Vapes: What Are You Actually Inhaling?: Page 3 of 3

February 3, 2020
Abstract / Synopsis: 

Based on our experience testing compliance samples, engaging with local and state officials on regulations, and working directly with manufacturers and clients, we have identified four major factors related to the production of vape cartridges that warrant additional attention: cutting agents, temperature, flavoring, and hardware and heavy metals.

Hardware and Heavy Metals

The hardware used to vaporize the cannabis oil inside the cartridges is currently unregulated under Prop 64. The content of the cartridges and how its various metal components align with trace amounts found in the oil tested from the cartridges are both in need of further study. Since batteries with their own potentially hazardous materials are incorporated into every vape pen and similar device, the connections between batteries and cartridges must also be considered on a case-by-case basis to identify possible sources of contamination in the final product, both as oil and vapor.

The closest thing to an international standard that exists today is the European Union’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive first instituted in 2002 and most recently updated in revisions known as “RoHS 3” that went into effect on July 22, 2019 which specifically include e-cigarettes (19). The RoHS directive and related testing looks at the total amount of the defined “hazardous substances” in the final manufactured products to make sure they are below the threshold set by the EU. However, the amount of the material that could potentially leach into products packaged in the tested materials is not within its scope. This is why we believe that stability or shelf life testing should be incorporated into product qualification studies. This will lead to approved manufacturers of hardware that meet specific criteria, to be defined by industry and regulators.

Our study found that the illicit CBD cart bought online contained over 17 times the acceptable amount of lead (limit is 0.5 µg/g), the cart measured 8.640 µg/g of lead, which may be due to leaching introduced from the hardware.


The vapor results show that any minor variation in chemical content can alter the compounds found in the vapor (Figure 3). Vitamin E acetate was found at much higher levels than the other cutting agents and was recovered in the vapor as well. This has been confirmed by the CDC who found  high levels of vitamin E acetate in samples from patients with EVALI. Dangerously high levels of pesticides found in the illicit carts also play a harmful role when vaporized. It also must be taken into account that these samples were obtained in Los Angeles where there is access to a legal market with high-quality products. It is quite likely that the illicit products in states with no medical or recreational programs are filled with more adulterants because of a lack of regulations or education for consumers and manufacturers.


In this report, we were able to qualify harmful compounds and found them to make up a large portion of illicit cartridges whereas legal cartridges were clean. These findings further provide evidence that regulation is working, a ban would only force patients back into a dangerous and unregulated market, which would surely lead to more illness. We encourage all consumers to buy legal products from licensed dispensaries.

  1. CDC "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)"; posted online October 11, 2019
  2. CDC "Outbreak of Lung Injury Associated with the Use of E-Cigarette, or Vaping, Products"; posted online October 29, 2019, updated October 31, 2019
  3. Bureau of Cannabis Control Text of Regulations,
  5. W.D. Troutt and M.D. DiDonato, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 23(11), online (2017),
  12. “Temperature Control Mods”
  16. “What Parents Need to Know about Vaping and JUULing,”
  17. “Adding Flavors to E-Cigarette Liquids Changes Chemistry, Creates Irritants”
  18. H. Park, M. O’Sullivan, J. Vallarino, et al. Sci. Rep. 9, 1400 (2019) doi:10.1038/s41598-018-37913-9
  19. RoHS 3 (EU 2015/863)

About the Authors

Maha Haq is the Education Administrator at CannaSafe Analytics in Van Nuys, California.

Ini Afia is the Scientific and Technical Director of CannaSafe. 

Neya Jourabchian is the Analytical Lab Manager of CannaSafe Analytics overseeing the chemistry and microbial departments.

Direct correspondence to: [email protected]

How to Cite This Article

M. Haq, I. Afia, and N. Jourabchian, Cannabis Science and Technology 3(1), 44-51 (2020).