But many people are hoping those regulations will happen soon. Even the CBD industry is concerned and asking for oversight. For instance, without more regulations, organizations like the U.S. Hemp Authority are unable to certify CBD oils as it does with CBD topicals, tinctures, and edibles. And, until that happens, consumers have very little way of knowing what they are getting when they purchase a CBD oil.
And despite the fact that the 2018 Farm Bill removed CBD from the definition of marijuana in the Controlled Substances Act, it is still subject to the same laws and regulations as other substances monitored by the FDA. Unfortunately, though, there is very little regulatory oversight of CBD oil in general—even though vaping is one of the most popular ways of using the oil. In fact, the FDA has not yet determined how to regulate CBD vaping products just yet.
Is Vaping CBD Oil Safe?
Because this testing was a such a small sample, the AP noted that their sampling is not representative of the entire CBD market. However, their testing does show just how risky it is to vape CBD oil when there is little to no regulation of the product. Vapers have no idea what they are getting when they take a puff.
CBD oil is extracted from the flowers and buds of marijuana or hemp plants. Typically, it does not produce a “high” or intoxication because it contains very little, if any, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). In fact, CBD oil is only permitted to contain less than 0.3% of THC. CBD oil is legal in states where medicinal or recreational marijuana is legal. Meanwhile, several other states have CBD-specific laws on the books even though marijuana is not yet legal there.
If you are considering vaping CBD oil as a way to address a medical concern, talk to your doctor first. The risks associated with vaping and CBD oil are significant and may not provide the benefits you want.
That’s a problem for CBD manufacturers, says Miller from the U.S. Hemp Roundtable. Without an FDA-approved list of substances that can be used in vaping, they’re on their own to figure out what chemical combinations work best. “Bad actors seize this gray area of regulation and can put out products solely to make a profit and without concern about public health or safety,” Miller says.
The risks of vaping have garnered a lot of attention since last August, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the products to a mysterious outbreak of more than 2,600 lung illnesses so serious that people had to be admitted to the hospital. Sixty people have died. The CDC says several thousand more people have probably been admitted to emergency rooms with complaints related to vaping.
Partly to reduce that risk posed by vaping, in December President Donald Trump signed legislation to raise the federal minimum age to purchase any tobacco product, including nicotine vapes, to 21, up from age 18. But, again, the new age rule does not apply to CBD vape products, which the CDC’s King says varies by state.
While there are more than 7,000 flavorings that can be added to CBD and other vaping oils, little is known about their safety, according to the NASEM report. In some cases the flavoring agents aren’t even listed in a product’s ingredients list. And like the solvents, the flavorings have not been cleared by the FDA for inhalation.
The CBD industry has called for more FDA oversight, says Jonathan Miller, general counsel for the U.S. Hemp Roundtable, which represents CBD manufacturers and funds the industry’s certifying group, called the U.S. Hemp Authority. While the FDA provides some guidance on dietary supplements, foods, and cosmetics, it does not offer similar oversight of vaping products, he says. That lack of regulation on vaping prevents the U.S. Hemp Authority from certifying CBD vape oils, as it does for CBD topicals, tinctures, and edibles.
In addition to the solvents in vape oils being potentially dangerous by themselves, the byproducts that can be created when the solvents are heated to high temperatures are also dangerous. For example, heating propylene glycol can create formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and acetaldehyde, a possible carcinogen, both of which are also present in cigarette smoke, Benowitz says.
The CDC traced many of the hospitalizations back to vitamin E acetate, used to dilute oils used in vaping. The vast majority of the illnesses involved products that contained nicotine or THC, especially those purchased illicitly, says Brian King, Ph.D., chief science officer with the CDC. After initially warning consumers to avoid all vaping products, on Jan. 17 the agency limited that advice to THC vape pens, especially those obtained from family, friends, online, and illicit dealers─because growing research found “a strong link between these products and the lung injuries,” King says.
Case in point: A recent study conducted by the Associated Press analyzed 30 different CBD vape pods or cartridges from 13 different brands bought online. Ten of the samples had synthetic marijuana in them. (One form of synthetic marijuana, a substance known as “K2”, caused 1,500 hospitalizations in one month back in 2016.) Eight samples had no detectable level of CBD at all, according to AP. Others tested had very little CBD. While this is a small sample, it shines some light on how little you know about what you’re really getting when you purchase these items.
The possibility of putting anything unknown into your body should be a huge red flag. Earlier this year, a Canadian teen spent 47 days in the hospital due to contracting popcorn lung, a vaping-related illness that occurs when one inhales the chemical used to create butter flavoring called diacetyl. The chemical’s presence could have been in either the vaping pod or vaping device used and caused chemical damage in his lungs that may be permanent.
These days, it seems as though we can’t escape vaping or the health issues that follow it. From a scary e-cigarette related illness known as “popcorn lung” to Apple banning 181 vaping apps from their App Store to the FDA threatening to ban JUULs, it seems as though we’re in the midst of an anti-vaping era. Research is just starting to scratch the surface on all of the health risks associated with vaping in general, and when you throw CBD into the mix, the waters get even murkier.
Another well-known additive found in vaping devices across the country is vitamin E acetate. So far, the substance has caused 450 cases of vaping-related respiratory illnesses in the U.S., and resulted in three deaths.
CBD, aka cannabidiol, is a compound derived from hemp or marijuana. Unlike THC, it doesn’t get you high. And even though in the United States, the Food & Drug Administration has only approved CBD for one use — in a prescription drug used to treat rare forms of epilepsy — you can find CBD products touting all sorts of benefits. Manufacturers will say it relieves pain, reduces anxiety, and overall just chills you out. (Side note: The FDA recently began warning some companies about the claims they were making about their CBD products.)
Besides the issue of who-knows-what lurking in these vape pods, CBD itself could also cause unpleasant and even dangerous side effects. According to Harvard Health Publishing, CBD can increase the level of the blood thinner coumadin in your blood. It could also lead to things like nausea and irritability.
“The bottom line is that all of these THC and CBD products are unregulated, so we don’t know exactly what is in them,” Dr. Robbins says. “Until it is clear what is causing acute respiratory failure and death in people who are vaping, these products should all be considered dangerous.”