Vaping CBD: The Complete Introductory Guide


CBD Vape Guide Header

For many users, vaping is a preferable method of ingesting cannabidiol (CBD) because it provides quick and convenient relief. There are a growing number of vape related products that allow you to effectively administer cannabis-derived compounds like CBD. These products and all the information around them can be confusing to new vape users. Additionally, the growing popularity of CBD continues to push more new users to explore the world of vaping.

In this article, we cover essential vaping information, why you'd vape CBD, potential health risks to avoid, and how to start vaporizing CBD today. Let's dive in!

What is Vaping?

Vaping is the term used to describe the act of using an electronic cigarette (e-cig) or handheld vaporizer to create vapor that is inhaled. Vaping is different than smoking which uses a flame to combust a substance like tobacco or marijuana.

Inside a vaporizer, you'll find an atomizer which contains a wick that is used to draw the vape juice, commonly called an e-liquid, to the coil. A battery within the device is used to heat the coil. This heat vaporizes the liquid which is then inhaled.

Vape Coils and Wick

An up-close view of e-juice being vaporized.

This process takes place using temperatures at the coil ranging from 356°F - 480°F (180°C- 250°C). The temperature output varies on the battery and wattage control settings, if available on a device.

Today there is a wide range of vape devices available. You'll find products ranging from single-use disposable to fully customizable kits. All of these devices share these same core concepts we shared above.

Why Vape CBD?

When you consume CBD, only a percentage of the ingested product makes it into your bloodstream, providing active effects of the compound. This percentage is known by the scientific term bioavailability. Different methods of ingesting CBD have different levels of bioavailability, onset times, and durations.

Because CBD has such a wide range of applications and can be used in people of any age, including children, the method of ingestion is important. Some of the most popular and accessible product types include tinctures, capsules, and edibles. These swallowed and sublingual forms of CBD suffer from low-bioavailability because of the oil-based nature of CBD extracts.

CBD is hydrophobic, meaning that it does not mix with water. With the adult bodies being over 60% water, this is a big deal for absorption into the bloodstream.

Additionally, when swallowed, CBD must pass through your digestive system and ultimately the liver before it enters circulation. When CBD enters the liver, a portion of the compound is broken down by the enzymes there and flushed from the body without having an active effect. This process is known as first pass metabolism.

As an example, when ingesting an oil-based CBD capsule, sometimes as little as 4% of the compound has an active effect. The other 96% is flushed from your body as waste. The CBD industry has been working hard to improve low bioavailable methods of ingesting by using new technologies like water-soluble CBD oil. Different methods of ingestion can also be used to improve bioavailability - and that is where vaping comes in.


Vaping is Efficient, Quick, & Convenient

Using an e-Cigarette

By vaporizing CBD, the inhaled compound enters your bloodstream via the lungs. When the molecule enters your bloodstream this way, it bypasses first-pass metabolism because inhaled CBD does not pass through your gut or liver.

Instead, when inhaled, the highly permeable surface of the lungs allows the CBD held within the tiny vapor particles to quickly and easily enter your body. These small particles quickly and easily disperse into the bloodstream. The result is one of the most effective means of ingesting CBD with up to 50% bioavailability.

Inhaling CBD also has a consistently quick onset time. You'll feel the effects of the inhaled vapor within 2-5 minutes. This is nearly immediate when compared to the 30-90 minute onset for swallowed or 20-40 minute onset for sublingual application.

Many users prefer this quick acting relief and find it easy to adjust their preferred dosage. Simply vape, wait, observe and vape again if needed.

Vaping May Not Be for Everyone

All the benefits of vaping we've discussed do come with some tradeoff. Inhaling any substance comes with a set of considerations that should be weighed by every individual. There are potential downsides to inhaling specific vaporized chemicals and the long-term effects are not well documented.

If vaping is something that interests you, we dive into the potential dangers of vaping and CBD-specific concerns all to help you minimize these risks.

What is CBD e-Liquid & What's in it?

CBD Vape e-Liquid

Before we talk about e-cigarette hardware, it's important that you understand the substance that all devices use to generate vapor known as e-liquid or e-juice. The contents of these vape juices vary depending on the application.

Common CBD e-Liquid Contents

The primary ingredient in e-Liquids is called a thinning agent. These liquids help reduce the viscosity of the liquid so it can be pulled through the coils by the wick. In most juices, these liquids make up the majority of the overall volume. Common thinning agents include one or more of the following:

  • Propylene Glycol (PG)
  • Vegetable Glycerin (VG)
  • MCT Oil
  • Polyethylene Glycol 400 (PEG)

Next, you'll find an extracted form of CBD. This ingredient makes up a much smaller percentage of the overall liquid content. You'll find vape juices containing either an isolate or oil-based extract. This extract content is what separates CBD e-juice from regular e-juice.

Some companies sell flavorless or products that just contain CBD extract and a thinning agent. As an optional additive, many companies add flavoring or terpenes to the mix to make the vape experience more enjoyable.

Concentrated Distilled Oils

There are some companies in the medical marijuana space using pharmaceutical grade C02 extraction technologies and processes to create concentrated vape cartridges that are free of thinning agents.  These oils are further processed after extraction using fractional distillation. The result is a concentrate that is free of plant fiber, wax, and color that does not need the aid of common thinning agents to be vaporized.

Most of these products come in pre-packaged disposable cartridges as the concentration is so potent. Unfortunately at the time of writing these products are not readily available in the CBD space as they are in the high-THC medical marijuana space.

How to Start Vaping CBD

Now that you understand the basics, you're ready to start vaping!

Below we simplify the wide variety of vaping options down to a few recommended starting points. The first step in your journey will be choosing which style of e-cigarette or vaporizer you'll use:

Disposable CBD Vape Pen

Disposable Vape Pen

A disposable vape pen is the easiest way to dip your toes in the CBD vaping pool and see if it is for you. Many CBD companies offer disposable pens that are pre-filled and ready to go. Simply crack open the package and start vaping!

Pros:

  • The quickest and easiest way to start vaping.
  • No parts to clean, replace, or repair.
  • Low upfront cost.

Cons:

  • Usually low-quality parts.
  • No control over the vapor quality.
  • High cost over time when compared to refillable/reusable options.

Pre-Filled, Disposable CBD Cartridge + Battery

Pre Filled Disposable Vape Cartridge and Battery

Pre-filled, disposable vape cartridges are the next easiest way to start vaping CBD. These cartridges contain a pre-filled CBD concentrate. All you need to do is screw the cartridge onto a compatible battery (most carts/batteries use 510 thread) and you're off to the races. You'll probably pay slightly more when going this route as opposed to a fully disposable pen, but you have the advantage of re-using the battery with new cartridges down the line.

Pros:

  • Easy to use, simply screw into a battery.
  • No parts to clean, replace, or repair.
  • Mid-low upfront cost.

Cons:

  • Usually mid to low-quality parts.
  • High cost over time when compared to refillable/reusable cartridges.

Vape Kit + CBD e-Juice

Vape Kit

While the previous two options are fairly straightforward, entering the world of vape kits starts to get much more complicated. You'll find everything from simple, ready to use battery + refillable cartridge options through fully custom mods and atomizers. With a kit, you're going to invest more up-front, but the reusable and maintainable nature of a vape kit is the way to go if you plan on vaping CBD for the long term.

Pros:

  • High level of control over the vaping experience.
  • Allows control of CBD concentration, levels, flavoring.
  • High level of customizability and options.
  • Refillable and reusable parts.
  • Low ongoing cost.

Cons:

  • Higher upfront cost.
  • Some learning curve to get started.
  • Ongoing cleaning & maintenance.

Dangers to Consider When Vaping CBD

Despite vaping's wild popularity, there are known health risks and little known on the long-term effects on vaping. Below we are going to cover the most common risks and give you the tools to minimize exposure.

Misleading Information on Health Risks of Vaping

Many sources will cite vaping's widely accepted status as healthier than smoking. While this is widely regarded as true, the fact is that vaping is still more dangerous to your health than not vaping altogether. Many of the ingredients used in vape juice are generally regarded as safe for oral consumption but have not been verified as safe when heated and inhaled.

At the end of the day, it's all about what is in, and what is not in the liquid you vape.

Thinning Agents

The agents used to thin out the vape juice are not only the most abundant ingredient but also potentially the most harmful. There is a growing base of research showing that commonly used glycol-based thinning agents produce cancer-causing chemicals including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein.

A recent study showed that "PEG 400 produced significantly higher levels of acetaldehyde and formaldehyde than PG, MCT, and VG. Formaldehyde production was also significantly greater in PG compared with MCT and VG. Acrolein production did not differ significantly across the agents."

Thinning Agent Formaldehyde Production Chart

source: AZMarijuana

Supported by ProjectCBD, the result of this study concludes that PEG and PG should be avoided in vape devices. Across the CBD industry, you'll find many companies offering vape products free of these additives or using a safer alternative like MCT oil or VG only mixes.

Cannabis Contaminants: Pesticides, Mold & More

Every CBD extract or isolate begins as cannabis. The contents of the plant get passed along to the extract, including any chemical pesticides or contaminants in the ground like heavy metals. These chemicals are known to kill brain cells and cause cancer, especially when heated and inhaled. You should avoid unclean products at all costs. The only way to do this is to shop with companies that provide lab tests for their products.

Lucky for you, part of our mission here at IntelliCBD is to champion brands that employ consumer-minded transparency practices. A big part of the best transparency practices is providing lab tests. For this reason, we've created a guide that helps you read lab tests. Be sure to use this information when shopping for a CBD product, including and especially vape products.

Waxes in Oil-Based CBD Extract

Unlike a crystalline CBD isolate, an oil-based CBD extract can contain many plant-derived ingredients. One of the most common is the cuticle waxes that cover the surface of most flowering cannabis plants. When smoked, these waxes are burned away but at lower vape temperatures they are not.

Though not supported by research, Kymron deCesare, a representative from well-known cannabis testing company Steep Hill Lab told Rolling Stone that there are concerns around these waxes collecting in your lungs. The associated health risks are only supported by anecdotal evidence, but it's easy to see why you'd want to avoid wax buildup in the lungs.

There are ways around this issue thanks to a process called winterization. This process removes the waxes, fatty acids, and lipids ultimately removing the risks of these materials collecting in your lungs. If you're shopping for a vape oil containing full-spectrum CBD oil, be sure to confirm that it has been winterized before making a purchase.

Avoid Diacetyl, Acetyl Propionyl, and Acetoin

These ingredients should be avoided at all costs when shopping for a vape liquid. Diacetyl, in particular, is a compound that is safe to swallow, but not inhale. It is the compound linked to popcorn lung, named for the occurrence in workers in popcorn factories where diacetyl is an ingredient in the popcorn flavoring. These ingredients have been commonly found in buttery, vanilla and creamy, flavor additives.

Distillates Offer an All Natural Future

Luckily for CBD users looking to minimize potential health risks, there is a new breed of product that is beginning to emerge. Advanced extractors are beginning to produce hemp oil distillate cartridges which are free of all thinning agents and artificial ingredients. We dive into this new class of vape product in our article on the subject.


Originally Published: July 29, 2018 | Last Updated: November 19, 2018

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