Vaping is a fairly new industry, but it is certainly not a small one. According to the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2016, around 2 million middle and high school students in the USA had used an e-cigarette in the previous 30 days. That’s 11% of American high school students. But it’s not just our friends over the pond that are using vaping devices – the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that 29.5% of all people aged 25 to 34 in Great Britain used an e-cigarette in 2017.
But why is it so popular? Vaping has been championed as a safer, healthier alternative to smoking, but is this necessarily true? In this article, we will reveal the ins and outs of vaping and whether it really is a safer option.
A brief history of vaping
Vaping has been around for centuries, although in much more primitive forms. The ancient Egyptians, for example, used very hot stones to vaporise herbs and inhale the smoke, while Indians have been using the shisha pipe for millennia.
Of course, in the Western world, cigarette smoking was favoured for many years. At one point, doctors even prescribed cigarettes to improve patients’ health! Obviously, we know a lot more now about the risks of smoking tobacco and that it is awful for your health: Cigarette smoking is a leading cause of preventable death in the UK.
In 1927, Joseph Robinson allegedly came up with the first idea for an e-cigarette, but it is Herbert Gilbert’s smokeless non-tobacco cigarette which was first patented and gained any real attention. Gilbert’s device popped up in 1963.
The first modern-day e-cigarette was created by Hon Lik, who registered his patent in 2003 in China. It hit the market in 2004, and within two years, the e-cig had reached Europe, finally arriving in the USA in 2007.
Now, in 2018, vaping is extremely popular. People use it as a way to quit cigarettes, as well as starting vaping without having ever smoked tobacco. The trouble is that, with vaping being so new, we know nothing about the long-term health effects. There are some reasons to believe why it could be healthier than smoking, but this does not necessarily mean that it is completely safe.
Why do people prefer vaping?
Vaping involves heating an e-liquid in a chamber attached to a vaporising device. It is heated to a point that is below combustion but is enough to turn the liquid into a vapour, which is then inhaled by the user.
The cartridges were originally invented to hold nicotine, thus making them an alternative to the cigarette, but now vapers can also buy vape devices in order to vape CBD oil.
The idea behind it is that it cuts out the combustion process. When smoking a traditional cigarette, the combustion process creates toxic, carcinogenic chemicals that are inhaled along with the nicotine, leading to adverse health effects. Hundreds of toxins can be released by smoking, which is what makes it so dangerous for human health.
We reiterate that not much research has been done yet, although scientists are rushing to find out what vaping can do. However, it has been suggested that the e-liquids used in vaping contain significantly fewer harmful toxins than you would find in a traditional cigarette. This is quite encouraging news.
Furthermore, those who do vape have said that the vapor is a lot easier on the lungs than smoke, meaning that it is also a much more enjoyable activity.
Vaping vs. Cigarettes
Now, let’s discuss a bit more about the effects of nicotine and the chemicals involved in smoking when compared to the toxins in e-cigarettes.
Research is thin on the ground so far, but preliminary studies have been carried out. The Royal College of Physicians London* has suggested that any health hazards from e-cigs over the long term were “unlikely to exceed 5% of the harm from smoking tobacco.” And furthermore, the Roswell Park Cancer Institute published a study in the British Medical Journal in 2013 which found that the toxicants in e-liquids were up to 450x lower than what was found in tobacco cigarette smoke.
Tobacco smoke emits over 7,000 chemicals, including at least 70 known carcinogens. Even second-hand smoke can be dangerous, having killed an estimated 2.5 million people since 1964. E-cigarettes, on the other hand, do not produce the same toxic gases or tar, suggesting that they could be a safer alternative.
Furthermore, nicotine is addictive, which is why some people just find it so hard to quit smoking. Nicotine is not what causes the cancer and other health effects, but it does have some problems of its own. However, in a case for nicotine vaping, a PATH study found that vaping is not as addictive as actual smoking – the study showed that traditional cigarette smokers had stronger urges to smoke than their vaping counterparts.
This is because, when you smoke a cigarette, there is a significant decrease in the level of monoamine oxidase (MAO) produced. This breaks down dopamine, so having less MAO leads to more dopamine, thus creating an addiction. And although vaping nicotine seems to produce less of this effect, it also offers another benefit. The availability of different strength cartridges allows smokers to slowly decrease their nicotine intake, potentially helping them to quit for good.
All this is not to say that there are no harmful chemicals in e-liquids whatsoever. Low-grade e-liquids, in particular, will probably contain compounds that can be very harmful for your health, including heavy metals such as lead and even carcinogens. Higher quality liquids are likely to be safer, but this does not mean they are devoid of negative effects.
For example, a research team at the University of Rochester in New York published a study suggesting that the vapours from e-cigarettes could destroy the tissues that hold our teeth in place, leading to gum disease and loss of teeth.
The effect of e-liquids on the lungs is less well known right now, but there have been a few suggestions as to whether it is safe.
Is vaping safe? The effects on your health:
So far, research suggests that vaping is not 100% safe, so before you jump on the bandwagon, it’s important that you know what the risks are associated with the activity. It might be true that they are healthier than smoking cigarettes, but that does not mean there are fantastic.
For one, you are still inhaling nicotine if you take the traditional nicotine e-liquid route. Mandeep Bajaj published a study in 2012 which found that chronic exposure to nicotine could cause increased insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Nicotine also increased heart rate and blood pressure, which could cause other health complications.
A report was also published in January 2018 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The study, chaired by David Eaton, looked at 5,000 studies and compiled evidence from 800 of them. This is what they found:
- Nicotine exposure is variable from different e-cigarettes and e-liquids. Experienced users can control the level of nicotine they inhale.
- Exposure to toxic substances is ‘significantly’ lower with vaping devices compared to traditional cigarettes.
- Exposure to toxins and carcinogens is reduced when you switch from tobacco to e-cigs. There is ‘substantial’ evidence that a total switch reduces short-term negative outcomes in your organs.
- Animal studies suggest that vaping over a long period may increase risk of cancer, but there is no evidence that this occurs in humans.
- Second-hand exposure from e-cigs is lower than in tobacco cigarettes.
- E-cigarettes have potential to explode, causing serious injury.
- Drinking or touching e-liquids can increase risk of suffering from a seizure or brain injury; vomiting is a common symptom.
While these initial studies do suggest that there can be negative effects from vaping, none of this really touches on the effect it has on your lungs. Other studies have been carried out on this, though, with one study by the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine from October 2017 finding that e-cigarettes may trigger harmful immune responses in the lungs. In the study, vapers exhibited notable increased in NET-related proteins in the airways, which can cause inflammatory lung diseases in high quantities. NETs also increased outside the lungs; this is associated with cell death in tissues lining the organs and blood vessels.
Vapers also displayed enhanced mucus secretions such as mucin 5AC, which is associated with problems like asthma and chronic bronchitis. However, it is important to note that, in this study, 5 of the participants both vaped and smoked, and 12 of them had smoked in the past.
Another study*, conducted at the University of Salford, found that flavoured e-liquids increased the risk of lung damage. The test exposed adult and embryonic cells to vapor at varying concentrations, of varying flavours, bought from different vendors, over 24, 48 and 72 hours. Every flavour of the 20 in the study was toxic to the cells. Fruit flavours were the least toxic, but flavours like coffee, butterscotch, tobacco, menthol and bubble-gum were the worst. The cells could recover after 40 hours, but there were “serious implications” after 72+ hours.
Bronchitis Obliterans, also called ‘popcorn lung’, is a recently discovered condition that has been linked to vaping. It is an irreversible disease that is caused by damage of tiny air sacs in the lungs. Its name stems from the fact that numerous cases were discovered amongst employees of a popcorn factory in Missouri between 1992 and 2000.
It is thought to be caused by diacetyl, which is actually found in many e-liquid cartridges. It is a flavouring agent that is one of the ingredients in popcorn; the substance is fine to ingest, but inhaling it leads to popcorn lung. So, if you’re looking to vape, try to avoid diacetyl!
Vaping and second-hand smoke
Second-hand smoke is a huge problem with tobacco cigarettes. It has killed millions of people who have not chosen to smoke or inhale nicotine, making it a very scary and very important issue. But what about second-hand vapour?
According to a study in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health led by Wolfgang Schober, e-cigarettes are “not emission-free and their pollutants could be of health concern for users and second-hand smokers.” The researchers found that vaping decreased the quality of indoor air and increased the concentration of PAHs, aluminium, particulate matter, and nicotine.
That being said, there are also proponents of vaping who claim that this is either untrue or that second-hand vapour is not harmful. Currently, leading scientific bodies are saying that more research and evidence is required to say one way or another.
Vaping CBD oil
Although vaping was initially created for smokers who wanted an alternative to cigarette smoking, some people now use it as a way to ingest CBD. As CBD is being championed as a great supplement to promote wellbeing and stay healthy, more and more vaping cartridges containing CBD are hitting the market.
Of course, when considering whether vaping CBD oil is safe, you do need to consider the risks involved with vaping as a whole, so most of the above information still applies. Below, we will discuss the specifics of vaping CBD oil and whether it is safe.
Is your oil safe?
When purchasing a CBD oil, it is usually intended for sublingual or oral use. If it says this on the bottle, then this is how you should take it – don’t try putting any old CBD oil in your vape pen! You can buy specific CBD vaping cartridges, which are intended for this purpose and therefore safer. Additionally, some CBD oils will state that they can be taken either sublingually or as a vape, but you should always have this confirmed on the label.
Cannabis plants, including hemp, have a fatty outer layer of lipids that cover their surface, giving them a little sheen. In countries and states where marijuana is legal, these waxes are burnt away during smoking. However, this does not happen during vaping due to the lower temperature used.
The oily, waxy bits in the oils instead may accumulate and eventually settle in the lungs. Steep Hill Labs said in a statement to Rolling Stone magazine that vaping CBD oil may cause these waxes to form solidified granulomas in the lungs. This is speculation at the moment, but it’s still a cause for concern.
That being said, you can purchase CBD vape oils that do not contain any cuticle wax. After CO2 extraction has been performed to get the CBD out of the plant, some companies use winterisation to remove all (or some of) the waxes from the oils. It involves soaking the CBD in alcohol and freezing it, hence its wintery name.
Vaping any kind of oil is not necessarily a good thing. Oil is fat, meaning that vaping oils introduces lipids into your lungs. This can accumulate in the alveoli, meaning that fat will be clinging to the interior of your lungs.
This can lead to lipoid pneumonia, in which the bronchial tubes become obstructed due to the fats accumulating there, resulting in severe respiratory diseases.
Currently, it is thought that this will only affect extremely frequent vapers, and even then it might not occur. That said, it’s worth knowing about all the risks.
The thinning agent fiasco
One of the huge issues with vaping CBD oil is the harsh chemicals that often end up in CBD vape liquids. Raw CBD oil is much too thick and viscous to vaporise due to the oil in which it is suspended. To combat this, manufacturers add thinning agents to reduce this viscosity.
Cheap oils may include very dangerous chemicals, so it’s best to avoid these entirely and keep an eye on the labels. Even more reputable brands might use potentially harmful thinning agents, so take heed of the following information.
Propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol are two of the most commonly used thinning agents. They are also used in nicotine e-liquids. Both of these chemicals are known to break down into carcinogenic compounds like formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, particularly when they’re used in high temperature vape pen cartridges. Moreover, even low concentrations of propylene glycol can induce asthma, allergies, and other respiratory complications.
How to vape CBD oil safely
If you’re really intent on vaping your CBD oil, there are some things you can do to maximise your safety. First of all, you need to buy a high-quality vaporiser. More and more research is suggesting that the temperature of the heater coil in the device plays a huge role in the safety of vaping, as it can even determine how thinning agents break down. Better quality pens might be expensive, but surely your health is worth that cost.
Furthermore, make sure you check labels to see what you’re actually inhaling, or better yet check that the company has third-party lab testing. Try to avoid really harsh chemicals. And finally, try to limit how much you actually vape, at least until we know more about the consequences.
Final thoughts on vaping CBD oil
As of yet, not too much is known about vaping, let alone vaping CBD oil specifically. As it is currently very popular, a lot of research is currently taking place on the matter, and hopefully we will know a lot more about it soon. As for vaping CBD oils, we probably won’t find out the exact consequences of that for a much longer time. The likelihood is that we will discover the effects of vaping after a few decades, as current vapers will have been using the method over a long period of time and can be better studied.
For the time being, it’s good to be educated on the effects of vaping before you start it or before you continue. By knowing things, you can make better decisions to maximise your health and safety.
While the general consensus is that vaping is healthier than smoking, there are still some negative effects, so make sure you are aware of how to minimise them.
Lastly, if you are wanting to vape a CBD oil, remember that there are alternatives. It is possible to vape CBD oil and it is not necessarily the worst thing for your health, but it is likely a lot healthier to take oils sublingually or make some edibles.