Many cannabis consumers have switched from smoking to vaping, believing that vaping is healthier than smoking. If the concentrate is pure, vaping is safer than smoking, because vaping heats and atomizes the cannabis concentrate at lower temperatures, and so does not release the potentially harmful free radicals that are released through smoking bud.

If you’re vaping, you should be aware that not all commercial vape cartridges are safe.  In fact, there are issues with most commercial cannabis vape cartridges on the market today:

  • Most cannabis vape cartridges contain heavy metals, and some may contain unsafe levels of lead. Lead contamination can lead to a number of serious health issues.
  • Commercially raised cannabis is often sprayed with pesticides, and these are much more highly concentrated in the oil used in cartridges.
  • Thinning agents used in vape cartridges may contain propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol, which when heated can be transformed into carcinogenic formaldehyde.

There are two ways to be sure you’re vaping safely:

  1. Select only commercial cartridges that are lead and pesticide free, and that use only safe thinning agents like vegetable glycerin.
  2. Grow your own organic weed, process your own concentrate and fill your own ceramic, lead-free cartridges.

Lead

Recent studies indicate lead is common in commercial cannabis vape cartridges. High Times reported in January that Josh Meyers of the cannabis products supplier Calico Group said “’It’s absolutely true’ that some vape cartridges on the market are contaminated with lead. He said that the Chinese manufacturers are ‘already well aware of this. Most of the manufacturers have already got on board, but there’s still a tremendous amount of product…that still has lead in it.’”

Lead contamination is linked to abdominal pain, difficulty concentrating, headaches, high blood pressure, joint/muscle pain, memory loss, and mood disorders. For pregnant women, lead can cause miscarriage or premature birth and adversely affect the health of unborn children.

Pesticides

While the pesticide level in most bud is relatively low, it can be much higher in the concentrates used in vape cartridges.  According to Green Power, “Cannabis extractions concentrate resin, including pesticides that may be attached to that resin. Therefore, a vapor cartridge or BHO extraction is more likely to contain more concentrated quantities of contaminants.” A report published in the Journal of Toxicological Sciences found that 80% of samples studied in California concentrates contained unsafe levels of pesticides.

Fortunately for Massachusetts cannabis consumers, pesticide use in cannabis is prohibited.  According to Analytical Cannabis, “A statewide crackdown on the use of pesticides on cannabis products has led to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health issuing a cease-and-desist letter to a cannabis brand operating in the state.” If visiting other states where cannabis is legal, be wary of what you purchase. According to Cannabis Business Times, “In California, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, they’re testing samples of marijuana or cannabis for CBD and they’re finding pesticides that are not legal to use, and in some instances, they’re finding them in levels that are 100 to 1,000 times more than what would be legally acceptable in commensurate crops.”

Thinning Agents

To improve vaporization, cannabis vape cartridges usually contain thinning agents. Not all of these are safe. According to Green Power “In a 2017 report published in the Journal of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine   showed that certain common additives to vapor pens may pose health risks. The two additives in question? Propylene glycol (PG) and polyethylene glycol (PEG). Both substances are commonly added to e-juice and vapor cartridges to thin out an otherwise thick, honey-like material. Unfortunately, while these additives are generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) they can transform into more dangerous substances when heated to the point of combustion. Specifically, PG and PEG are both converted to the known carcinogen formaldehyde with heat.”  Green Flower reported “When speaking at the Institute of Cannabis Research Conference 2017, Harvard-educated physician, Dr. Jordan Tishler, expressed concerns that “PEG can become a carcinogen and PG can polymerize, coating the lungs in plastic and provoking an immune response.” They added that other thinning substances, such as vegetable glycerin, pose no health risks.

Synthetic Flavoring Additives

We think the Stranger described perfectly why vape cartridge flavor additives are wrong: “Pot has one of the broadest ranging flavor profiles in the world but it will never naturally taste like blue razz lemonade or strawberry mango papaya. Those are artificial flavors added to your vape pen, probably used to cover up some shitty concentrate. Great pot tastes great, full stop. It needs nothing else, and when you start adding extra flavors you are almost always covering for an inferior product.”

What they didn’t add, though, was that those additives might be harmful. According to Cannabis Business Times, “Typically, the artificial flavors found in cannabis cartridges are sourced from the e-cigarette industry. There are thousands of flavors, but their safety is in question (e.g., diacetyl causing “popcorn lung”).”  Green Flower explained this further “In 2018, a study published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, found that diacetyl and eight other terpenes impaired “nitric oxide production, which inhibits inflammation and clotting and regulates blood vessel enlargement in response to blood flow. Over time, that could contribute to heart damage and other health impairments.”

What to Look For In Commercial Cartridges

To assure you’re vaping safely, look for these characteristics in cartridges you purchase:

  • 100% ceramic, lead-free cartridges
  • 100% CO2 extracted cannabis oil
  • Laboratory testing showing the absence of pesticides and fertilizers
  • No potentially carcinogenic thinning agents such as propylene glycol or polyethylene glycol
  • No synthetic flavoring agents

A Simple, Safe Solution

If you want to be 100%, certain you’re vaping safely, grow your own weed, process your own concentrate, and fill your own cartridges. An added bonus—home grown and processed cannabis concentrate is a lot less expensive. You’ll have peace of mind, and save money, as well!

Sources

Analytical Cannabis” “Toxic Lead Discovered in California Vape Cartridges”

Countable: “Lab Testing Reveals There’s lead in Most Vape Cartridges”

Journal of Toxicological Sciences: “Understanding dabs: contamination concerns of cannabis concentrates and cannabinoid transfer during the act of dabbing”

Planet Natural: “Legal Weed and Pesticides”

Cannabis Business Times: “Purdue Researchers Tackle Cannabis Industry’s Pesticide Problem”

Analytical Cannabis: “Massachusetts Regulators Crack Down on Pesticide use in Cannabis Production”

Leafly: “You Might want to Avoid These Ingredients in Cannabis Oil Vape Cartridges

ABX/Absolute Extracts: “What’s in My Vape?”

Cannabis Business Times: “What’s In Your Vape Cartridge?”

The Stranger: “Six Signs You’re Vaping All Wrong”

Green Flower: “Growing Health Concerns about Cannabis Vape Cartridge Additives”

Wikileaf: “How to Buy Lead-free Vape Cartridges”

California Weed Blog: “How to mix and fill your own CBD/THC vape cartridges with terpenes”