CBD oil and vaping
Vapes, vape pens, vaporisers, e-cigarettes, pods, mods – whatever you call them, electronic vaping devices are everywhere these days. They are a safer way to inhale nicotine – as a vaporised liquid rather than smoke and without the deadly tar and carbon monoxide that comes with smoking tobacco. On one hand, vaping devices have helped plenty of people to quit cigarettes, on the other they have themselves been linked with serious health issues.
Vaping is also a popular way of taking the wellness supplement CBD, short for cannabidiol. CBD is one of a group of chemical compounds known as cannabinoids usually extracted from strains of cannabis called hemp. CBD is non-intoxicating and hemp contains only low levels of the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, so vaping CBD products won’t get you high. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea. Below, we’ll consider the health concerns around vaping, how to vape CBD – and how not to – plus any potential benefits of vaping CBD.
Health concerns over vaping
Before we look at vaping and CBD, let’s first consider the safety of vaping itself.
Vaping appears to be significantly less harmful than smoking tobacco, and may have a role in reducing smoking-related illnesses and deaths. In fact, the NHS recommends the use of e-cigarettes as one method of quitting smoking. Nevertheless, there is emerging evidence linking vaping to serious health conditions.
In the United States, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drugs Administration, have been investigating an outbreak of lung injuries, known as EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury) related to vape use. Between August 2019 and February 2020, over 2,800 people were hospitalised with EVALI, 68 of whom died.
Cases most commonly involved e-liquids containing the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (which is legal in some US states but illegal in many), especially when obtained from “informal” sources such as friends or certain online dealers. The strongest link to EVALI was the presence of the food additive vitamin E-acetate in e-liquids and in the lungs of patients.
It’s not just vaping with THC that may cause health problems, though. Another US study showed that e-cigarettes in general are associated with increased risk of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), although a casual link has yet to be established.
While vaping liquids do not produce smoke, tar or carbon dioxide, non-CBD liquids do contain nicotine, which is addictive, and according to the American Lung Association, potentially harmful chemicals including carcinogens such as acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, the herbicide acrolein, diacetyl, which has been linked to a form of bronchitis, diethylene glycol used in antifreeze, and heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead, as well as cadmium and benzene.
Meanwhile, the heated coils in vaping devices and e-cigarettes have been shown to be a potential source of exposure to toxic metals chromium, nickel and lead, and to manganese and zinc, which are poisonous when inhaled.
Can you vape CBD oil?
CBD oil is a mixture of CBD extract and a carrier oil. It’s not designed for use with vaping devices and should not be used in them. Carrier oils commonly used in CBD oils include hemp seed, olive and coconut. These oils have smoking points – the temperatures at which they start to burn – of around 160-200°C, which create toxic fumes. Given that the coils in vaping devices reach an average temperature of 200-400°C (and can get much hotter), you can see why using CBD oils in them would be a bad idea.
The correct way to use CBD oil is to swallow it directly, add it to food and drink or, ideally, take it sublingually, which simply means under the tongue. Place the desired number of droplets of CBD oil beneath your tongue using the bottle’s built-in dropper and hold it there for a minute or two before swallowing. This allows the CBD to be absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the capillary-rich mucous membrane, which is faster and more efficient than digestion.
How to vape CBD
Rather than simply burning CBD oil, vaping devices use specially made CBD solutions called e-liquids or e-juices. These are generally a mixture of propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin (additives used in food and cosmetics), water, flavourings and the CBD itself but without nicotine. Depending on the vaping device used, they come either as bottled liquids used to fill a chamber in the device or as replaceable cartridges that slot into the vape pen.
To use the vape you simply put the device to your lips, press a button to heat the liquid and inhale.
Are there benefits of vaping CBD?
Although CBD products cannot make medical claims, there is good evidence that CBD itself has therapeutic potential for a number of health conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety and sleeping problems. It is also used to treat some rare forms of epilepsy and certain cancer symptoms. And, of course, many CBD users believe it improves their general sense of wellbeing. Read more about the potential benefits of CBD here.
It's often argued that vaping is the most efficient way of taking CBD because substances reach the bloodstream fastest and more intact when inhaled. However, new research has shown that, when heated in vaping devices, up to half of CBD is converted to other compounds, including THC.
Given that vaping has been linked with a number of health issues, and can lead to the inhalation of toxic substances, it is safer to get your CBD from CBD oil.
Are CBD vape products legal in the UK?
Unlike cannabis and the psychoactive cannabinoid THC, CBD is not a controlled substance in the United Kingdom so it’s legal to sell CBD e-liquids.
UK law recognises that it’s impossible to remove all traces of THC during CBD production and places a limit of 1mg of THC per single container of CBD, regardless of its size. While this can be a problem for large shipments of CBD, it’s unlikely to affect cartridges or bottles of CBD e-liquids, especially when bought from a reputable brand, and is really an issue for the producer rather than the consumer.
There is one caveat to this, however. New research (mentioned above) suggests that, when heated in vaping devices, significant proportions of CBD are converted to other substances, including forms of THC. It's too early to say what effect this could have on the legal status of CBD e-liquids but it could mean that vape users are inhaling less CBD and more THC than they think.
Can vaping CBD get you high?
Part of the reason that CBD is legal is that it has no intoxicating effects, so in general it won’t get you high like THC or cannabis. And CBD e-liquids from a trustworthy brand shouldn't contain more than trace amounts of THC.
However, new research suggests that when heated in a vaping device a significant proportion of CBD is converted to other substances, predominantly forms of THC. If true, this finding could mean that CBD vape users are getting more than they bargained for and may even be inhaling enough THC to experience some intoxicating effects.
However, a minority of people who use CBD do experience low level side-effects – most commonly dry mouth or drowsiness/fatigue but sometimes also changes in appetite, diarrhoea, nausea and irritability.
Most importantly, if you are on medication or supplements you should avoid taking CBD until you’ve spoken to your doctor. That’s because CBD can interact with certain drugs, inhibiting the enzymes that break them down. This can lead to potentially unsafe levels of the drug in your system.
One of the enzymes that CBD can affect is also inhibited by the ingestion of grapefruit and certain other citrus fruits, therefore CBD may interact with drugs that come with a ‘grapefruit warning’. However, CBD also inhibits other enzymes, so can affect other drugs too. If you’re taking any medication, always talk to your doctor before using CBD.
The author of this article is not a medical expert and nothing in this article constitutes medical advice or gives rise to a medical practitioner/patient relationship. You should seek specialist medical advice where required. Never disregard professional medical advice or refrain from seeking it because of something you have read here.