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Are dab pens safe to use? As the popularity of concentrates grows to epic proportions, new and experienced users are wondering if these inhalable products are all they're cracked up to be. Are they safer than smoking? Are there any unsafe chemicals in the vape oil? Our cannabis safety guide takes you through every aspect of cannabis dab pen safety.
How Vape Pens Work
First off, let's go over how dab pens work. Unlike dry herb pens, dab pens work exclusively with cannabis concentrates and cartridges. Some dab pens may work with both dry herb and concentrates. Instead of combustion or burning the flower when smoked, vaporization heats the concentrate to a temperature below its combustion point. This allows it to convert the cannabinoids and terpenes into a vapor.
Dab pens usually heat extracts at a lower temperature below combustion. This is usually between 356 to 374º F. Because you are not burning the compounds, vaporization retains more of the therapeutic compounds in its vapor. As a medical user who needs fast-acting relief , vaporization could be a good option.
What’s the Deal with Vaping Lung Injury?
The popularity of dab pens was shaken up recently due to a rise in severe acute respiratory distress syndrome associated with using dab pens. Thousands of confirmed cases and dozens of deaths were directly or indirectly caused by these tainted dab pen cartridges and oils. These vaping products primarily came from illicit sources that aren’t regulated. A lack of regulations means they don't have to test for contaminants.
As a result of the vaping health scare, many states temporarily banned flavored vape products. Flavor additives were thought to contribute to lung injury. In particular, the symptoms and treatment were similar to a condition called lipoid pneumonia. Biopsies of the victims indicated “airway-centered chemical pneumonitis” from inhaling unknown toxic substances.
Studies have shown that vape oil additives such as propylene glycol (PG) and polyethylene glycol (PEG) are to blame for increased carcinogen levels in the body. These substances are commonly used to create a thinner oil consistency. A thinner oil is able to be heated by the vape pen heating source. While considered safe by the FDA, these additives can transform into carcinogens such as formaldehyde at high temperatures. Formaldehyde is used to preserve cadavers and can irritate the lung and skin.
If you can, go with cannabis oil and cartridges made with less harmful thinning agents such as vegetable glycerin or even MCT. Studies have found that vegetable glycerin does not pose a health risk and MCT produces considerably less carcinogen (acetaldehyde) levels when exposed to high heat than its PG and PEG counterparts.
Unsafe pesticide levels in your cannabis oil can cause a number of health problems. This is especially an issue with illegal vape products. Illegal dab products aren't regulated or required to test for harmful contaminants. Licensed sellers are required to release third-party test results for customers. Some testing shows that most, if not all, illegal cartridges contain myclobutanil, a fungicide that converts into hydrogen cyanide when burned.
Cannabis concentrates are usually made with a solvent such as butane, ethanol, and carbon dioxide. After the initial extraction process, processors perform a post-extraction refinement to off-gas most, if not all, of the residual solvent. Cutting corners during this process can leave behind residual solvents, which are untested for long-term use through inhalation.
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For instance, excessive butane inhalation has been linked with organ failure and cardiac damage. Another study shows that ethanol inhalation can cause tolerance, dependence, and cravings. In addition, many of the cleaning solutions used to sanitize equipment can end up in your oil. Benzene, xylenes, and hexane can directly affect your bone health and nervous system, respectively.
If you truly want to avoid any risk of inhaling residual solvents, stick with solventless extracts. These include rosin and bubble hash. However, regulated products usually contain low amounts of these solvents that won't cause significant long term effects in such small doses. As always, buying from licensed retailers is your best bet.
As you can see, vaping temperatures are one of the most important factors in the safety of dab pens. Heating your oil at relatively high temperatures may produce a stronger and faster-acting effect than a low-temperature dab. However, you will unintentionally be releasing carcinogens at the same time. Ideally, you want to stick with vaping temperatures around 330º F.
When it comes to dab pen or vape cartridge hardware, low-quality plastics and metals can degrade under high temperatures and end up in your lungs. In particular, illegal dab pens may use low-quality plastics that may contain BPA or similar molecules which can affect the endocrine hormone system. If you want to avoid the risk of inhaling these potentially harmful chemicals, stick with cartridges and dab pens from licensed retailers or refill your own dab pen made with high-quality glass.
Vaping vs. Smoking
Vaping and smoking cannabis both carry risks. Inhaling smoke of any kind is bad for your lung health, especially if you hold that smoke in like cannabis users are one to do. Inhaling smoke on a regular basis can lead to chronic bronchitis, excessive mucus production, weakened immune system, increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections, air pockets between lungs and lungs and chest wall, for starters.
Vaping, on the other hand, has been perceived as a healthier alternative to smoking cannabis. Unfortunately, we don't know as much as we should about the long-term negative health effects of vaping cannabis oil. Many of the concerns with dab pens are related to a lack of testing and low-quality ingredients and hardware. If you go with safe and vetted dab pens, you have a much lower risk of developing the same negative health effects as smoking.
The Safest Way to Consume Cannabis
If all of these considerations about dab pens gave you pause, you may be thinking about an alternative way to consume cannabis. For the ultra health-conscious cannabis consumer, there are multiple ways to enjoy the power of cannabinoids without inhalation. Plus, you can make all of these products from the comfort of your home.
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Edibles are any food or beverage that has been infused with cannabis oil. Some of the most common edibles are baked goods and candies. Cannabis coffee, tea, beer, and sparkling water are also available. Edibles take longer to take effect but produce longer-lasting effects compared to dab pens. Tinctures can be infused in food or drinks or dropped under the tongue for faster absorption. If you're new to edibles, start off what is a small dose and wait for its effects to gauge if you need more next time.
Topicals are another way to get the therapeutic effects of cannabis. There's no inhalation or ingestion. All you need to do is liberally apply the salve, cream, lotion, or balm to the affected area for localized relief. Since the cannabinoids can't reach your bloodstream through the application on the skin, you won't experience any high.
Final Word on Dab Pen Safety
Dab pens offer a convenient, portable, and discreet way to consume cannabis and experience its fast-acting effects. Dab pens from licensed retailers are unlikely to cause significant health concerns in the long run. Research is still unavailable for the effects of chronic and excessive long-term use of dab pens. Overall, steering clear of illicit dab pen oils or cartridges is the most important part of staying safe when consuming dab pens.