They’re sleek, subtle and get you very, very high. But are vape cartridges, often called vape pens, safe?
Vape cartridges are rapidly climbing in popularity, and it’s easy to see why. They come pre-filled with cannabis oils that gleam in the slender cartridge like liquid gold. And with the press of a button, users can inhale the potent, intoxicating vapour—a method of consumption that studies have shown to be safer than smoking. But the problem isn’t the method of vaporizing itself. Rather, the substance being vaporized—the cannabis oil inside the cartridges—is now alarming some health experts.
According to a Rolling Stone inquiry into vape pens, most contain butane hash oil that is made from weed that was too low-quality or moldy to be sold as flower. In other words, vape pens are kind of like the marijuana version of hot dogs: they seem great, so long as you don’t know what’s in them.
As Adam Lustig, CEO of Higher Vision Cannabis, tells Merry Jane, vape cartridges typically come from China, where the parts can be purchased for cheap. And in order to ensure that the thick, syrupy cannabis oil can be properly vaporized by most vape pens, manufacturers of this oil often use substances like polyethylene glycol to thin it out.
Vape pens are kind of like the marijuana version of hot dogs: they seem great, so long as you don’t know what’s in them.
However, the substances used for thinning, which are also used in many cosmetic and pharmaceutical products, can contain carcinogens like ethylene oxide, which the California Environmental Protection Agency has found may harm human development and lead to cancer.
Realizing this, many manufacturers of cannabis oils switched out polyethylene glycol for terpenes, which marijuana enthusiasts typically associate with the organic compound found in the cannabis plant. But the type of terpenes used by cannabis oil manufacturers are mostly synthetic and rarely come from the cannabis plant.
One paper, published in The Journal of Toxicological Sciences, found that over 80 percent of the cannabis concentrates they studied contained contaminants like pesticides. Another investigation into California’s cannabis oils, sold for use in vape pens, found that a whopping 93 percent tested positive for pesticides. There’s currently no data available on what percentage of pesticides is safe for human consumption when vaped.
These findings are bad news for fans and frequent users of vape cartridges.
Unfortunately, we’re still unlikely to get the full picture on the safety of vape cartridges anytime soon, as marijuana’s Schedule I status has prevented researchers from conducting meaningful studies into marijuana in general, let alone off-shoot products like vaporizable cannabis oil.
And for some high profile smokers, all of these potential dangers aren’t enough to stop them from using their vape cartridges. After all, we live in a time where virtually everything seems to “cause cancer.” Even if you prefer to stick to more traditional methods of cannabis consumption, like smoking it, some studies will still tell you that marijuana “may be worse than cigarettes for cardiovascular health.”
So should you continue using vape cartridges? That’s for you to decide. On the one hand, the research into the contaminants found in vape cartridges doesn’t paint a pretty picture. But on the other, just like how hot dog fans aren’t often discouraged by a few hooves and pig anuses in their meat, I suspect that many vape cartridge fans won’t be tossing their pens out anytime soon.