The use of e-cigarettes or “vaping” has taken the smoking industry by storm. All over the world, people are raving about how much better they feel, and how vaping is “safe” compared to using cigarettes or, in our case, combustible herbs.
But how safe is vaping? And what’s the best way to do it? These are just two simple questions with very complex answers. To address these, we’ll need to look at a variety of things, such as how vaping works, what the risks are, which products to choose and much more.
Ultimately, we hope to provide a well-rounded, unbiased analysis of CBD hemp oil vaping and the many options (and alternatives) that come with vaping CBD.
What is an E-Cigarette?
At their core, all e-cigarettes work the same. They consist of a battery, a heating element (atomizer), a coil and a tank. The battery sends power to the atomizer, which then heats the coil. It generates enough heat to vaporize the liquid or “e-juice” inside the tank into an aerosol, which is then inhaled.
E-cigarettes or “vapes” fall into a number of categories that vary in complexity. Before we delve into the grittier aspects of general e-cigarette use, let’s take a look at the typical kits that CBD users might choose.
For those who have never vaped or smoked cigarettes before, vape pens are the most common option. Some pens have refillable tanks and replaceable coils, while others use pre-filled, disposable tanks. They’re compact, simple and – most importantly – cheap. Many can be picked up at a convenience store or gas station for less than $20.
Some pens have refillable tanks and replaceable coils, while others use pre-filled, disposable cartridges.
Tube mods are similar to vape pens (and often named interchangeably), but the batteries are larger and more powerful. Consequently, the tubes themselves easily dwarf vape pens. The coils they use are also higher quality and capable of using better e-juices than their cheaper counterparts.
Some of these devices allow users to increase the power (wattage) generated by the battery, giving control over cloud production and flavor intensity. This is advantageous, since some e-juices fare better at lower wattage and temperature levels, so users don’t always have to crank these up to the highest setting for best results.
Overall, tube mods are an ideal mid-range choice for CBD vapers looking to graduate from vape pens. They offer the option of sub-ohming for higher quality (and healthier) high VG e-juice, are just as simple as vape pens and only cost marginally more.
Box mods are far more complex than their cylindrical counterparts. They’re rectangular, hence the “box” part. Users can customize the wattage output as well as the temperature, allowing for the best possible experience in terms of flavor and cloud production. Naturally, this makes them the most expensive.
However, people new to vaping CBD or vaping in general probably won’t buy one of these because it may simply be overkill for them. But for those who want to move up from pens or tubes, it’s an eventual option.
Regular vs. Sub-Ohm
Within the different vape categories, we have two types of tanks. Each comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
But first, what exactly are “ohms”? Without getting too technical, ohms (as they apply to vaping) are the level of electrical resistance from the vaporizer coil. When vaping, cloud production and flavor vary in intensity, depending on the amount of energy being sent to the coil. Ohms are like a bottleneck. They push back, regulating the amount of electricity being fed to the vape. Higher ohm coils create more resistance, reducing the wattage that reaches the atomizer. In turn, the liquid vaporizes at a lower temperature, producing less vapor. Lower ohm coils do the opposite.
Coils designed to work at less than 1.0 ohms are considered sub-ohm. Also, keep in mind that tube and box mods have an ohm range, which can dip below and above the 1.0 ohm mark. It’s critical to only use coils that fall within these limits.
Regular Ohm Coils
Regular ohm coils are the best for beginners. You’ll see these coils in the cheap vape pens we mentioned earlier. Some tube vapes and all box mods allow for both regular and sub-ohm coils, provided that you have a sub-ohm compatible tank. Keep in mind, sub-ohm tanks/mods are still capable of using regular ohm coils, but not the other way around.
So how does this apply to CBD? Well, regular ohm coils don’t receive as much wattage, which means less vapor is produced. Less vapor means less CBD per “hit,” so you’re getting a much less concentrated vape.
Again, any coil lower than 1.0 ohms is considered a sub-ohm. People who opt for these types of setups are usually more experienced in the vaping department. Using a sub-ohm device is great if you want a larger dose of CBD with every puff, but it’s not a perfect system.
The biggest problem with sub-ohm builds is that they use up a lot more liquid. Considering how expensive CBD is, you’ll find yourself purchasing it more frequently.
A major advantage, on the other hand, is that sub-ohm tanks are ideally designed to use e-liquids suspended in vegetable glycerin (VG), as opposed to propylene glycol (PG). This makes them inherently safer to use.
What are VG and PG? Let’s cover that next.
What is Propylene Glycol?
Propylene Glycol (PG) is a man-made chemical derived from petroleum. This substance is the most common component used in e-cigarettes today. It forms the base in which flavor additives, CBD and – in the case of smokers – nicotine, are suspended. When vaporized, the PG carries its other contents into the user’s mouth and lungs, providing the CBD (or nicotine) “hit.”
PG, however, isn’t “healthy” just because there’s no combustible material involved when smoking it. According to Dina Maron of Scientific American, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers PG as relatively safe for consumption as a food additive. It’s also used in cosmetics and other products; however, there is little research about its effects when inhaled as an aerosol – which is the case with vaporizers.
So is PG dangerous? Many organizations are trying to find the answer. The problem is that e-cigarettes are new, making long-term studies impossible until a few years from now. A study from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), however, shows inconclusive results with animal testing. Unfortunately, we can’t get a monkey or a rat to smoke an e-cigarette. The best thing they could do was expose the animals to high concentrations of PG for extended periods of time, with no results. Since people who vape only inhale the PG in short, concentrated bursts for a few minutes, these lab tests don’t actually recreate an e-cigarette experience.
So is PG safe, unsafe, or somewhere in between? Until we have solid, long-term, peer-reviewed data, this is an area that so far remains unknown. Sadly, this could be at the cost of public health.
Allergies from PG
One well-established issue with PG is its potential to cause allergic reactions. Vaping blogs often mention this problem. Susceptible individuals often feel “…symptoms ranging from a scratchy throat to sinus problems, headaches, and even feelings of nausea. In extreme cases, PG can even cause numbness in the face and tongue as well as swelling and redness in these areas.”
Expert Opinion on PG
Although PG hasn’t received the research it deserves, this doesn’t stop experts like Jahan Marcu (PhD) from giving their input on the topic.
Marcu warns that, while the long-term effects of PG in vapes are relatively unknown, its presence in ambient air leads to or exacerbates various allergies and skin conditions.
More importantly for this topic, however, is the way propylene glycol behaves in an e-cigarette.
Dr. Marcu explains that “High voltage heat can transform propylene glycol and other vaping additives into carbonyls. Carbonyls are a group of cancer-causing chemicals that includes formaldehyde…[a] group 1 carcinogen.”
Marcu does concede that we have no conclusive proof of cancer being caused by long-term use of vape cartridges or e-cigarettes. But he states that (like in the case of regular cigarettes during the ‘60s and ‘70s), the health risks might be scientifically proven over time.
Dr. Marcu isn’t the only expert with concerns. Adrian Devitt-Lee, a research associate with Project CBD also warns about the dangers of PG and a close relative, PEG (polyethylene glycol) found in most CBD e-liquids.
Aside from reiterating the issues mentioned in Marcu’s article, Lee also cites a study that showed PEG heated in a vape pen or other mod generates a comparable amount of “…formaldehyde one inhales when smoking a single tobacco cigarette.”
We covered earlier how more advanced vaporizers allow users to control the temperature. Lee explains that, since cannabinoids vaporize at less than 230˚C (446˚F), it’s possible to avoid the toxic effects of PG and PEG; however, he warns that “…vaporizers rarely distribute heat evenly. The oil closest to the heating unit often reaches a higher temperature than expected, particularly with vape pens and other handheld electronic vaporizers.”
Last, but not least, we have a study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, which provided some of the information in Lee’s article. One particularly important fact is that carcinogens and toxic chemicals were found in both PG and PEG, but nothing was mentioned about vegetable glycerin. This indicates that, while not necessarily harmless, VG appears to be a better alternative.
Fortunately, vapers can switch to high (or pure) vegetable glycerin e-juices – albeit with the use of a sub-ohm tank.
What is Vegetable Glycerin?
Vegetable glycerin (VG) is essentially the polar opposite of PG. While PG is artificially created from petroleum, VG comes from plant matter – specifically palm, soy or coconut oil, according to Dr. Edward Group. Like other vegetable items, it can even be purchased as “organic.”
Most importantly for vapers, however, VG is “allergen free.”
Organic vs. Non-Organic Vegetable Glycerin
We often hear the word “organic” thrown around these days. A lot of health advocates claim that one is better than the other. While there are those who either agree or disagree with this assertion, the option for organic VG e-juice exists.
Even if the VG used is sourced from organically-grown plants, this doesn’t mean that they’re free of impurities. After all, this industry is still largely unregulated.
Granted, it’s certainly possible to purchase VG and flavorings that are completely organic. But you need to be cautious when choosing your supplier. Your best bet is to do your research and, if possible, contact the manufacturer directly. Many companies now post actual lab analyses (COAs) of their products right on their websites. In the end, it comes down to two simple words: “due diligence.”
Devitt-Lee, Adrian. Update: Toxic Vape Oil Additives Endanger Patients. ProjectCBD.org.
Marcu, Jahan. How Safe is Your Vape Pen? ProjectCBD.org. July 14, 2015.
Maron, Dina Fine. Smoke Screen: Are E-Cigarettes Safe? Scientific American. May 1, 2014.
The Dow Chemical Company. About Propylene Glycols. April 04, 2017
Trout, William D. & DiDonatto, Matthew D. (2017). Carbonyl Compounds Produced by Vaporizing Cannabis Oil Thinning Agents. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 23(7). Retrieved from http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/acm.2016.0337
Virgin Vapor. Allergic Reactions to E-Liquid. October 16, 2011.