SEPTEMBER 25, 2019—This article addresses the original substance for which vaping was invented, cannabis. There’s no need to wring our hands over the vaping deaths of people vaping tobacco, as using tobacco in any form causes death, a fact long proven and known by all users of tobacco. While this is sad for nicotine users and their families, it’s certainly not news. Nicotine, present in all tobacco, and the main compound for which people use tobacco, is an insecticide, used by wholesale plant nurseries worldwide to kill bugs. Nicotine is also responsible for the decline of the bee population. Cannabis contains no such compound and should be addressed separately from tobacco in any media coverage that involves the health hazards of vaping.
That said, the recent series of news articles detailing the deaths and major illnesses arising from “vaping” is long overdue. Way back in 2013 I wrote a blog article called “Crack Dabs”, in which I compared the method of both manufacturing and consuming “dabs” (concentrated marijuana oil) to that of the manufacture and consumption of crack cocaine. I also wrote of how curious it was that there was no negative media coverage of dabs, as it seemed the perfect subject matter for those in the anti-weed crowd.
While it is true that doing dabs isn’t exactly vaping (as it takes a blowtorch and a glass pipe to properly dab, hence the comparison to crack cocaine), vaping with today’s traditional vape “pens” involves using the same basic type of marijuana extract as what exists in dabs. The most popular method of extraction is called BHO, or butane hash oil. With BHO, the user is consuming a product that was manufactured using butane to strip the plant of all vegetative matter. I’ve talked to several manufacturers of BHO, and they all tell me the same thing, that the butane is 100% removed from the finished product. This might be true in a scientific lab setting, which some manufacturers pretty much have, but without a regulatory system in place—with oversight of the manufacturing process and the identification of potential health hazards—people are taking a big risk using these vape pens, as there’s no way of truly knowing how the oil that’s in them was manufactured, and/or what harmful ingredients might be in them.
But, even if you happen to get the most amazing organic solvent-free oil in your vape pen, you’re not stoked. You’re still doing your lungs—and your body in general—great harm. When inhaling from a vape pen, you’re sucking down copious amounts of heavy metals from the offgassing of the heated battery that’s adjacent to the heating element.
Unfortunately, the ease of use which these pens provide (with most of them you simply pull it from your purse or your pocket and suck on it; there’s no “on” button, just the act of inhaling turns the device on) allows users to greatly abuse them. There’s a difference between responsible use and irresponsible abuse, yet the ease of use of vape pens makes it hard for even the most prudent cannabis user to exercise restraint. I remember when The CO2 Company was the only game in town, and while at a cannabis event I was given one of the first vape pens on the market to sample. It was so easy to use, just holding it in my hand and inhaling without having to do anything else except watch the LED light at the tip get brighter to tell me the device was working. I thought of the irony of the moment, here I was using the most stealthy device ever invented for consuming cannabis—okay, well, not real cannabis, but more about that later—and yet it was legal in the state I lived in, which meant I didn’t have to hide it at all. This led to returning to it often that night, just for the novelty of being able to use the device so easily. I began to understand what tobacco cigarette smokers meant when they said part of smoking was the hand-to-mouth thing. There was something satisfying just from that act alone, holding the vape pen in my hand and inhaling. It was the act of doing something, and created a pleasant effect in the brain of having perfectly completed a task. It was easy to see how such a process could get addictive in and of itself, and I threw the thing away that night.
The negative effects of offgassing from vape pens extend to all vape pens, whether they’re THC or CBD. The theory behind the CBD pens is that the user is supposedly getting some kind of health benefit without the euphoric “high” of THC. The addictive quality of simply using the device, however, means that those using CBD pens for health reasons are in fact sucking on a device that’s putting large quantities of heavy metals into their bodies, and they’re doing it often, dozens of times a day in most users, just like the users of all vape pens. Such a tragedy for the person thinking they’re doing something healthy, and even more of a tragedy for the cannabis legalization movement in general. The chronic use of these vape pens leads to a constant cough in the user, no matter what substance is in the pens, and they end up sounding like a tobacco smoker in the morning. Such an insult to the cannabis legalization movement.
When I got the nickname VaporDave back in 2005, it was for my use of a medical vaporizer that was designed for use with regular old weed (shown both above and below). That is, the dried flowers of organic cannabis. The heating element is ceramic with a glass coating, which produces no offgassing of any kind (there is no battery, the device is powered by plugging into an outlet). The way it works is the user uses a clean glass pipe that is basically a long tube (which never looks or smells disgusting the way “regular” pipes do, all covered in gross black resin from the burning of weed) and places it near the tip of the ceramic heating element. The low heat then melts, or vaporizes, the naturally-occuring oils in the cannabis flower, without burning the vegetative matter of the flower. The resulting flavor is exceptional, mainly due to the lack of the flavor of burned resin users have to put up when smoking cannabis. So gross.
These oils from the dried cannabis flower contain the full array of cannabinoids and terpenes present in the plant, with many proven medical uses (the U.S. government has had a medical patent on cannabis as a neuroprotector for years, and once fully legalized, published clinical trials showing numerous health benefits of cannabis will be abundant, as they are in other more enlightened countries). The best part of using this type of vaporizer is that it’s such a pain in the ass that there’s no chance of getting addicted to the process of using it, thereby eliminating the risk of addictive use by the consumer.
Sadly, such vaporizers are rare today in comparison to the amount of vape pens on the market. And the term vaping is now getting a bad name as a result of there being no real dialog on the difference in vaporizers, the different ways of consuming cannabis, and the need to exclude nicotine from the discussion altogether.
The original VaporDave vaporizer.