There’s no doubt that CBD is on the rise; its applications are broad and diverse, with potential benefits for everything from chronic painand inflammation to arthritis and anxiety. A growing number of states have implemented laws permitting the medical use of marijuana-derived CBD (available by prescription only), but hemp-derived CBD is legal for possession and use nationwide under the 2018 Farm Bill, which distinguished hemp as an agricultural product separate from marijuana and fully legalized its cultivation at the federal level.
While CBD is often presented in the form of a tincture or capsule, another form is becoming increasingly popular: vaporizing. If you’re a smoker of any kind, you’re probably familiar with vaping. Often touted as a cleaner alternative to smoking, a vaporizer uses a heating element to vaporize an extract, which is then absorbed by the tissue in your lungs and into the bloodstream.
There are a lot of reasons people choose to vaporize their CBD: It’s easy to dose, makes a healthier alternative to things like cigarettes, and can be used by people with conditions like asthma who might not be able to smoke. However, there are a lot of CBD vape oils on the market, and choosing the best one can be difficult; you want to make sure you’re getting the benefits of CBD without carcinogenic additives like propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol. Here, we’ll discuss what CBD vape oil is and what to look for when choosing one for yourself.
CBD Vape Oil: What Is It Exactly?
To answer this question, we need to talk a little bit about the properties of CBD. CBD is often extracted into a highly viscous, concentrated oil or into a pure isolate. Regardless of the form, it must be mixed with a thinning agent (also known as a carrier oil) before the CBD can be vaporized. That’s because the highly viscous raw CBD oil is too thick to perform in standard vaporizer cartridge—as is the pure CBD isolate (which looks a lot like crystallized table salt).
That brings us to the million dollar question—which thinning agent is in your cartridge? This is important because some are known to cause cancer while others prove to be extremely safe. Let us repeat—not all pre-filled CBD vape cartridges are safe!
The most commonly used thinning agents are listed below and only 2 of the 4 are safe to inhale through vaporization:
AVOID: Propylene Glycol (PG): Propylene Glycol is a commonly used chemical that’s found in a wide range of household products like paint, deodorant, cosmetics, and even food. The FDA has deemed PG safe for human consumption and topical application; however, inhaling the gas of the heated liquid is an entirely different story. Multiple studies have proven that “PG and GL [glycerol] were identified to be the main sources of toxic carbonyl compounds from e-cigarette use. Significant amounts of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde were detected at reactor temperatures ≥215°C [≥419°F].” These compounds are highly toxic and can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, coughing, throat irritation, asthma, and cancer.
AVOID: Polyethylene Glycol (PEG): Believe it or note, PEG is even worse than PG. A 2017 study found that PEG produced significantly higher levels of formaldehyde and acetaldehyde than PG!
OKAY: Vegetable Glycerin (VG): Pure Vegetable Glycerin is one of the safer thinning agents. In fact, the same 2017 study found that the cancer causing carbonyls produced by VG we non-detectable.
OKAY: Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil (MCT): MCT is another safe thinning agent used in vaporizer cartridges. The only potential drawback to MCT oil when compared to the other options is that is doesn’t produce as large of vapor clouds—but that has no bearing on the effects of the CBD. It just so happens that MCT oil is a common and highly effective carrier oil that’s used in CBD tinctures as well
Because of its chemical properties, CBD must be combined with a carrier oil in order to be effectively vaporized. Therefore, the vape oil ingredients list should be pretty short: CBD, a carrier oil, and possibly natural terpenes for flavoring, if you’re purchasing a flavored vape oil. Anything else is suspect, and likely indicates that you’re not getting a pure product.
Can I Vaporize My CBD Oil Tinctures?
Technically, yes, but we don’t recommend it. CBD products are formulated for specific consumption methods—tinctures should be taken orally and vape cartridges should be inhaled via vaporization. If vaporized, CBD tinctures will not burn well and the taste won’t be good.
What to Look For In CBD Vape Oil
When looking at the label on the CBD vape oil you’re considering, the first ingredient should be the carrier oil (aka thinning agent). When choosing a CBD vape oil, it’s important to look for a pure product that doesn’t contain any toxic additives like PG or PEG. In other words, the thinning agents used should either be VG or MCT oil.
The second ingredient on the label should be the CBD, which may be listed as “CBD isolate” or “hemp extract.” The term “hemp extract” is often used on full-spectrum products and simply means that the extract contains other cannabinoids and terpenes besides pure CBD. It is thought that these products may be more beneficial than CBD alone; this theory is known as the Entourage Effect and posits that the different cannabinoids within the cannabis plant work synergistically together, amplifying one another’s effects.
The only additional ingredient (maybe two, but this list ought to be short) should be extracts added for flavor or aroma, and should be naturally derived. Some manufacturers add plant extracts such as lavender to enhance the calming effects of their CBD blend, while others include terpenes (a term for the class of chemical that is responsible for cannabis’ rich, skunky aroma), which may increase the absorption of CBD as well as enhancing its flavor. Steer clear of products with a laundry list of ingredients, or whose ingredients include toxic additives.
A Quick Note About CBD & Drug Testing
If drug testing is a part of the conditions of your employment, you might be concerned about the potential of CBD to cause you to test positive for THC. This isn’t an unfounded concern — however, there isn’t exactly a cut-and-dry way to answer it.
Much of the data we have about CBD is anecdotal, and its potential impact on drug testing is no exception. There are very few peer-reviewed studies on the subject, and the ones available paint a rather murky picture: avoiding full-spectrum products containing traces of THC can reduce your risk of a false positive, but that may not eliminate the risk entirely.
If you are concerned about passing a drug test, you’ll need to consider this potential risk when deciding whether CBD is right for you. To learn more about the science of CBD and drug testing, check out our article for a more thorough discussion of how to minimize your risk of a false positive.