or mod), an atomizer (which heats the e-liquid), a tank (which you fill with the e-liquid), sensors and software (to control its function), and a drip tip (the mouthpiece where you inhale from). These vape pens can be purchased as all-in-one starter kits that can be used immediately after the package is opened or they can be fully customizable creations with all different kinds of mods, atomizers, and drip tips.
Buyer Beware: Safety issues with vape pens and e-juice
While vaping is generally regarded as safe, there are some concerns that you need to be aware of.
First, is the safety of your vape pen/vaporizer.
In recent years, the U.S. market has been flooded with numerous devices and many of them are made in China – where regulations and oversight are almost non-existent. This is why the vape industry has been referred to by politicians as the “wild west” and why the FDA began regulating the industry a year ago.
Although there have not been many reports of problems with these devices, some of the incidents have been alarming.
For example, an Idaho man recently lost 7 teeth and had second degree burns to his face when his e-cigarette device exploded in his face. Not only did he sustain significant injuries but the explosion also damaged his bathroom sink and damaged his walls with smoke as well. He is one of a growing number of victims injured by e-cigarettes that have either exploded or caught fire.
In most cases the battery is too blame. In an interview with ABC News, Lt. Robert Daniel, Stratford Deputy Fire Marshal called it, “thermal runaway, which is a chain reaction and once it starts you can’t stop it.” He blames cheaply made aftermarket batteries, which can short circuit in milliseconds.
To avoid this potential hazard, your best bet is to purchase a vape pen or vape mod (a fully customizable “open system” device) from a reputable manufacturer. Generally, their products are of higher quality and are safety tested in the U.S.
Another concern you should be aware of is the e-liquid itself.
What’s in CBD e-liquid?
Today, a large variety of CBD vapor cartridges are available on the market, coming in different strengths, formulas and flavors. These e-liquid preparations will generally contain a base of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerol then other ingredients are added which typically include flavorings and CBD extracts.
Propylene glycol (PG) is a common additive that can be described as a synthetic liquid substance that absorbs water. It is a clear, odorless, tasteless, colorless, slightly syrupy liquid at room temperature and is commonly used by the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries. It is used to absorb extra water and maintain moisture in certain medicines, cosmetics, or food products. It is also a solvent for food colors and flavors, and in the paint and plastics industries as well. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified PG as an additive that is “generally recognized as safe” for use in food.
Some people are allergic to PG, as frequent skin exposure can sometimes irritate the skin. However, most people who are allergic are already aware, since PG is used so frequently in everyday household items, including aerosol cream, ice-cream, soft drinks, and even cosmetics.
Vegetable glycerol (VG) is another additive in e-juice that doesn’t carry flavor very well, but has a slightly sweet taste and is considerably thicker than PG. It is a natural chemical, derived from vegetable oil and is commonly used in e-liquid to produce a lot of vapor and to give it a ‘thick’ sensation. Similar to PG, VG is a humectant (helps retain moisture), solvent, and sweetener, and can be found in numerous everyday household products. Some examples are sweeteners (sugar replacement), make-up, mousse, bubble bath, aftershave, deodorant, pet food, soap, food such as baked goods (to increase moisture), medicinal creams, toothpaste, etc… VG is also classified as “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA.
When it comes to CBD e-juice, users can choose between flavored or non-flavored products. Non-flavored products can generally be vaped alone, mixed with other flavors of e-liquid, or taken sublingually. Flavorings are included simply to create a pleasant inhalation experience.
Finally, extracts of CBD are blended in with the liquid to complete the product. Quality companies will use a supercritical CO2 extraction process for a safe, pure, unaltered, consistent extraction with a clean taste. The strength of the e-liquid will depend on the quality and the quantity of the cannabinoids in the liquid. Entry level e-juices will contain a few milligrams of CBD content while premium e-juices will contain over a hundred milligrams of CBD content. Be sure to read the label before purchase.
Dangers of Diaketones
Some ingredients found in some e-liquids are questionable, namely diaketones which include diacetyl, acetyl propionyl, and acetoin.
Diacetyl is classified as “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA. However, in the 1990’s, factory workers in a microwave popcorn plant contracted bronchiolitis, also known as ‘popcorn lung’. It was generally believed that this was the result of inhaling a powdered form of diacetyl in very high concentrations, which was used in the butter flavoring for the popcorn.
Although there was no hard proof that diacetyl caused the workers to get ‘popcorn lung’, it was never ruled out. Studies were not able to determine definitively if diacetyl exposure contributed to lung disease or was a marker for other hazardous substances that contributed to disease. However, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studied six microwave popcorn plants and had this to say:
“… a relationship between cumulative exposure to diacetyl vapor over time and having abnormal lung function as measured by a test of lung function called spirometry. Also, higher cumulative exposure to diacetyl in this plant was associated with having a lower level of forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV 1), an important measure of lung function. Across all six microwave popcorn plants studied by NIOSH, working as a mixer of butter flavorings and heated soybean oil was associated with higher exposure to diacetyl vapor than working in other areas of the plants. People who had ever worked as mixers had more chest symptoms and poorer lung function as measured by lower FEV 1 than people who had never worked as mixers. People who had worked as mixers for more than 12 months had more shortness of breath with exertion and lower FEV 1 than people who had worked as mixers for less than 12 months.”
According to the CDC, subsequent studies have also been conducted to help to clarify the role of diacetyl:
“Toxicology studies have shown that vapors from heated butter flavorings can cause damage to airways in animals (Hubbs et al, 2002). Studies in both rats and mice demonstrate that the cells lining the airways can be damaged by inhaling diacetyl vapors as a single agent exposure in both acute and subchronic studies (Hubbs et al. 2008; Morgan et al. 2008). In mice, aspiration of diacetyl alone caused a pattern of injury that replicates some of the features of human obliterative bronchiolitis (Morgan et al. 2008). These findings support the hypothesis that diacetyl vapors are an inhalation hazard in the workplace. Also, a study from the Netherlands shows that chemical workers in a plant that manufactured diacetyl developed the same type of lung disease as microwave popcorn workers (van Rooy et al. 2007 and 2009). These chemical workers had less complicated exposures than microwave popcorn workers. Overall, current evidence points to diacetyl as one agent that can cause flavorings-related lung disease. Other flavoring ingredients may also play a role.”
However, it’s important to note that diacetyl levels in tobacco cigarettes are much higher than what can be found in e-juice. Also, the factory workers were exposed to much higher levels of diacetyl than can be found in e-liquids. Nevertheless, consumers should be aware of the potentially harmful effects of inhaling this ingredient.
Acetyl propionyl (also known as 2,3-pentanedione) and acetoin are two other ingredients that are found in e-liquids that may be of concern, although current data indicate that acetoin is considerably less hazardous than diacetyl and it does not have the reactive α-dicarbonyl group, which has been implicated in the toxicity of diacetyl and acetyl propionyl.
However, on the topic of acetyl propionyl, the CDC has this to say:
“Published reports on the toxicity of 2,3-pentanedione were first published in abstract form in 2010 (Hubbs et al. 2010a; Morgan et al. 2010). A recent NIOSH peer-reviewed publication documents that acute inhalation exposures to 2,3-pentanedione cause airway epithelial damage that is similar to diacetyl in laboratory studies (Hubbs et al. 2012). In 2-week inhalation studies in rats, researchers from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) found that 2,3-pentanedione caused proliferation of fibrous connective tissue in the walls of airways and projections of fibrous connective tissue sometimes extended into the air passageways (Morgan et al. 2012a). Preliminary data suggest that repeated exposures to either 2,3-pentanedione or diacetyl can cause airway fibrosis in rats (Morgan et al. 2012b). In the acute inhalation study of 2,3-pentanedione, changes in gene expression were noted in the brain (Hubbs et al. 2012). Preliminary data suggests that diacetyl can cause changes in the central nervous system that are similar to those caused by 2,3-pentanedione (Hubbs et al. 2010b). As a group, these publications raise concerns that the toxicologic effects of diacetyl may be shared with alpha-diketones which are close structural analogs. Additional alpha-diketones of interest include, but are not limited to, those used in food manufacturing such as 2,3-hexanedione and 2,3-heptanedione (Day et al. 2011).”
As you can see, these ingredients are bad news and people who choose to vape should avoid inhaling products that contain these additives.
That said, many manufacturers of quality e-liquids don’t use these ingredients at all. To protect yourself and to ensure you have a safe vaping experience, be sure to buy high-quality products from reputable sources that clearly list all of the ingredients on their labels and be sure to avoid products that contain diacetyl and acetyl propionyl.
Day G, LeBouf R, Grote A, Pendergrass S, Cummings K, Kreiss K, and Kullman G . Identification and measurement of diacetyl substitutes in dry bakery mix production. J Occ Env Hygiene 8(2):93-103.
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