Kathryn Melamed, a pulmonologist at University of California, Los Angeles, Medical Center who has seen patients affected by vaping, agrees that smoking oils can be dangerous, and notes that the vaping-related illness bears some resemblance to lipoid pneumonia—a direct reaction to lipids or oils in the lungs.
In May of this year, the FDA held a public hearing where more than 100 stakeholders—patients, manufacturers, and researchers among them—testified about their experiences with CBD. Now, the industry is waiting for a timeline for regulation, which was expected this autumn, but has yet to appear. In the meantime, the FDA considers interstate sale of CBD as a food additive or nutritional supplement (ie., all those candies, canned sodas, and tinctures) to be illegal. But it’s not enforcing the law so long as operators in the estimated $590 million market for hemp-derived CBD adhere to the broader rules for the categories they fall in, whether that’s food, supplements, or cosmetics.
“People have been vaping them for a long time, and haven’t had a problem,” he says. “That seems to be relatively safe, and that’s a solvent that dissolves them. The question now is, when you start messing with that process, what are you adding to it?”
You might be safer with weed
But here’s where it gets complicated, because the FDA hasn’t regulated vaping yet.
Benowitz said the effects of vaping MCT oil, however, is an understudied area.
Some of those companies are those that come from the cannabis industry, and therefore have years of experience with extraction and testing.
While the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been struggling to research and regulate both CBD and vaping separately, the agency has allowed manufacturers to flood the market with both types of products. In the FDA’s eyes, none of these products are legal, as they have not been evaluated or regulated for their safety. And where these two categories overlap in CBD vapes is a grey area that’s ripe for exploitation at the risk of consumers’ health. According to analysts at Cowen and Company, that grey area was worth an estimated $40 million in sales in 2018.
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.
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.
To make matters worse, this lack of certification has lead people to sell vaping liquid they claim contains CBD oil when it actually contains harmful chemicals, which is injuring and killing people in the process. To determine the extent to which this is occurring, the Associated Press (AP) commissioned a study to analyze the contents of nearly 30 oils claiming to contain CBD.
Is Vaping CBD Oil Safe?
According to the FDA, it is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to food or marketing it as a supplement. Despite these guidelines, they warn consumers that some CBD products are being marketed with unproven medical claims and are of unknown quality. They also caution consumers that CBD can harm the liver and may interact with other medications you are taking. And, it may even have a negative impact on male fertility.
Their testing was completed by Flora Research Laboratories in Grants Pass, Oregon, which is licensed and inspected by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. What they discovered is that 10 of the 30 vapes contained synthetic marijuana while others had no CBD oil at all. Additionally, eight oils had no detectable level of CBD while 14 were less than 0.3% CBD by weight. The other six ranged between 1.07% and 8.87% CBD by weight.
Additionally, numerous scientists, doctors, and researchers are concerned with the safety of inhaling CBD oil because little is known about the long-term effects. What’s more, when vaping devices are heated, a chemical reaction takes place in the vapor, which could pose additional risks to the lungs, especially in young people.
Part of the draw to CBD oil in areas where marijuana has been legalized is the fact that it has been touted as helping treat a host of medical problems. Some of the medical issues people claim that the oil treats include epileptic seizures, anxiety, inflammation, and sleeplessness. However, there is very little evidence backing up these claims with the exception of treating epilepsy.
But those new rules would apply only to tobacco vape products, not those that contain CBD.
But in at least 26 of the cases, people—like Gilbert—were hospitalized after they reported vaping only CBD, and more people probably went to the ER. In addition, many doctors, scientists, government officials, and even industry representatives remain concerned about vaping, especially CBD, for several reasons.
Gilbert’s lawyers said that neither they nor their client would comment on the case at this time. Terry Fahn, a spokesperson for JustCBD, told CR that the company does not sell products in the U.S. Virgin Islands and that it “has received numerous reports of counterfeits” and it believes that Gilbert’s injuries may have stemmed from “using a counterfeit product illegally sold through the black market.”
Unstudied Flavor Additives
The FDA has acknowledged the risks posed by chemicals leaking from vaping coils. When asked by CR what it was doing to address the problem, agency spokesperson Caccomo said that starting in 2020, manufacturers of new tobacco products, including vape pens, will have to submit applications and that the FDA will review the products’ components and toxicological profiles, and how they are manufactured.
But again, because the FDA does not yet regulate CBD vaping, the ban does not apply to CBD products.
Two common ones are propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, though manufacturers sometimes also use polyethylene glycol and what’s known as medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), such as coconut oil.
All those concerns take on added urgency now as the popularity of CBD continues to grow, and vaping remains one of the most popular ways of using it. Sales of CBD overall are expected to nearly triple in the next five years to $1.6 billion, according to the Brightfield Group, which tracks the CBD industry. And nearly a third of Americans who tried CBD in the past 24 months—an estimated 20 million people—said they vaped the substance, according to a January 2019 CR nationally representative survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults. Even after the lung-injury crisis made headlines, fewer than a quarter of people who vape CBD said they changed their habits, according to the Brightfield Group.