As cannabis restrictions have relaxed over North America, we have seen an explosion in alternative methods of its consumption. Consumers are no longer limited to smoking flower and ingesting homemade edibles -- they are now open to experiment with vaporizers, concentrates, tinctures and the incorporation of THC and/or CBD into any food or drink imaginable.
Vaping has established itself as one of the most prominent methods of consumption,1 but the rise in popularity has not been without complications. The vape crisis is associated with the outbreak of E-Cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI), which has affected thousands of vape consumers. This disease was proposed to result from the use of vitamin E acetate in the liquid formulations of vape products.2,3 This health crisis highlighted the shortfalls in delivering safe and reliable cannabis products to the consumer.
The swift action of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has alleviated the outbreak of EVALI through the recommendation to remove vitamin E acetate from all formulations. However, consumers are still blind to other potentially toxic compounds. It is trivial to determine what constitutes the liquid formulation of vaping products, but not what is formed upon the action of vaping. The Strongin group have demonstrated the heat applied in the formation of aerosols can promote the degradation of several key components of vape oils, leading to the release of toxic volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), such as methacrolein and benzene.4 More recently, they have reported the use of the adulterant pine rosin in vape oils, which is a known cause of asthma and symptoms observed in EVALI.5 Poorly made heating elements have also been demonstrated to leech heavy metals into the oils and, therefore, the aerosols inhaled upon consumption.6
Full analyses of formed aerosols are key to gain a greater understanding of vaporizer use and have recently been developed in our research laboratory at CBDV. The technique of smoke analysis has been used extensively in the research behind cigarette smoking and is now gaining popularity within cannabis products due to decreased regulations.7 CBDV is not only interested in gaining an understanding of the formed vapor from a toxicological standpoint, but also from the standpoint of user experience. Our work is enabling researchers and consumers to understand exactly what is being inhaled when they are using vape products and to enhance products for safety as well as user experience. Our analysis at CBDV can generate full characterisation and quantification of compounds of interests, including VOC’s, cannabinoids, flavonoids, and terpenes, with the correct method development. Data gathered from smoke analysis can also be utilized to monitor THC and terpene delivery throughout the smoke cycle. Optimum smoking parameters can be investigated to create balances between THC and terpenes to tailor the delivered psychological effects and flavour to the user.
The importance of smoke analysis cannot be understated if the popularity of vaporizer products continues to grow. This method of analysis generates data which can be used to create safer and more reliable products to everyday consumers.