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Is vaping THC safe?


So, let’s talk about vaping. In today’s world, I feel like it’s safe to assume that everyone reading this has had some kind of experience with vaping. Whether you yourself are a vape-er or you know someone who is, vaping and e-cigarettes are almost impossible to ignore. I live in a small town. We don’t have a McDonald’s, a Starbucks or a grocery store, but I can think of two vape shops off the top of my head, right in the middle of town. At the gas station last night, I saw an e-cigarette device for sale for only $0.99 – however the nicotine cartridge would cost you another $9.99. Not only are e-cigarettes widely available and relatively inexpensive, but there are a ton of THC vape products on the market as well. Even here, in my prohibition state, it’s easy to get a THC cartridge. Sometimes even easier than it is to get flower.

I have a confession to make. I am a cigarette smoker. Not an e-cigarette smoker; a paper and tobacco (and whatever other chemicals they’re throwing in there now) smoker. When I first heard about e-cigarettes I was around 19 or 20 years old. I was in my first serious relationship and his mother was one of the heaviest smokers I have ever met in my life. Donna – we’ll call her – rolled her own cigarettes, smoked in her house and smoked probably two and a half packs a day. Around this time, she found out that she was going to be a grandma for the first time, but her daughter had an ultimatum. She wouldn’t bring the baby over if Donna was still smoking in the house. This is when e-cigarettes first entered my life.

Donna gave me my first e-cig. It looked just like a cigarette, only shinier. It had a brown filter and the tip was textured to look like ash. When you took a drag, the end lit up red like the cherry on a real life cigarette. Even the case that it came in was shaped to look like a pack of cigarettes. At first, I was excited to have an alternative to smoking that was seemingly less harmful – just because I’m a smoker doesn’t mean that I don’t know how bad it is for me. I took a drag. And I hated it.

The flavor was harsh. It made the back of my mouth and throat itch. It tasted metallic and honestly, just a little weird. They made me cough and breathe harder than any “real” cigarette ever had. It didn’t take long for me to realize that nicotine vapes just weren’t for me, and I was pretty bummed out about it but I kept trying. My mom, Dear Mama herself, quit smoking using vapes and I was ready to go on that journey with her. It was the dawn of the flavored vape “juice” and my mom has impeccable taste. Cohiba cigar flavor is the one that always comes to mind when I think of her vaping and the only one I don’t remember hating. I never bought my own e-cig, after the one Donna gave me, but I never turned down and opportunity to try a new battery or flavor. None of them seemed to be right for me.

Enter the cannabis vape cartridge. I truly can’t remember the first time I tried a THC vape (insert cannabis and memory loss joke here) but they were a game changer for me. I didn’t experience any of the ickiness that came with e-cigs. Don’t get me wrong, I will almost always choose flower over a THC vape cartridge, but I love the ease, the “stealth” and the effect of a cannabis vape. I’ve also been in some financially tough places recently and a THC vape cartridge will last us a few days. If we spent the same amount of money on flower, we would get maybe one evenings worth.

When I heard that vaping has been linked to illness and death, of course I was scared, as I’m sure many others were too. Not only have I been regularly vaping THC for a while now, but I have friends and loved ones that are cannabis and e-cig users. The idea that they may be in danger of serious illness or even death is terrifying. Not to mention my own health and safety.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t skeptical of vaping straight out of the gate. When they first hit the market, people were excited to have a “safer alternative” to smoking and my first thoughts were “do we even really know how safe it is?” I’m sure I’ve mentioned it in my past articles, but I’m not a scientist or a doctor or any kind of specialist, but when vapes first started showing up on my radar ten years ago, something in me said “this can’t be that safe.”

But enough of my story telling, let’s get down to business. Cannabis vape carts are made by combining a cannabis concentrate with a diluent, a substance used for diluting, to create a liquid that can be vaporized and inhaled, otherwise known as an aerosol.

A majority of the cases of vape related incidents are coming from prohibition states, where testing and regulation are nonexistent, and most are involving THC vapes. We don’t know for sure, but it seems that most of these cases are linked to vape products containing vitamin E acetate (tocopheryl acetate), a synthetic vitamin E oil that is safe for use in cosmetics and topical application, but with no verifiable safety when it comes to inhalation. The vitamin E acetate is relatively cheap and used to thicken the THC distillate which can make the product seem superior, but it is suspected that it is coating the lungs in oil, causing pulmonary distress, some cases of lipoid pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses.

The vape market is booming, for both THC and nicotine, and it doesn’t take much to realize that there are going to be people who take advantage of that. It’s surprisingly easy to make your own THC cartridge, it only took one internet search and the top article gave me step by step instructions on how to make my own THC vape. Decarboxylate, make a concentrate, add your diluent and you’re done. The article I read suggested a food grade propylene glycol and I haven’t found anything that suggests that it causes the same issues as vitamin E acetate.

I have probably a dozen empty carts in my room right now and I couldn’t tell you where they came from or what was in them. To be entirely honest, when we first started buying them, I was impressed. The packaging was colorful and the brand seemed legitimate, but I didn’t do any further research than that. I thought I was getting dispensary grade product in a prohibition state. Silly, silly me.

Have you heard of Dank Vapes? I hadn’t, but those were the carts we bought. I have to admit that I was cynical when I first heard about vaping related incidents. It’s not my carts. It must be nicotine vapes. It was a little bit of a shock when I discovered that it was primarily THC vapes and primarily those sold on the illicit market. I was even more shocked to discover that Dank Vapes are probably the biggest scam cart on the market. If you can get your hands on the packaging, you can manufacture and sell cartridges in a fancy Dank Vapes box filled with whatever chemicals and additives you like. 24 of the 41 cases out of Wisconsin and Illinois involved Dank Vapes with high concentrations of vitamin E acetate. Aside from the vitamin E acetate, other dangerous chemicals, including pesticides, fungicides and heavy metals have been found in illicit THC vapes.

Now that we have all of this information, is it safe to continue vaping? If you’re buying THC vapes in an area where they are illegal, or purchasing them from an unregulated source because they’re cheaper (an instinct I completely understand), it is probably not safe. We know those carts are unregulated and untested, a risk we take with flower as well, but with far less detrimental side effects. It’s highly likely that our illicitly purchased carts are contaminated, either with vitamin E acetate or other dangerous additives.

This rash of illness and death has caused a ruckus with the CDC and the FDA, the president even considering a federal ban of flavored e-cigarette liquid. All I can think is that prohibition hasn’t and isn’t going to do us any good. I believe that this only makes our federal legalization argument stronger. This is a great opportunity for those opposed to adult use cannabis legalization to revillainize cannabis as a dangerous product, when in reality, it’s illegality opens up the black market to situations like the one we’ve found ourselves in now. It’s easy for bad people to make a cheap and dangerous product to sell, with “companies” like Dank Vapes providing fun and legitimate looking packaging.

Legalize cannabis, test and regulate the products that consumers are going to get their hands on whether it’s legal or not, and then we can say we’ve done everything in our power to prevent this from happening again.

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