Blog | January 14, 2020

Whats in your Cannabis Vape?

Probably something you don’t know very much about. People widely use CBD and THC vapes with a disregard to their safety. Even “terpenes” can be dangerous in large amounts, people!

So today:

Lets Talk Vape Adulterants (and additives)

I’m only adding the word “additives” because not everything that gets added to a vape is necessarily dangerous. Frankly, there just isn’t enough research on some of these substances being vaped to draw any conclusions.

Care Division does not currently make any vaporizer products, but we plan to in the future. This just seemed like something our customers were curious about! I have gotten a lot of questions about vaporizers since the beginning of the great “Vape Crisis” of 2019.

First things first:

Most compounds, including Cannabis Oil itself produce various degrees of harmful compounds when heated to a vaporizing temperature. The level of harmful compounds increases as you raise the temperature.

So essentially, do not vape at high temperatures, or take chain rips your vaporizer. Use the lowest setting that you can tolerate.

Common Vape Carriers

  • Propylene Glycol (PG): The main ingredient in most nicotine vaporizers. Propylene Glycol is used in many CBD and THC vapes to thin out the oil, but has a tendency to separate. This is because it has a lower lower density than the cannabinoids it is being used to dissolve. PG also can break down into a lot of nasty chemicals when it is heated i.e. Formaldehyde, aldehydes, and benzene.
  • PolyEthylene Glycol (PEG): Very similar to PG, but with a strong chemical taste. It tastes a bit like the inside of a plastic bottle smells. That isn’t surprising, as it is an ingredient in some types of plastic manufacturing! Unfortunately, it works very well as a means of thinning out cannabinoid-rich oil. PEG comes in a lot of different molecular weights, so it is easy to match to the density of cannabis oil. This can make for a homogenously blended vape cartridge with no separation. PEG produces very high amounts of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde when heated. More than Propylene Glycol even!
  • Vegetable Glycerin (VG): A common ingredient in skin creams, and also the other main component in nicotine vaporizers. It is VERY difficult to dissolve much CBD or THC into Glycerin. Based on my anecdotal experience, the most you can really get to dissolve homogenously is ~3-5%. Vegetable Glycerin has the same problem of producing harmful compounds when heated. Most people will add a tiny bit of Vegetable Glycerin to vapes because it produces a thick cloud of vapor, as opposed to a thin cloud like PEG or PG.
  • Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s): These are Caproic acid, Caprylic acid, Capric acid and Lauric acid. Each of these substances individually might look familiar from your bath and body product ingredients. They are typically extracted and refined from Coconut Oil and/or Palm Kernel Oil. The Palm Kernel variety tends to be cheaper, but relies on the destruction of palm forests to be produced. If you ever buy MCT Oil, make sure it is coconut-derived!
    MCT oil mixes readily with cannabinoids, which is why you see it as a base in most tinctures. Unfortunately, when used in a vaporizer there is a risk of developing lipid pneumonia from inhaling fat. The risk is low, but it is still a risk.

It would appear that MCT Oil and Vegetable Glycerin are safer than the other options above, but there is limited information on the safety of any of these things over the long term.

Less Common Vape Carriers

  • Triethyl Citrate: Used in food to stabilize foams, and also as a plasticizer for PVC plastic, Triethyl Citrate is a less widely used vape additive. Triethyl Citrate can be mixed with vegetable glycerin to allow significantly more cannabinoids to dissolve. CBD and THC mix pretty readily with this stuff.  It has been shown to cause lung problems in rats, but there is little research available about human exposure to vapor over the long term. This is one of the hundreds of substances commonly found in vaporizer flavorings that are safe to be eaten, but not necessarily inhaled.
  • Vitamin E Acetate: Marketed as “Honey Cut”, “Uber Thick”, or “Pure Dilutant” (well, those are the three most popular brands), it is a substance that isn’t very good at dissolving CBD or THC. However, when added to other vape carriers, it can thicken the overall solution. This stretches the cartridge further, and also can make the oil appear to be higher quality than it actually is.
    This stuff is the major cause of the “vape crisis”. When inhaled, your body cannot break down Vitamin E Acetate, so it accumulates in your lungs. When you eat Vitamin E Acetate, our stomach acid, and digestive track can actually break down things, so it isn’t dangerous.
    Over time, as you consume a vape laced with Vitamin E Acetate, you are giving yourself a case of lipid pneumonia. Do not buy any vape containing Vitamin E Acetate (not like you’d be told!).

Ok, that’s probably enough of a wall of text for everyone for the moment. Stay tuned for round 2: “Terpenes”. It’s a novel by comparison, so hopefully, this post didn’t bore you too much. 🙂