Dr Sarah Brewer August 23, 2019

For smokers, who are addicted to nicotine, the relative risk of vaping is less harmful than inhaling the fumes from burning tobacco. However, for people who choose to vape non-addictive substances such as CBD, which can be taken orally, the same risk reduction does not apply.

As there is growing evidence that vaping itself – even when no active ingredient is present – is harmful to lung health, Healthspan has taken the decision not to sell CBD vapes unless future research confirms their safety.

Quality is an issue

In 2018, the US Army Public Health Center released a public health alert after 93 soldiers and Marines experienced serious side effects from vaping synthetic CBD oil products, including palpitations, headaches, vomiting, disorientation, mood swings and seizures, with two deaths.1

Some of these health issues may relate to poor quality, as CBD vape products can contain harmful contaminants such as illegal synthetic cannabinoids (eg 5F-ADB with psychoactive effects) and even dextromethorphan (a drug used as a cough suppressant).2

Another quality issue relates to the level of ingredients present. Analysis of two CBD e-liquids, for example, found that both contained over twice the advertised concentration of CBD and also contained unlabelled ethanol (alcohol).3

There is also concern over vape additives used as thinning agents and humectants (used to reduce moisture loss) which, when superheated, can convert into harmful chemicals associated with lung and heart damage.4 Vapes that contain propylene glycol can release acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, for example, while vapes containing glycerin give rise to toxic acrolein.5 Newer designs of e-cigarette and vape devices generate more of these damaging chemicals than older devices because their battery power output is higher.

Vaping aerosols may damage the lungs

According to a U.S. report investigating the Public Health Consequences of E-cigarettes, there is substantial evidence that vaping aerosols contain metal particles which originate from the metallic coil used to heat e-liquids, or other parts of the device such as solders and wicks.6 These contaminants can include iron, cadmium, chromium, lead, nickel, silver, tin, and silicates.7

When inhaled, these tiny particles can lodge in the lung and damage the airways, so they are less able to dilate (acute endothelial cell dysfunction). The particles increase lung inflammation and suppress the natural immune response which may increase the risk of lung infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and, potentially, lung cancers.

Studies show that vaped condensates, with or without nicotine, are all significantly more toxic to lung immune cells (alveolar macrophages) than the same condensates that had not been vaped. Exposure increased the production of free radicals and inflammatory cell chemicals (cytokines) and reduced the ability of scavenger cells to engulf unwanted material which could reduce the clearance of bacteria.8

Vaping aerosols may damage the heart

There is concern that the chemicals and tiny metal particles emitted in vaping aerosols may be absorbed from the lungs directly into the circulation to increase the risk of high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. While the risks are thought to be less than smoking tobacco, the effects of aldehydes, particulates and flavourings used in vape liquids have not been determined. There are plausible, theoretical mechanisms that vaping might increase the risk of unwanted blood clots and increase arterial stiffness, resulting in reduced blood flow to the heart muscle and an increased risk of heart attack.9

CBD oil offers many health benefits when taken by mouth in the form of drops, gummies, capsules or sprays. There is no reason to weaken these benefits by inhaling CBD liquid as there are potential harms associated with vaping.

Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn't possible, supplements can help. This article isn't intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.

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