Myth-VapeCrDarrin Harris FrisbyDrug Policy Alliance

MYTH: Vaping is always safer

My partner and I were ecstatic when we discovered our pen-sized vaporizers! We were happy we had cut our consumption of smoke and believed the advertisements that vape pens were safer. We trusted the manufacturers to provide a safe device and safe product to consume … despite the complete lack of regulation over the cannabis industry.

Our transition from flower to cartridges was quick. In two weeks, we had replaced a heavy daily dose of flower with the clean and quick CO2 cartridges. We were happy to have less smoke and less odor, which made our irritable neighbors yell at us less.

But as the days went on and our standard allergies became unbearable – and, worse, we experienced bouts of bronchitis – it began to dawn on us: These safer alternative vape pens may not be for everyone.

We polled our non-allergy prone friends for their experiences using CO2 cartridges. About half had bronchitis like symptoms, the other half had no adverse reactions.

Since the poll in our house of two was 100 percent adverse reaction, we stopped using the vape pens and waited to see what would happen. It took two months, but we recovered. The pens are long gone.

During our recuperation, we began investigating what could be in the vape pens that made us sick while other friends were unaffected.

Most laboratory test results provided by the vape pens’ makers reveal little about chemical contaminants or heavy metals. Laboratory data also didn’t report on mold or fungus in concentrates — nor do they present data on the condition of the flower prior to processing.

We learned that when the vape pen devices are set on high-heat, chemicals common in vape concentrates (propylene glycol, etc.) can convert into carbonyls (carcinogens), and that many chemicals in the concentrate irritate the respiratory system and exacerbate allergies and illness. And if your concentrate was made with a solvent like butane, what assurance do you have that the butane was fully purged before you inhaled? Nothing more than a “trust me.”

We have since returned to the methods of our ancestors: smoking bud, via joints or bongs.

There are some exemplary extract companies that welcome minute scrutiny (AbsoluteXtracts comes to mind). Still, in the absence of a third party or government verification, the best practice for some medical marijuana users may be only smoke or eat medicine you can visually inspect, while using the lowest temperature setting on extract devices.

Warnings of the dangers of hash oil have been made before. As Robert Connell Clark wrote in his book “Hashish!” in 1998, “… making hashish oil is overkill, and simply a method for passing low-quality cannabis products off on unsuspecting and uninformed consumers.”

As consumers in 2015, we have the options of trusting an unregulated industry, or trust and react to the signals from our own bodies.

Caveat emptor indeed.

Photo by Darrin Harris Frisby/Drug Policy Alliance