In 2017, very few Americans have access to clean and safe cannabis oil-filled vape pens. With hash oil cartridges in California still about a year away from being guaranteed to be lab-tested – and stoners in much of the rest of the country largely forced to buy from the black market – purchasing a vape pen that you feel comfortable with can be a daunting task. It’s buyer beware out there, but if you insist on vaping, there are a few key things to keep in mind when looking at the sea of unregulated products. Here is some basic advice, with a big helping hand from Americans for Safe Access’ Chief Scientific Officer, Jahan Marcu.
Buy a low-voltage battery with adjustable temperature settings.
Preliminary studies suggest that the hotter your vape battery gets, the more carcinogens you may be inhaling. “If you have a true vaporizer, it’s a great thing to reduce your exposure to smoke,” Marcu says. “But a lot of these devices are just burning oil, not vaporizing.”
Look for vape pen batteries that pack less of an electric punch, and don’t take long inhales that cause the electric coil inside a pen to get super hot. A recent study found that if your cannabis oil has been cut with popular additives like propylene glycol, a 3.3-volt battery was a lot safer than anything over five volts. The higher the temperature, the more formaldehyde gets released.
Ideally, Marcu says, you should buy a vaporizer that allows you to adjust the temperature setting. “280º is an interesting place to start, but if you’re getting above 380º-400º, you’re leaving the vapor zone.”
Look for oil that is the consistency of honey.
Shopping in an unregulated market for hash oil with the right thickness can be frustrating. Like Goldilocks, you’re looking for something that is not too viscous and not too thin but juuuuuust right.
Marcu points out that “thick, brackish and viscous” oil likely retains the cannabis plant’s chlorophyll and cuticle waxes – which are not things you want to be vaping. But on the other hand, oil that looks more like liquid has almost certainly been mixed with synthetic flavorings or cutting agents like propylene glycol and polyethylene glycol. Many of these additives degrade into nasty carcinogens.
“If the package says 100 percent pure cannabis oil, and you look at the cartridge and it looks fluid, it’s not 100 percent pure cannabis oil,” Marcu says. The best thing you can do, he suggests, is look for oil that is about the same consistency as honey.
Trust your taste buds.
When it comes to flavor, your tongue is already primed to pick up on some of the yucky chemicals that you shouldn’t be consuming. “If it tastes really gross, it might be formaldehyde,” Marcu says. Generally, if something tastes bad, you probably shouldn’t be vaping it.
Unfortunately, clean cannabis oil might not actually taste like cannabis. Many companies now add synthetic versions of the same organic compounds found in cannabis to their hash oil in the hopes that it will remind stoners of the pot they already know and love. However, keep in mind that those additives could be producing carcinogens, especially at high temperatures.
Remember that this is all educated guesswork at best.
The scariest thing about the health and safety effects of using oil-filled weed vape pens is just how little we know. Even the few studies that I’ve cited here are essentially just identifying known carcinogens that might get produced under certain temperatures – not letting us know how much of those carcinogens might be safe to inhale from a dinky vape pen with an electrical coil made in China.
I asked Marcu whether he thought, at worst, vaping weed oil might be as bad for you as smoking cigarettes. “The data isn’t there yet, to compare it to cigarettes,” he told me. “Probably some vaporizers may not be any different than smoking cigarettes. Some are going to be superior in safety, and some aren’t.”
Ever the scientist, Marcu suggests that if you do vape, you track your experiences in a journal. “Create a rubric that makes sense to you,” he says. “You can write down how much you’re consuming, taste, color, appearance, etc. Take pictures. Catalogue and compare the brands in your state.”
That’s right. We’re at a point with cannabis where you basically need to experiment on yourself, and hope for the best. So… good luck out there!