You don’t have to look far to figure out why cannabis vape pens have become so popular. The sleek cartridges offer an easy, discreet way to ingest the plant. The concentrated oil can be flavored in a number of ways and many users geek out on equipping themselves with different vape technologies.
THC vape pens are convenient too, and since most look just like tobacco vape pens, they’re inconspicuous to use in public. People puff on them in restaurants, at concerts and around amusement parks, with most passersby unaware that it’s actually THC and/or CBD vapors being released into the air.
A culture more acceptant of cannabis use further emboldens people to use vapes freely. Vaping has leveled the playing field, so to speak, between smoking tobacco and cannabis.
One of the biggest draws for people to use THC vape pens is the notion that vapor is a healthier alternative to smoke. It seems sensible to think that it would be be riskier to inhale a burning plant compared with a vapor. However, when consumers discover what may be hiding inside THC vape pens, depending on the extraction method, they can make educated decisions as to what oils they choose to vape.
A study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found
that 88% of frequent “vapers” thought it was safer than inhaling smoke.
Just like their completely legal e-cigarette counterparts, THC vapor pens come in many different shapes and sizes. There’s no discernible way for most people to figure out whether a pen someone is vaping is filled with tobacco, CBD, THC or a combination of the latter two. This can increase the potential for accidental ingestion by a person unaware of what they’re really inhaling.
Some THC vapor units are long silver or white “pens” pre-filled with a battery, heating element and THC oil, CBD oil or a combination of both, commonly referred to as a hybrid. They are made to be used and discarded. Other, more sophisticated vaping pens feature rechargeable heating units that can be reused, with the user reattaching a new oil cartridge when the old one runs out.
Nothing is ignited when using a vaporizer product. Vape pens work by using a small heating element to heat THC oil, creating a vapor that is inhaled by the user. The vapor is exhaled like smoke, but is relatively odorless.
There are other types of THC and CBD vaporizers, pens and tabletop units that heat up raw cannabis to create a vapor that can be inhaled. They do not use oils and typically require no additives to work.
The tabletop Wisp is marketed as a wellness product, but it is retailed by a company called CannaKorp and can be used with marijuana.
When purchasing marijuana legally from a medical and/or recreational dispensary, consumers have the benefit of browsing around to learn more about what they are buying. Many users, however, obtain THC pens illegally in the after-market and are at a disadvantage of not knowing precisely what they are inhaling.
The way some vape pens are made presents a danger to others. Producers use various methods to produce the THC oil contained within the pens. First, they need to strip the THC from the cannabis. They then need to prepare the oil to be processed for the vape pen.
A common extraction method involves placing marijuana buds in a tube and running butane – essentially lighter fluid – over them to extract the THC. Afterward, the resulting oil goes through a purification process, but the butane can never be completely removed. While other methods are being developed, it’s unclear if THC vape oil can be consistently created in a safe manner, free of harmful chemicals due to cost and availability of materials.
A hard chemical may be used to separate THC from the Cannabis plant, but the process may also include other harmful chemicals. Just like farmers of other crops, marijuana growers may use pesticides to ward off bugs, along with other chemicals to prevent diseased crops. Unlike common produce that is sanitized at home prior to consumption, cannabis often goes straight from the field to extraction.
The only organization regulating the marijuana industry is itself. During a cannabis judging competition, 34 out of 39 THC oil cartridge entries were disqualified for containing pesticides.
After the chemical extraction process, the gooey THC oil must be thinned to a consistency that will allow it to be vaporized. To do this, manufactures may use thinning additives, such as glycerin, polyethylene and polypropylene glycerol,
Polypropylene glycerol breaks down, in part, into formaldehyde, which is a group 1 carcinogen as classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. In a research study conducted on e-cigarettes, formaldehyde was found in the vapor, and later in the lungs of users.
According to the University of Washington Drug and Alcohol Institute, research shows that THC vape pens can release ammonia which “when inhaled can cause irritation and central nervous system effects, as well as asthma and bronchial spasms.”
These are harsh chemicals that can cause serious health issues. Additionally, there have not been extensive studies on the consequences of vaping marijuana. Many medical organizations have advised against using any type of vapor inhalant product, including the American Thoracic Society.
Due to the different method of delivery vape pens provide the consumer, some people may view the pens as less intense, or “not as serious” as the smoke and strong aroma associated with smoking THC. However, it is important to remember that these devices may provide the consumer a more intense “high” than smoking. Because it is a concentrate, novice users may easily ingest far more than intended.