In part one of this two-part series, we review the history of vape products and their obstacles.
Since 2019’s “vape crisis,” cannabis and nicotine vapes have been under a rollercoaster of scrutiny, and with good reason. In this two-part series, we will review the history of vape products and their obstacles, what to look for in vape cartridge hardware, and what operators should be aware of as producers of vape products.
Vaping is a choice made for many reasons such as health, discretion, flavor, and versatility. The first vaporizer was patented in 1930, but it wasn’t until 2003 that nicotine e-cigarette products became commercially available in China. In 2006, e-cigarettes made their way to Europe and the US when e-cigarette companies and the World Health Organization (WHO) both declared e-cigarettes a smoking cessation aid and marketed them as such. However, in 2008 the WHO rescinded their stance and marketing, no longer proclaiming e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid (1). The current concern is the potential toxins that can be found in e-cigarettes along with the flavors and marketing that is attracting youth to nicotine.
Herbal vaporizers have been popular for cannabis flower since the late 1990s, after the invention of the Volcano. However, cannabis extract vaporizer devices did not become readily available until sometime between 2010–2013. Manufacturers, consumers, and governing bodies believed the transition to vaping cannabis oil could be safer than combustion because of the ability to control the temperature at which the extract is vaped thereby limiting combustion. Research demonstrates that vaping pure cannabis extract is safer than smoking cannabis flowers (2). Vaporizing cannabis extract eliminates inhalation of combusted fibrous plant material, which is carcinogenic, and limits exposure to potentially toxic compounds. In addition, cannabis extract can be vaped at a lower temperature than smoking occurs. Extraction concentrates the desirable components of the plant matrix, mainly cannabinoids, terpenes, and terpenoids. Inhalable cannabis products, such as vapes, offer consumers immediate relief and predictable effects as opposed to the delayed and unpredictable effects of ingestible cannabis products. This promotes easy self-titrating, which benefits all types of consumers. For these reasons, it’s clear that vaping pure cannabis extract is safer than smoking and may be a better alternative for many users.
Given the history of nicotine vapes, the cannabis industry had an opportunity to limit the potential for toxic chemicals to be used in production. While the cannabis industry is strictly regulated, regulatory agencies are not sufficiently resourced and are unfamiliar with all that goes into producing an extract and a cannabis vapor product. While some regulations are in place to protect consumers, such as restricting pesticide use and testing to ensure heavy metal levels are below toxic limits, many states did not limit additives to cannabis extracts until after the “vape crisis” in 2019. It’s vital for consumers and industry members to advocate for safe vape products with minimal ingredients.
Responsible manufacturing is in the hands of the hardware suppliers and cannabis manufacturers producing vape cartridges and extracts. Margins are an important part of business success, especially in a time where cannabis is becoming more of a commodity. This incentivizes operators to source low cost vape hardware. However, there is now evidence to show that there is a wide range of vape cartridge quality and safety. This variety in quality results in a range of potential presence of harmful heavy metals in the vapor (3). While many states require heavy metal testing of the final extract, none require testing of product hardware or of the product after it has spent time in the hardware. Because of this, conscious vape companies are moving towards higher cost hardware and higher quality hardware to ensure their product is safe, thus providing a positive experience for the consumer. Because of their market growth, vape cartridges will continue to become better, safer, and more popular.
In part II of this series, we will review the methods for vape extract production and define the wide array of extract types.
Lo Friesen is the founder, CEO, and Chief Extractor of Heylo. With a background in chemistry and clinical research, Lo was inspired to explore cannabis as a medicine and to enter the emerging industry. She joined Eden Labs, a leading CO2 extraction equipment manufacturer to support and expand a Research and Development department. There she managed the development of their latest and greatest CO2 extraction system. In 2017, after working with Eden Labs and another cannabis processor, Lo launched Heylo with a mission to help people get more out of life with cannabis.
L. Friesen, Cannabis Science and Technology 5(3), 16-17 (2022).