Vaping is heralded as the answer to the negative effects of smoking. It has proven to be safer in many different instances, however – in 2019 we did see a short-lived crises where 68 people died and 2,807 were sickened with e-cigarettes and some cannabis-related vaping devices.
Dubbed as the EVALI, there have been many attempts to make it safer, more regulated, and so forth. The major issue with the cases back in 2019 was that potentially Vitamin E acetate was added to dilute cannabis oils. These oils were primarily sold like this in the unregulated market.
Some groups tried to put the blame on legal cannabis, however virtually every case of EVALI came from states that did not have legal cannabis on the books. In other words, the unregulated market.
However, while vaping has been “safer” than smoking in general, there is some evidence to suggest that vaping could have some other unforeseen consequences as well. This according to recently published research which was titled, “Metals in Cannabis Vaporizer Aerosols: Sources, Possible Mechanisms, and Exposure Profiles”.
The bad news
Essentially, researchers were looking to see if the actual devices could be releasing harmful metals into the smoke and what potential health issues this could have on end-users. Basically, with the devices heating up the elements, they could be releasing heavy metals which is then shot directly into the lungs.
While legal states do test the cannabis oils for impurities such as microbial contamination and heavy metals like mercury, lead, cadmium, and arsenic – the oil could not be the culprit in this case but the devices themselves.
Users who use e-cigarettes and other nicotine-vaping devices have shown to contain higher levels of heavy metals in their blood than smokers, but when it comes to cannabis vaporizers – there is a significant lack of research.
“…high voltage and temperature settings of standard [vaporizer] devices, dissolved metals or even fine metallic particles from the heating coil or the liquid could have the potential to be inhaled into the consumer’s lungs,” according to findings from a team of researchers at Medicine Creek Analytics – FORBES
The article continued;
“Results indicate that chromium, copper, nickel, as well as smaller amounts of lead, manganese, and tin migrate into the cannabis oil and inhaled vapor phase, resulting in a possible acute intake of an amount of inhaled metals above the regulatory standard of multiple governmental bodies,” they added, noting that smoke and vapor from cannabis flower and cannabis concentrate did not produce the same results, indicating that the vape pens’ heating devices were to blame.
In order to see if cannabis devices produced the same results, the researchers used 13-different brands to test along with cartridges. Roughly half of them were 510-thread, which is the most common vape pen on the market.
They then proceeded to plug the devices into the wall and use a smoke machine that mimics human breathing and inhaled an approximate 50 puffs worth of aerosol which was then analyzed by a plasma mass spectrometer.
Researchers discovered at least three metals that are known to be in the heating elements and coils. These metals are chromium, nickel, and copper. These appeared in the aerosols after the fifty puffs. Over time, there was a greater instance of “leaching” as heat and frequency kept on degrading the metals.
“The results suggest that the cartridge devices themselves are leaching metals and potentially at higher rates when the components are heated,” the researchers wrote, who noted that the cartridges “generally did not emit metals from the big four” of arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead. – Forbes
Interestingly though, when terpenes were added to the oils – there was a significant decrease in leaching as a result. Researchers still didn’t fully understand how this worked, but it was an interesting find nonetheless.
What to do?
At this point in time, you need to make an educated choice. Smoking has inherent risks involved and while vaporization has been touted as the “safe alternative” – it is important to note that it isn’t “risk free”.
Furthermore, it seems that when you’re vaporizing consistently, all day long – like with nicotine vaporizers – you are at greater risk of consuming these heavy metals. While there hasn’t been a significant medical complication tied to the continued use of these metals, the gradual accumulation of these substances are probably not good for you.
Therefore, we’ve reached a moment in time where you’d have to weigh out the risk of smoking against the risk of vaping heavy metals.
You can always eat it…
Of course, there are more than one way to consume cannabis – whether you’re drinking it, using it in a tincture or eating it. Sure, these different ways produce different effects, but I think it’s absolutely vital that people are well-informed when it comes to finding the healthiest method possible.
Furthermore, I think that vaporizing companies will need to begin to look at these issues for future designs. It’s a good thing that there are agencies testing and making sure that these products are safe for public consumption. Otherwise, we could see another repeat of the 2019 EVALI issue.