Is Vaping Safe?

Leaf411’s Position on Vaping

Medically reviewed by Katherine Golden, RN
Written by Denise Rustning

Our mission at Leaf411 is to provide balanced information and guidance for safe, legal cannabis use. We’re closely monitoring emerging Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research around vaping to make sure our advice reflects the latest information. Health officials’ findings point to what we’ve long known—that in the current cannabis environment, the burden is on consumers to ask questions and carefully review products for safety and efficacy.

Below, we’ll share what we know about the current health concerns related to vaping and guidelines for selecting safe vape products. And of course, we always welcome your questions at the free Leaf411 nurse hotline: 1-844-LEAF411 (1-844-532-3411).

Different Types of Vape Products

When we talk about vapes, what do we mean?

Vapes, or e-cigarettes, were first used with nicotine-based cartridges as an alternative to conventional cigarettes. JUUL is a popular nicotine-based brand that offered mint and fruit-flavored nicotine cartridges until very recently. In addition to nicotine-based vapes, some vapes in this category contain only flavoring and additives to produce unmistakable clouds of vapor.

Vape pens and cartridges expanded into the cannabis market as states began legalizing recreational and medical marijuana. Many people have found they prefer to vape THC and CBD oil. Vaping is more discreet than smoking cannabis and produces less odor. Vaping can also preserve beneficial terpenes that are destroyed by high heat when smoking flower. THC and CBD vape cartridges may contain additional terpenes or flavoring as well.

Some devices are designed for vaping flower, or buds, as well as vape oils, while others are designed solely for either oil or flower.

What’s Causing Vaping-Associated Lung Injuries?

Health officials have connected the spike in vaping-associated lung injuries (VAPI) to additives used in some vape cartridges, notably Vitamin E acetate, as well as polyethylene glycol (PEG), medium chain triglycerides (MCT oil), and other emulsifiers. These ingredients are especially common in illicit vape cartridges.

Public health officials have responded differently across the country. In Massachusetts, the governor banned all vape products—including nicotine and cannabis oil vapes and flower vapes—for four months, sparking protests and court challenges. The ban has reportedly pushed medical cannabis patients to seek out vape-based plant medicine in nearby states. Cannabis advocates also worry that these blanket bans could push more consumers to illicit underground markets where they face much higher risk of encountering dangerous products.

Other states, including Colorado, are seeking to strengthen regulation through legislation to prohibit use of certain additives in vape products.

You can find an updated list of vape bans and restrictions here.

For the time being, it’s on consumers to check product labels for problematic ingredients in vape cartridges.

How to Tell if a Vape Cartridge is Safe

Not all vape cartridges are created equal. The CDC is finding that many of the vape-associated lung injuries and deaths are connected to unlicensed products that contain vitamin E acetate and other problematic ingredients. How do you find a safe vape cartridge?

  • Purchase your vape products only through state-licensed cannabis retailers or licensed delivery services.
  • Avoid concentrates that contain additives such as Vitamin E acetate, polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol (PG), MCT oil, coconut oil or any other emulsifiers or synthetic agents. While some of these ingredients are safe to eat, they are not safe to inhale.
  • Use flower that is cultivated using organic standards, or concentrates that are third-party tested and strictly designed for vaping.
  • Recently, there’s been an explosion of topical and sublingual THC and CBD products—these are not formulated for inhalation and should not be used in refillable vape cartridges!

Most legal dispensaries and delivery services can help provide access to certificates of analysis (COA) for the products they carry. The lab results on a COA include the cannabinoid profile, pesticide testing, etc. Budtenders, clinicians and Leaf411 nurses can help answer your questions about the COA.

Looking for a manufacturer or dispensary you can trust? Check out the Leaf411 member directory.

Avoid Illegal and Counterfeit Vape Products

The easiest way to avoid illicit vape cartridges is to always buy your products from legal dispensaries who provide COA lab results for the products they sell.

Don’t buy vape products sold through illicit (black) market sources or from non-licensed dispensaries. These products are likely not tested and can be easily counterfeited. The vast majority of products implicated in recent vape-related illnesses and deaths came from illicit vendors. In addition to problematic additives, many illicit vape pods have been found to contain dangerous synthetic marijuana instead of actual CBD or THC.

When it comes to spotting counterfeit vape cartridges, the internet is your friend. Look up the manufacturer’s online product images to see if the packaging is the same as the product in front of you. Suspiciously high or low THC or CBD levels may also be a tip-off that something isn’t right. Also, look for legally mandated labeling and icons on the packaging. Leafly offers additional tips for spotting counterfeit cartridges here.

If you believe you have a counterfeit or illicit cartridge, toss it. You may lose a few dollars, but it’s not worth the risk to your health to use it.

Is Your Vape Pen Safe?

You’ve done your homework to ensure your vape cartridges are additive-free and backed by lab results. How about your vape pen?

Vape pens may contain heavy metals and other low-quality materials that carry long-term health impacts. Before buying a vape pen, research online or ask your dispensary budtender to review the vape pen’s technical specifications. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Where was the vape manufactured?
  • Is the vape made from medical grade materials?
  • Does the vape have plastic near the heating element?
  • Does the vape manufacturer have a good reputation in the industry and stand behind their product quality?

You’ll also want to consider whether the vape is compatible with the cannabis products you plan to use.

Leaf411 hotline nurses can help with your questions about vape safety. Call us toll free at 1-844-LEAF411 (1-844-532-3411).

What About Vaping Flower?

Dry herb vaporizers provide an alternative to smoking THC and CBD flower (buds), and may also allay some concerns about additives in vape cartridges. Dry herb vapes are specially designed for heating cannabis flower and converting the resins into vapor that is inhaled. Many people find it easier to vape flower instead of smoking it. Also, dry herb vaporizers use lower heat than combustion (smoking), which preserves more of the terpenes.

When purchasing flower, you’ll want to use the same guidelines for finding safe, high-quality products. Buy organically cultivated flower from state-licensed dispensaries or delivery services who can provide COA lab results for the product.

Watch Out for Vape-Related Symptoms

The CDC has been monitoring vape-associated lung injuries (VAPI) throughout the United States. Patients with VAPI reported the following symptoms that developed over days or weeks prior to their diagnoses:

  • Cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain or diarrhea
  • Fever, chills, or weight loss
  • No other explanation for symptoms

With the winter influenza and respiratory virus season upon us, it can be hard to determine the source of illness. Leaf411 encourages you to truthfully report all vape use to your medical providers when seeking treatment for any illness. As Jon Doneson’s story illustrates, it could help save your life.

Vaping is Not for Everyone

Leaf411 advocates for safe cannabis use. To that end, there are specific populations that we advise against vaping:

  • Pregnant and/or Breastfeeding Women: Leaf411 does NOT promote or suggest using any form of cannabis while pregnant or breastfeeding unless specifically recommended by a physician, due to lack of consistent, reliable research on either side of the issue.
  • Teens and Young Adults: Leaf411 does not encourage, suggest or promote underage use (<21 years old) of any cannabis products on a recreational basis. Our nurses are available to educate teens and young adults on the risks of cannabis use and vaping specific to their population. Teens are especially susceptible to buying illicit vape cartridges from friends or other informal sources. Note: For patients under 18 years old who have an MMJ card, our hotline nurses may discuss medical use with a parent or legal guardian on the phone.

Leaf411’s cannabis-trained nurses are happy to talk with you about whether vaping is a safe option for you. Please call us toll-free at 1-844-LEAF411 (1-844-532-3411).

Where Leaf411 and Our Founding Members Stand

Many people in the cannabis industry, including Leaf411 and our founding members, advocate for full legalization of cannabis nationwide, along with stronger regulatory oversight to ensure a safe marketplace for consumers. A legal, well-regulated market will sharply limit the ability of bad players to manufacture and sell illicit products. National legalization will also open the doors to research on the medical benefits of cannabis, along with the safest and most effective routes of administration.

Have other questions about vaping? Our Leaf411 nurses can help! Call our free nurse hotline at 1-844-LEAF411 (1-844-532-3411).

Welcome to the Leaf411™ Blog

The Leaf411 Cannabis Nurse hotline is a FREE non-profit hotline available to all Colorado residents. We provide easily accessible cannabis education and support from trained medical professionals. When you call our free hotline, you’ll receive individualized answers to your questions. Our hotline phone number is: 1-844-LEAF411 (1-844-532-3411).

We also realize you might not have a specific question yet, or you may only be looking for general information. Our Leaf411 Blog is written for you. We provide information on trusted resources, research, cannabis news, and how-to guides for safely using cannabis and hemp products.

What You’ll Find on Our Cannabis Blog

We’re passionate about providing high-quality balanced information about legal cannabis use. Our blog provides an outlet for us to share cannabis resources to help you on your journey, whether you are new to cannabis or are already using cannabis recreationally or medically.

Not a cannabis user? We still have you covered! Our blog covers issues that impact all of us. Recreational and medical marijuanalegalization continues to spread across the country, and CBD and hemp products have earned their own spot in retail stores.Leaf411 is committed to providing balanced information to help you sort through the products that your patients, family members or friends may be talking about.

The People Behind the Leaf411 Cannabis Nurse Hotline

Our commitment is driven by firsthand experience after seeing the healing power of cannabis in our own lives and in the clinical setting. All of our hotline nurses are members of the American Cannabis Nurses Association (ACNA) and have completed specialized training. You can learn more about our nurses here.

Leaf411’s Founding Members

You’ll notice a growing list of founding members in our Member Directory. Our founding members support our nonprofit’s mission to provide free clinician-based cannabis education to consumers and industry partners. We screen all potential member businesses to ensure they meet our standards. Watch for future blog posts featuring our founding members’ perspectives on cannabis consumers’ needs.

Leaf411’s Cannabis Resource Library

We also offer a robust online resource library where you’ll find FAQs, disease-specific articles, information on how to get a Colorado medical marijuana card, and links to crisis lines and support groups. We always welcome your calls as well!

Sharing Our Cannabis Success Stories

Every day, more people are seeking out cannabis and hemp/CBD products to find relief and improve wellness. While you’ll certainly find those benefits within the space, you’ll also find an incredible community made up of people who have experienced the power of plant-based medicine. By sharing our stories, we help to remove the stigma and outdated stereotypes surrounding cannabis and hemp.

Katherine Golden, RN, Leaf411 co-founder’s story:

My journey in cannabis started 3 years ago when a close family member was suddenly diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. He was in his 40s with kids in high school, and he’d never smoked. The doctors gave him 2-5 years to live. My family was completely devastated.

As a nurse and the medical professional in the family, I immediately researched alternative and less well-known treatment options to supplement my family member’s care. I began looking into the cannabis plant mainly to see how valid the research really was. At the time, I was extremely judgmental about cannabis. However, when I started searching well-known medical research sites like PubMed and ScienceDirect, I found tons of published research supporting the benefits of cannabis. 

I’m happy to say that my family member is going strong 3 years since his cancer diagnosis. We don’t know exactly how the supplemental use of cannabis with his current regimen has helped reduce his tumors. However, everyone—including his non-cannabis physician—is watching his progress closely!

My personal experience led me to work as a lead nurse in a cannabis clinician’s office in Boulder, Colorado, where I met Jennifer, Leaf411’s co-founderEvery day, we saw patients who had benefited from cannabis. However, I realized not everyone had access to cannabis-trained medical professionals. I decided to dedicate myself full-time to my dream of making cannabis information from trained medical professionals readily available to everyone through the Leaf411 hotline. As a nurse, I can assure you that no question is too silly or strange when it comes to cannabis and your health. Give us a call today for help with your cannabis questions.

Jennifer Axcell, Leaf411 co-founder’s story:

I still remember when I started out as a cannabis patient. At the time, my primary care physician had happily prescribed me 13 different narcotics and opiates for chronic pain. However, these medications came with troublesome side effects and risks. When I asked my doctor about using cannabis instead, his answer was, “I don’t know anything about cannabis, I don’t want to know anything about cannabis, it’s federally illegal.” I didn’t know where to go to get answers to my questions about how to use cannabis to treat my chronic pain and PTSD. I was frustrated and confused, but determined to go down this path, even without help from a medical professional.

Three years later, cannabis has undoubtedly changed my life for the better. I also saw how cannabis improved other peoples’ lives while working with Katherine at the cannabis clinician’s office in Boulder, Colorado. Time and time again we saw patients leave with more questions than they came with. For new patients especially, it’s hard to know what questions to ask if you know very little about cannabis. The office we worked at did their best, but we knew much more could be done. After a lot of hard work, we’re thrilled to launch Leaf411 to provide the resource I wish I’d had when I first decided to look into cannabis as medicine.

Check back often as we regularly update our blog with the latest information and resources for the safe use of legal cannabis (marijuana and hemp).