“I’m concerned about it,” he says. “But I don’t have any data.”
People like vaping because it’s a smokeless, convenient, and fast-acting way to consume pleasure-inducing chemicals including THC and nicotine. It’s also potentially quite dangerous—and that’s also true when it comes to vaping cannabidiol, the popular cannabis-derived compound known as CBD. In fact, thanks to a regulatory no-man’s-land, a consumer craze, and manufacturers who dilute extract with oils better suited for salad dressings, CBD vapes are uniquely risky.
Which isn’t to say that no one is testing CBD products. As the Hemp Roundtable’s Miller said, “some very well-meaning companies will try to promote the best practices.”
You might be safer with weed
As of Oct. 10, more than 1,200 cases of a mysterious vaping-related illness, and 26 related deaths had been reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which is advising consumers to “consider refraining” from vaping altogether. Of the 771 patients the CDC previously reported data on, the majority reported vaping THC and/or nicotine. Only about 17% reported having vaped a CBD product, but there is still good reason for CBD enthusiasts to take note—and even to be especially cautious.
And of course, not all CBD vapes are created equal. Many extracts sold in vape pens and cartridges are diluted with other substances, such as medium-chain-triglyceride, or MCT, oils—fats that are frequently derived from natural sources such as coconut oil. While these are known to be safe to eat—and are often found in CBD tinctures—there’s little if any evidence that it’s safe to vape them, despite some manufacturers touting them as an all-natural ingredient.
The northern California-based company Bloom Farms—which has been in the cannabis extracts business since 2014—started selling hemp-derived CBD products online in January, and puts them through the same testing processes as their products with THC, which are under the strict purview of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. Customers can also download a certificate of analysis from Bloom’s website that provides test results from a third-party lab, but that’s far from standard in the CBD space.
“It’s totally horrifying to me,” says Katie Stem, an herbalist who cofounded the Oregon-based cannabis company Peak Extracts in 2014, and has researched plant medicine and chemistry at Oregon Health & Science University. “People should not be cutting [cannabis extracts] with any sort of culinary lipid.” Stem says that with an extraction process using carbon dioxide as a solvent, it’s possible to create a vape-able distillate containing only plant material, without any additives.
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Although the CDC has traced many of the EVALI hospitalizations back to vitamin E acetate, a substance used to dilute oils used in vaping, the risks of vaping CBD oil are not without risk, especially if the vape pens are obtained from illicit dealers, online sources, or friends. At least 26 of the EVALI cases were hospitalized after vaping CBD oil.
CBD oil is extracted from the flowers and buds of marijuana or hemp plants. Typically, it does not produce a “high” or intoxication because it contains very little, if any, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In fact, CBD oil is only permitted to contain less than 0.3% of THC. CBD oil is legal in states where medicinal or recreational marijuana is legal. Meanwhile, several other states have CBD-specific laws on the books even though marijuana is not yet legal there.
According to the FDA, it is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to food or marketing it as a supplement. Despite these guidelines, they warn consumers that some CBD products are being marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality. They also caution consumers that CBD can harm the liver and may interact with other medications you are taking. And, it may even have a negative impact on male fertility.
Is Vaping CBD Oil Safe?
But many people are hoping those regulations will happen soon. Even the CBD industry is concerned and asking for oversight. For instance, without more regulations, organizations like the U.S. Hemp Authority are unable to certify CBD oils as it does with CBD topicals, tinctures, and edibles. And, until that happens, consumers have very little way of knowing what they are getting when they purchase a CBD oil.
Generally speaking, vaping is an unsafe practice regardless of what substances are in the vape pen. And, CBD oil is no exception. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently linked vaping products to an outbreak of nearly 3,000 lung illnesses that were so serious that even young people were being admitted to the hospital. Meanwhile, nearly 70 people have died from what is now being called EVALI (e-cigarette and vaping associated lung injury). And, the CDC believes thousands more may have admitted to the hospital with lung issues related to vaping.
To make matters worse, this lack of certification has lead people to sell vaping liquid they claim contains CBD oil when it actually contains harmful chemicals, which is injuring and killing people in the process. To determine the extent to which this is occurring, the Associated Press (AP) commissioned a study to analyze the contents of nearly 30 oils claiming to contain CBD.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved only one CBD-based medication, which is used to treat seizures associated with two severe forms of epilepsy. But, when it comes to CBD in general, they stress that it cannot be added to food, drinks, or dietary supplements. And although the FDA has warned manufacturers against making unproven health claims, it has not done much to stop the sale of CBD products.