Vaping CBD: Is It Safe?

What to look for before you decide to vape CBD

Some people prefer to vape their CBD because it delivers CBD into the body quickly, but is it safe? 

In the last few years, vaping has made headlines (and not in a positive way). Suddenly people who vaped, usually flavored tobacco products or cannabis, were coming down with E-Cigarette Or Vaping-Related Lung Injuries—EVALI—as it’s known at the Centers for Disease Control. Naturally, CBD-vaping users want to know what it means for them.

Vape pens or vape sticks fall under the general classification of e-cigarettes. These heat a small amount of liquid, sometimes called vape juice) that are usually sold as cartridges. Typically, vape liquid also contains propylene glycol, which is plant-based glycerin alcohol, or glycerin alone. Propylene glycol is typically the additive found in asthma inhalers.

The role of Vitamin E acetate in the health risks of vaping

After some scientific legwork, investigations revealed that Vitamin E acetate is the primary suspect. Poorly regulated vaping compounds are usually produced in vape shops or by online retailers with an eye on the bottom line.

The Centers for Disease Control has stated: “Vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the EVALI outbreak. Vitamin E acetate has been found in [vape] product samples tested by FDA and state laboratories and in patients’ lung fluid samples tested by CDC from geographically diverse states.”

We’ve tried to simplify the biochemistry of vitamin E acetate, so stick with us.

Vitamin E acetate

Vitamin E is a naturally occurring vitamin found in vegetable oils, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. It’s a fat-soluble antioxidant that limits ROS (reactive oxygen species that result from enzymatic reactions at the cellular level). This function is especially important when fatty acids breakdown.

Typically, vitamin E refers to tocochromanols, essential nutrients that are lipid (fat) soluble. Its most common form is vitamin E acetate, added as a viscous oil to multivitamins and skin creams. Vitamin E acetate is a synthetic combination of acetate and α-tocopherol that is easy to produce. Once this synthetic vitamin E is in the body, it hydrolyzes or breaks down because of a chemical reaction with water, releasing triglycerol and fatty acids.

The problem, researchers theorize, arises when vitamin E interacts with your lungs pulmonary surfactant or PS. The PS lines the alveoli in your lungs and reduces surface tension to allow you to breathe normally. It’s essentially a fat-based lining of the alveoli.

Vitamin E acetate, simply put, likes the lipids found in the PS. Because of its affinity for those lipids and because inhalation of vitamin E acetate changes the surface tension, structure, and mechanisms of the alveoli and PS, it could lead to lipoid pneumonia. Lung inflammation is a chief characteristic of lipoid pneumonia, leading to some of the symptoms of EVALI.

Added to that is the question of superheated vape mixtures. Vape and e-cigarette devices are designed to use higher temperatures, possibly changing the mixtures’ chemical reactions to be more harmful. One proposal is that superheated vitamin E acetate produces ketene. Inhaled, this toxic gas leads to severe lung damage or death.

Cannabidiol (CBD) in your vape juice

A consideration of vaping CBD is what form to use. CBD carrier oils aren’t meant to be inhaled because oil inhalation can lead to problems such as lipoid pneumonia. Similarly, CBD tinctures are not meant to be vaped—tinctures are only meant to be ingested orally.

Here’s where it’s crucial to understand vaping terminology. Confusingly CBD vape juice is also referred to as vape oil, even though there’s no oil in the vape juice. Another term to look for is CBD distillate.

People often confuse the term CBD oil with other uses, such as tinctures and oils, meant to be used orally. In reality, the term only refers to distilled CBD extract.

A tincture contains CBD-rich cannabis or hemp extract AND an assortment of other ingredients: carrier oils, such as MCT coconut oil or a combination of carrier oils. To be safe, avoid vaping any product that contains oil of any kind, whether carrier oils such as MCT or vitamin E acetate.

Advances in CBD extraction

New purification methods are resulting in CBD vape liquids without the chemicals. The result is CBD distillate, a pure and potent form of CBD that doesn’t require chemical additives to thin the vape liquid.

The process involves heating the cannabis or hemp to vaporize the cannabinoids. The vapor is collected in a cooling system that eliminates chlorophyll and plant matter.

A clean solvent such as alcohol is added to the extract, which is then frozen or winterized to remove remaining waxes. Fractional distillation follows winterization, which filters out the solvent or alcohol. The result is a pure CBD distillate that doesn’t require thinning with oils, propylene glycol, glycerin, or vitamin E acetate.

What’s on the market

There are good quality vape products in many cannabis-legal states. However, CBD-only states are a different matter—more of the Wild West in terms of product quality and variability. Vape pens are convenient, quick-acting, easy-to-use, and discreet.

The problem lies with unscrupulous vendors and unregulated markets, especially online. Often these products include vitamin E acetate, “natural” flavorings, or carrier oils. A red flag is the term vape juice: too often, that’s code for a mixture of potentially hazardous additives.

Tips for buying safe CBD vape products

  • Stick with vaping cannabinoids, terpenes, and other flower ingredients. While terpenes and other constituents are removed during the distillation process, they may be reintroduced in the final product.
  • The above tip aside, avoid THC in your vape liquid—it has been tied to the incidence of EVALI.
  • Look for an independent or third-party lab certification. The testing certificate will typically list what’s in the vape liquid, the liquid’s purity, and, often, the amount of CBD delivered. Check to be sure that your CBD vape oil does not contain Vitamin E acetate.
  • Choose a trusted CBD retailer who you know to be knowledgeable about all things CBD. Do your homework and know what questions to ask.

The bottom line on vaping CBD

Vaping CBD distillate is a more potent and faster-acting CBD delivery system. Practically odorless and tasteless, CBD distillate’s effects are felt almost immediately.

As researchers find new benefits and technology advances product purity, vaping CBD distillate is safer for users who need immediate relief.

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Andrew Mattison

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