It’s high time you have a conversation with your teen about vaping.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least 38 percent of high schoolers and 13 percent of middle schoolers nationwide have tried vaping at least once – and that number is growing.
While there is little research on the subject, the American Lung Association declared last year that the “new generation is at risk for irreversible lung damage and disease as the result of e-cigarettes,” and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned most flavored vape cartridges at the beginning of this year in an effort to curb the products’ popularity among children.
If you’re thinking marijuana vapes are less harmful than nicotine vapes, you’re not totally wrong. Vapes and e-cigarettes containing nicotine are addictive, more likely to lead to other addictions or tobacco use down the road, and more likely to cause oral cancer and/or gum disease than marijuana vapes.
Marijuana vapes are even recommended by some medical professionals as one of the most effective ways and discrete ways to use medicinal cannabis or CBD.
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But vaping marijuana comes with its own set of risks – and the list is longer than you might think. Illegal, untested marijuana vapes and e-cigarettes linked to bizarre illnesses and even death are disturbingly available to teens even children around the country, thanks to loopholes in the FDA’s vape and e-cigarette regulations, lack of sufficient research, and a thriving black market.
It can be hard to know how to prepare your children to navigate such murky waters. That’s why we reached out to two experts on vape safety with one question: What are the top things parents should tell their teens about marijuana vapes and e-cigarettes?
Here’s what they had to say:
1) Vape cartridges may contain Vitamin E Acetate
In December of 2019, over 2,500 known cases of lung disease in the United States were associated with something in vape pens and e-cigarettes, and 54 of those cases proved fatal. According to the CDC, that thing was most likely Vitamin E acitate – an additive commonly found in THC oil vape cartridges.
While harmless in food, the additive proved deadly when vaporized and inhaled. Even so, Heather Despres, a spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, said THC oil cartridges containing this lung-damaging product remain on the market.
“Some cannabis laboratories are testing vape cartridges for Vitamin E Acetate. However, it’s not a mandatory test,” Despres told GreenState. “It is not tested for in hemp-based products, and it isn’t clear whether the FDA will prohibit its use or require testing to detect its presence.”
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2) They can conceal dangerous drugs
Because of their the discrete design and lack of odor, vapes and e-cigarettes are ideal vehicles for harmful drugs. As of now, flakka, fentanyl and spice have been found in numerous liquid vapes and e-cigarette cartridges around the country, and consumer reports of CBD and marijuana vape cartridges seeming to be laced with other drugs suggest these discoveries only skim the surface of a much larger problem.
Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a practicing physician and spokesperson for the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, told GreenState she advises her patients using CBD for pain-relief to use tinctures instead of vapes for this reason.
“You really don’t know what’s in most vapes,” Dr. Leigh Vinocur, a practicing physician and spokesperson for the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, told GreenState. “There were terrible spikes this past year of K2 (spice) in marijuana and CBD vapes, and they can be laced with even worse things than that, which can cause serious psychiatric issues, addiction, or overdose.”
Not only do vapes and e-cigarettes easily conceal harmful drugs – they intensify their effect. According to The Addiction Center, vaping makes it difficult to measure how much of the drug is being consumed over time, and causes the drug to enter the blood stream more quickly than other methods. For this reason, they said, vaping is one of the fastest ways to overdose on Flakka.
3) They invite stranger chemicals into the body
On top of Vitamin E Acetate, other harmful chemicals can be found in vapes and e-cigarettes. A recent study by the University of California showed high concentrations of metals such as lead, copper, and iron in the aerosols of many e-cigarettes – metals that, when inhaled, can cause respiratory problems and even lung cancer.
Heather Despres (ASA) told GreenState this problem most likely stems from the cartridge itself rather than the substance in it.
“Low quality products can be made with cartridges that could potentially leak toxic heavy metals into an oil that did not previously contain heavy metals,” Despres said. “These are the products that are more likely to be found on the illicit market, and they are why customers should only purchase through legal channels.”
Dr. Leigh Vinocur (Society of Cannabis Clinicians) told GreenState these heavy metals are likely to have a strong presence in low-quality THC-based e-cigarettes because of the permeability of cannabis products.
“The issue with vaping cannabis is the vehicle you’re dissolving it in,” Vinocur said. “Cannabinoids really absorb toxins, so even if the cannabis would otherwise be fine, the vehicle really makes a difference.”
4) They can be misleadingly packaged
For younger children, it’s important to note that vape companies often disguise their products as everyday items – some of the most creative including an elaborate vape pen attached to the drawstrings on hoodies, or phone cases, and the more obvious USB drives. Puff Bar (a flavored e-cigarette company recently banned by the FDA) even lured children to their products by packaging them similarly to candy.
Heather Despres (ASA) added that labels, too, can be misleading.
“Cannabis-based vape products in most states are required to be tested and labeled amounts must be accurate,” Despres said, “But CBD vapes aren’t required to be tested, and because of that and the illicit vape market, many vape products do not meet labeling claims and oftentimes can contain harmful pesticides or heavy metals, which can pose serious risks.”
Last but not least, be sure your teen is aware that recreational marijuana use of any kind is illegal for those under age 21 in every part of the country. If your child is using cannabis for medical purposes, check if safe, legal marijuana vapes are available for minors in your state.
Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.