There are many people who say, “I don’t mind trying cannabis for my health condition, but I don’t want to smoke it.” They then see vaporizers – which heats cannabis without needing to burn it – and think, “This is great, and I don’t have to inhale burning plant matter!” For good reason, as well. Not only is there a lack of smoke, but vaporizing tends to be far more discreet and far more efficient as well – vaporizing cannabis smells a heck of a lot less than smoking it, and smaller amounts are needed in order to get the desired effect. Moreover, unlike edibles, vaporizing cannabis has an immediate and controllable effect.
Yet, for all the pluses surrounding vaporizing, there are still lots of question marks surrounding how safe they are. Now, we don’t want to say that vaporizers are unsafe (we don’t know that for sure), and we’re sure that there are plenty of well-built vaporizers that are may be safer than smoking, but until those studies come out, we can’t say anything for sure. Also, much of the research out there looking at the health effects of vaporizing and e-cigarettes focus on nicotine and tobacco replacement – there is little if any focus on vaporizing cannabis.
So, do the same issues that come with vaporizing nicotine apply to vaporizing cannabis, due to both using a similar type of device used to ingest it? Let’s take a look …
Now, cannabis smoke and tobacco smoke aren’t exactly the same, and it does seem that cannabis smoke has fewer toxins in it than tobacco smoke. However, this doesn’t mean that cannabis smoke doesn’t have its drawbacks – it doesn’t make much sense for someone with bronchitis to smoke anything, after all!
So, does vaporizing cannabis produce fewer toxins? Well, we can’t say anything for sure, but there is one study that shows the levels of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream after vaporizing were lower than after smoking. There is also the lack of tar and ammonia associated with smoking that vaporizers get rid of.
Yet, it’s not as simple as that. Yes, you’re getting rid of combustion and smoke, but remember: you’re still heating up a hunk of plastic and metal to a couple of hundred degrees. This means that, if the vaporizer malfunctions or breaks in some way, or is built using cheap materials in a place that doesn’t think so much about safety regulations, it may very well lead to some very nasty toxins entering the body.
Now, how commonplace badly-built vape pens are, we do not know, but if the temperature of the vaporizer fluctuates too wildly or if the battery powering it uses cheap lithium, then accidents are more likely to occur. Furthermore, if the vaporizer is “hacked” or changed in any way (which is not uncommon – many like to change the cartridge chambers so they can use tobacco vaporizers for cannabis), then the safety problems can intensify.
It’s Probably Not the Vaporizer That Could Be Damaging to Health …
For all the talk about the safety of vaporizing devices, they are perhaps not the main concern, and exploding vaporizers does seem to be a relatively rare occurrence. Where major concerns rise is in the quality of the product being vaporized itself. Pesticides, pollutants and pathogens (viruses, molds, bacteria) have been found in all sorts of cannabis products, from flowers through to concentrates. Adding heat and then inhaling the vapor may well exacerbate the problem.
Then, there are other chemicals that may be used, such as propylene glycol (C3H802). Now, propylene glycol is a relatively safe synthetic organic compound that is ubiquitous in many industries throughout the US and the world, including as a food additive. Due to propylene glycol being very soluble, concentrates are often mixed with it in order to make them more viscous and usable in vaporizers. Yet, there is a difference between inhaling something that has been heated to a high temperature and ingesting it when it’s at a temperature that’s edible.
Yet, propylene glycol is used in many other medications, including ones that a person usually inhales (e.g. lidocaine). Now, propylene glycol might not be dangerous for most people, it does seem to be an irritant. Also, what happens when propylene glycol when it is heated and inhaled, nobody knows for sure, but it is important for those with a compromised immune system to be aware of any possible dangers, as irritants may lead to further infections.
So How Safe Is Vaping, and Are There Any Alternatives?
Frankly, nobody knows how safe vaping is, as there just aren’t enough studies proving it one way or the other as of yet. The technology is fairly new, and we don’t have the time series analysis to prove conclusively one way or the other whether vaporizing is a “safer” alternative to smoking. Assuming that the vaporizer is built properly and that the flowers or concentrates in it are free from nasty chemicals and the like, it makes some sense that it would be.
However, if you don’t find the evidence for vaping’s safety in comparison to smoking very convincing, then it is perhaps best to use tinctures from reputable sources that test their products instead. The only issue with this method is that the effects are not necessarily as immediate as vaporizing, and if too much is taken, then the resulting experience may be uncomfortable. Yet, overall, tinctures are perhaps one of the better ways of ingesting cannabis, as it is easier to control dosage, whereas with most medicated edibles, titration can be very difficult.