Taking cannabis into the body is done in several different ways. Most popular today is vaping cannabis for a high or for pain relief or stress management. The cannabis concentrate is heated but not actually combusted, so it can be inhaled as a relatively cool vapor instead of a hot acrid smoke. Those who vape cannabis say it is safer than smoking and also more discreet and convenient. There’s no doubt it is more discreet and convenient, but is it actually any safer?
That pretty much depends on the kind of inhaling equipment is being used. The vast majority of vapers use a vaping pen, and today the majority of those pens are manufactured in Sichuan, China. It is the same area where most e-cigarettes are currently manufactured as well. The basic mechanical set up is that a small tube of liquid cannabis oil is heat by a battery operated coil in the pen to around 160 degrees fahrenheit, which causes the cannabis oil to begin vaporizing. This vapor is then drawn into the mouth and lung through the tip of the pen.
That’s the basic method of delivery. But sometimes the heating element in the pens, which is completely unregulated, can bring the oil to a near boil — and that’s one of the problems that health experts are worried about. Cannabis at high heat can throw off damaging chemicals that the human body, especially the lungs, are not equipped to absorb and excrete without side effects including cramps, dizziness, headache, and nausea. These toxic chemicals include formaldehyde and acetaldehyde — both of which are considered to be industrial poisons when humans are exposed to them in large batches. In microscopic amounts, inhaled into the lungs, there is as yet no research to show definite danger.
Which is why beginning on July 1, 2018 there is now stricter monitoring of cannabis, so consumers can feel more secure in buying products available on the market. This vast shift in regulations will increase the standards of all businesses, resulting in higher quality products. Companies that do not yet comply with the new rules must quickly organize to fit the new market policies so as not to risk losing their licenses and ultimately their market share in this burgeoning space.
Another major concern is that both medical and recreational marijuana are sprayed with various insecticides while growing in the field. While these pesticides are deemed “Generally Safe” by the FDA, once again the element of heat is cause for concern. Almost all cannabis oil has traces of insecticide in it. Once these pest control chemicals are heated for more than a second they begin to give off their own vapors — which have not been extensively studied.
Vegetable glycerin is one of the main ingredients in treating marijuana prior to distilling it into oil. Ammonia is also used, the same as in tobacco curing. These two items do not completely disperse during the distillation process, and there are reports of vapers who have developed allergic reaction to them.
And finally the heating element itself can be cause for alarm. A pure silver heating element is considered completely safe, but most vaping elements are merely silver coated nickel/chromium. And constant heating of nickel/chromium has been shown to release acidic residues that irritate lung tissue.
According to Brass Knuckles, a provider of vape cartridges and a company very involved in the regulatory landscape of cannabis, “Once new vaping device rules go into place this summer, most of the more inexpensive brands will sink out of sight — which means that those who choose to vape should find the above health concerns much taken care of, if not completely solved.”