Thinning agents used to make cannabis oil in vaping products could expose users to potentially harmful levels of formaldehyde, a recent study has found.
Scientists examined the compounds released when cannabis oil made for vaping was heated to a high temperature effectively simulating vaping conditions. In doing so, they found some types of thinning agents release formaldehyde levels akin to cigarette smoking. The results were published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, published by Mary Ann Liebert Inc.
The team of scientists chose to examine vaping because of its increasing popularity, perceived as a more healthful alternative to smoking cannabis, with fewer side effects.
In Colorado, between February 2015 and February 2016, the sale of cannabis vaping products increased 163 percent. In Washington, the sale of cannabis vaping products doubled between June and September 2015, according to the study.
During vaping, the cannabis is not heated to the point of combustion, but to the point in which the plant’s compounds boil. This results in fewer carcinogens and irritants being released,though links between cannabis consumption and cancer have been inconclusive.
When extracted, cannabis oil is thick and gooey. It doesn’t flow easily. To make the oil flow easier in vaping products, it is thinned with other oils. These oils are commonly used in food and cosmetics products, and have been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their use in such products. The FDA has not yet concluded these agents are safe to inhale.
Some of these often-used oils, scientists found, release carcinogens when heated.
One type of thinning agent in particular, called polyethylene glycol 400 (PEG 400), produced the most formaldehyde, as well as another potential carcinogen called acetaldehyde.
Compared with smoking a cigarette, vaping cannabis oil that is thinned with PEG 400 exposes users to similar amounts of formaldehyde, according to the study. One inhalation with this type of cannabis product nearly equalled the amount of formaldehyde exposure in smoking one whole cigarette.
The researchers were careful to note that while they tested for three common types of cancer-causing substances, there may be others that vaping oils contain and for which are not being tested