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).