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The FDA just approved e-cigarette products for the first time. What does that mean for cannabis?

(Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration recently approved the marketing of three new tobacco products featured in the Vuse product line. Vuse’s approval marks the first time an electronic nicotine delivery system product has ever been authorized by the FDA. 

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“The authorizations are an important step toward ensuring all new tobacco products undergo the FDA’s robust, scientific premarket evaluation. The manufacturer’s data demonstrates its tobacco-flavored products could benefit addicted adult smokers who switch to these products – either completely or with a significant reduction in cigarette consumption – by reducing their exposure to harmful chemicals,” said Mitch Zeller, J.D., director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products.

The FDA said it approved these products because they found that study participants who used only the authorized products were exposed to fewer harmful and potentially harmful ingredients from aerosols compared to users of combusted cigarettes. 

The FDA added that they considered the product’s appeal to youths in their decision. 

“The potential benefit to smokers who switch completely or significantly reduce their cigarette use, would outweigh the risk to youth, provided the applicant follows post-marketing requirements aimed at reducing youth exposure and access to the products,” according to the FDA. 

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Both nicotine and cannabis can be consumed via vaping, and health experts and safety advocates have concerns about what’s in the cartridges. Even so, E-cigarettes and vape pens have exploded in popularity in the past decade.

The device uses a battery to heat up a specialized liquid into an aerosol that’s inhaled. In addition to nicotine, “e-juice” can contain propylene glycol, flavorings and other chemicals, according to the American Lung Association, which cautions people to be wary of such ingestion methods. 

“Studies have found that even e-cigarettes claiming to be nicotine-free contain trace amounts of nicotine,” according to the American Lung Association. “Additionally, when the e-liquid heats up, more toxic chemicals are formed.”

Other chemicals include acrolein — an herbicide; diethylene glycol — a chemical used in antifreeze; and benzene — a volatile organic compound found in car exhaust.

“The inhalation of harmful chemicals can cause irreversible lung damage and lung disease,” according to the American Lung Association. 

The American Lung Association also doubts that e-cigarettes can help people kick the habit.

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“If smokers are ready to quit smoking for good, they should call 1-800-QUIT NOW or talk with their doctor about finding the best way to quit using proven methods and FDA-approved treatments and counseling,” according to the agency. 

But what about cannabis? 

Smoking cannabis with a vape or e-cigarette provides a fast way for medical cannabis patients to get relief. For example, a patient with arthritis might have a hard time crumbling flower for use in a joint or pipe, while a vape pen with a simple to insert cartridge offers easier access. 

The Society of Cannabis Clinicians, a non-profit of physicians and healthcare professionals dedicated to the education and research support of cannabis for medical use, also sounded off on the issue.

In response to a questionnaire, 67 members of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians gave a wide range of suggestions for safer vaping.

The society recommends vaping flower only — that means avoiding oil-filled cartridges. 

They also suggested vaporizing only organic products, using vape products without any additives and using on the lowest heat setting that will produce vapor. 

Jahan Marcu, PhD, the chief science officer and co-founder of the International Research Center on Cannabis and Health, said the vape crisis affects people of all age ranges. 

“It’s made possible by an unregulated and illicit market,” Dr. Marcu said. “The underground market has no quality control and cannot be relied upon to give patients safe options.”

Cartridges may also include additives or thinning agents, such as Vitamin E acetate. Vape cartridges with oils high in diluents and emulsifiers have led to the epidemic of lung damage, he said.

 

Jordan Guinn is a published journalist with bylines in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Los Angeles Times, the Stockton Record and more. He’s covered everything from agriculture, to violent crime to water.