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To Vape or Not to Vape

Photo Credit:
Sabrina Rohwer

Vaping is convenient and discrete. Here are 9 different vaping products on the market. For joint rollers and bong smokers, the new tech is a much different experience and comes in a range of price points but also their unique risks. Consumer safety and health education is an industry priority. Many opponents of the industry will argue the health consequences of regulating everything from product labeling to continued education for dispensary employees and maximum concentrations per serving size.

Cannabis enthusiasts can be experimental and adventurous or fiercely loyal and quite traditional in their mode of consumption. But is vaping safe? And if so, how safe is it? There’s one huge difference between vaping and smoking flowers. Smoking involves the burning of dried herbs while vaping on the other hand uses conduction or convection heating removing the carcinogenic dangers of smoking.

Dry Herb Vape Technology and Solvents

Convection in cannabis is similar to that of convection ovens. Hot air passes through the cannabis to heat it. Conduction involves the flower making direct contact with ceramic or stainless steel. Heat passes through the flower at a precise temperature letting the user inhale the vapor.

Other devices use cannabis concentrates often called dabs which use butane to extract psychoactive substances to create butane hash oil that can be a liquid or solid. The final product can be up to 90% THC by concentrate. Other solvents include alcohol, carbon dioxide, water, and ethanol. Once isolated from the solvent, extracts can be consumed directly or infused to create edibles and beverages.

Solvent and Safety

As for how safe it is, nicotine remains the most popular substance to vape. While the public is presented with the possibility of a less toxic way to take in cannabis, there are still negative impacts that have been associated with vaping like acute lung injury and high potency cannabis according to a 2020 study. Quite often concentrate products have a residual amount of solvent remaining.

Solvent regulation follows the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention recommendations for the limits of 59 solvents. These regulations govern the limits and amounts of residual solvents that can legally remain in a product that goes to consumers. State-certified labs will test samples of concentrates to ensure contaminants and residues are within the allowed limits. Unfortunately, butane is a solvent that is not one of the 59 leaving states to self-regulate.

Butane is much harder to remove and is common for licensed and unlicensed producers. Illinois solvent limits are regulated for products intended for inhalation and unintended for inhalation. Illinois products can have no more than 800 parts per million of butane residue to be certified safe. All cannabis must be tested by state-approved third-party labs.

Lead Chemist Chimes in

Tim Dombai is the lead chemist for Grace-Accusure Analytical Labs.”All analytical labs testing Illinois cannabis must be ISO accredited,” said Dombai who has over a decade of experience as an analytical chemist.He’s confident in what he sees in his lab and reflects on some industry trends when it comes to solvents.He admits he rarely sees butane as a solvent in the client samples that come to his lab.In the event there is an excess of solvents that are beyond the legal limits Dombai must communicate to both the client and state regulators of the positive hit.However it isn’t a bust, because unlike other contaminants producers can work to remove those impurities within state limits.

“I haven’t seen butane solvents in a while.Also, residual solvents are one of few contaminants we test for that the client can remediate.CO2 extraction is common but  people still do use  solvents,” shared Dombai..Dombai said that in the event there is a positive hit for residual solvents it is typically a new company fine tuning their processing and learning as they go.In his assessment he believes all Illinois labs are on the same page with wanting to ensure trustworthy products that follow the state law.”I don't know what is happening in other labs only my own.But lab services are important to prove the safety of products.You never know if the end user is immunocompromised or consuming for some relief,” Dombai responded.

When it comes to safety concerns of cannabis products Dombai highlights other contaminants.”We must test for things like heavy metals in products.Flower is also much more concerning because you can’t remove pesticides from plant material.This is why we have to test for a range of contaminants to ensure people are buying safe products.Dombai shared that the state is really working on ensuring labs have everything they need but even in the analytical space creating legislation to protect people requires all voices to be heard.

“Right now labs are pushing for smaller lot and batch sampling sizes, there is some vagueness about that at the moment,” said Dombai.

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