Vape pens have been getting a lot of negative press recently due to reports of these devices causing lung damage, hospitalizations, and death. The issue is that vape pens can be confused with traditional cannabis vaporizers since many news articles have not done a good job differentiating them. It is important that Canadians know the difference so that they can safely navigate the recreational cannabis space without needlessly avoiding all vaporizers.
Traditional vaporizers have a tried and true mechanism of vaporizing cannabis. They simply heat up dried cannabis forming the vapour to be inhaled. This is considered a cleaner way to inhale the plant compared to smoking or burning it. Burning cannabis creates a small amount of noxious by-products such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons etc., which are inhaled with the cannabis plant. These noxious chemicals can worsen asthma, COPD, and irritate lung tissue. The general medical recommendation is that vaporized cannabis is safer compared to smoked cannabis.
In contrast, vape pens have a liquid concentrate of either nicotine or THC which is heated, vaporized and inhaled via an electronic device. These devices are relatively new to the Canadian market where they were introduced in 2004. With regards to safety, the main issue is that the liquid concentrate can contain potentially dangerous additives that may be unsafe to be inhaled such as vitamin E, diacetyl, and propylene glycol. It sounds unbelievable that Canada would allow e-cigarettes to be sold without ensuring the safety of these inhaled chemicals, but long-term testing has not been done. In 2018, Health Canada approved more strict regulations regarding the manufacturing, advertising, and packaging of e-cigarettes, however these efforts have not sufficed.
There have been hundreds of hospitalizations and a few deaths from lung damage linked to Vitamin E inhalation from THC liquid concentrates. It is unclear whether Health Canada will tighten up restrictions and evaluate the chemicals that are being inhaled in these e-cigarettes. The same marketing strategies traditional cigarette companies used decades ago are being used by vape pen brands. I fear history will repeat itself and similar consequences regarding lung disease and mortality will also soon follow.