Toxic Metal Particles in Vapes says New Study

Liz Filmer
22 Mar 2024

Vapes are often been glorified as a "safer" way to consume nicotine and cannabis.

However, the devices do still have their risks that are slowly being exposed as research and regulation increase. Most recently it has been discovered that tiny poisonous metal particles can be present in cannabis vaping fluids, even before the device has been used or heated up. The risk is thought to be worse in unregulated products.

In contrast to smoking, vaping does not concern a combustion reaction, which is what produces harmful byproducts. 

A vaping device simply heats the liquid until it vaporises and becomes inhalable, however, research on nicotine vapes has revealed that the metal elements that work to heat the vape liquid may discharge harmful elemental metals such as nickel, chromium and lead. These metals can then be ferried into the vapour and become deposited into the user's body.
wishing to explore whether this was also the case for cannabis vapes research was carried out at the Metrology Research Centre of the National Research Council of Canada, which has undertaken cannabis testing and standardisation in recent years.
41 samples of cannabis vape liquids were collected —20 being legal, samples from the Ontario Cannabis Store and 21 
being illicit market samples. The liquids were then analysed for the presence of 12 metals. 

What Trace Metals Were Found in the Samples?
While some metals, such as arsenic, mercury and cadmium, were found to be within the typically accepted tolerance limits for cannabis products, others were found to exist in very high concentrations. The most notable example is lead, where some unregulated products comprised 100 times more lead than the controlled samples, exceeding the typically accepted tolerance limit by a long way.
Notably, this contamination was discovered in liquid cannabis vapes that had not been used and were under six months old. 

"The evidence strongly suggests that metal contamination can come from the device when it's produced, and not from the heating of the coil. However, depending on the quality of the device, the contamination may be increased by that heating." Study Author
The team also found that vapes originating from the same production lot could incorporate various levels of metal contamination, demonstrating a high level of variability between the samples. 
The team were then curious to explore the scope of the metal particles to be able to fully comprehend their possible health risks. The researchers found as a result that numerous particles were of nanoscale size. 
Moving forward, the aim is to specify how many of these particles move into the vape aerosol when the device is used. This is the point when the metals may be transported into users' lungs. This consequence has been shown in nicotine vapes, and the expectation is that cannabis vapes could follow suit.

What Does the Research Prove?
Differing kinds of cannabis products present distinct risks. Whilst the research doesn't define whether vaping is more dangerous than smoking, it does emphasise the fact that the risks may be different. Formerly uncharacterized risks associated with cannabis vaping are still in the process of being identified, so while there isn't necessarily a single foolproof way to "safely" consume these derivatives, this research documents that regulation can assist in creating safer cannabis products altogether.

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Liz Filmer