Is Vaping Bad For You? Get the Facts
By Ana Snyder, M.S., Exercise Physiology; CPT, FNS
If you’re trying to quit smoking, you’re not alone! Nicotine is extremely addictive, to the point where most smokers cannot quit even though they know how bad it is for them. Countless studies conducted over the past few decades show that inhaling cigarette smoke is toxic for every single organ in your body, not just your lungs. Besides causing lung cancer, it can also cause tooth loss, weak bones, infertility, and an endless list of other health risks. Heart disease, the biggest killer in the U.S., is also associated with smoking. We often think of obesity causing heart disease, yet one-third of heart disease-related deaths are actually caused by smoking. Many people have caught on to vaping nicotine and CBD oil, and practicing aromatherapy as popular wellness trends. But, is vaping bad for you?
The Popularity of E-Cigarettes
Recently, e-cigarettes and vapes have become popular, especially with cigarette smokers who are looking to wean themselves off of their habit. This begs the question, do vapes pose the same health risks, or are they safer? Are those that contain nicotine more dangerous than those that do not?
Unfortunately, the CDC has linked vaping to 5 deaths and 450 illnesses in recent months. This is pretty devastating news. Nicotine is a tough drug to quit, and e-cigarettes had seemed like the magic solution. So how bad is vaping for you, really?
Vaping vs Smoking
Since vaping hasn’t been around for that long, scientists still don’t know the long-term effects it might have. Current research seems to show that it’s about 95% safer than smoking, since it doesn’t involve the tar and carbon dioxide used by combustible tobacco. However, both nicotine and nicotine-free vapes do contain and emit numerous potentially toxic substances.
Reduced Short-Term Health Problems
Regardless, many studies have shown that switching from tobacco cigarettes to e-cigarettes or vapes greatly reduced people’s short-term health problems. Vaping greatly reduces exposure to toxins and carcinogens, yet it is still unable to completely eliminate them, which is where the problem lies.
For example, evidence points to chemicals such as formaldehyde and acrolein in vapes causing DNA damage and gene mutations. Could this mean that long-term vape exposure could lead to cancer and birth defects? Right now this is TBD, but it seems very likely.
Cheap Vape Juice
Could some juices just be more dangerous because they are cheaper quality? It’s true, not all vaping juices are created equal. Often you must be wary of companies selling theirs for cheaper prices.
Beware Cheap and Counterfeit Products
Less-expensive vape brands often cut corners in the manufacturing process. They don’t always use safe, clean labs or test their supplies for dangerous chemicals. If you must vape, you should only buy from premium companies. Premium companies usually have their juices made in ISO labs and then tested by a third party to ensure quality and reduce toxic byproducts. They also hire professional chemists to create original flavors.
Since the premium companies use more checks and balances throughout the manufacturing process, they are generally safer. They can be pricey, so if you can’t afford them, try to catch them on sale. Otherwise, shop around for juices that have excellent reviews. Less-expensive vape juices may not taste unique, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t produced in safe, clean labs. If you really can’t afford the premium cost, you will just have to do a little more digging to research the quality of cheaper juices.
CBD Vape Juice
Vaping can also be an efficient way to take CBD. In fact, it is much more effective than taking edibles or pills, because inhaling it increases its bioavailability. In other words, your body is able to better absorb CBD, allowing greater CBD oil benefits such as increased pain relief, stress relief, and focus, to name a few. Because of the increased health benefits, vaping CBD can be very tempting. However, it might be safer to stick to tinctures and pills. Like all other forms of vaping, little research has been done on the long-term side effects of vaping CBD. It would be a shame to overshadow the positives by causing yourself disease down the road.
Cuticle Wax in CBD
One substance in CBD that may cause future health problems is cuticle wax. Cuticle wax covers the surface of hemp plants and burns away when the plant is smoked. However, when hemp is vaped, it doesn’t reach the same temperatures. Scientists are worried that the waxy bits may clump together and form oily buildup in your lungs, which would turn into granulomas down the road. If you insist on vaping CBD, you must choose oils that have undergone a process called winterization. This removes the waxes and lipids from the oil.
Another major problem with vaping CBD is that the entire industry lacks regulation. In an effort to make as much profit as possible, companies regularly push their limits and take advantage of the system (or lack thereof). As a result, many cartridges are made without any consideration for health. The oils are produced with thinning agents that become carcinogenic when heated, or watered down with other drugs found in synthetic marijuana or cough medicine. In North Carolina, vaping has been linked to, disorientation, seizures, hallucinations, and loss of consciousness.
Carcinogenic Thinning Agents
All CBD oils are produced with thinning agents because CBD is too concentrated by itself. If you decide to vape CBD, watch out for a substance called propylene glycol, as this is the most carcinogenic. Most oils contain propylene glycol, but at varying degrees. When you’re shopping around, look for the ones that contain more vegetable glycol. Most stores are very knowledgeable about the products they sell, the quality, and where they come from. When in doubt, ask the shop!
For the time being, all regular vapers can do is separate CBD myths from fact. It’s important to know the contents of your CBD e-liquid, know how it was manufactured, and ensure that you buy from a well-known and reliable company. Unfortunately, there isn’t a master list of trustworthy companies, which makes it almost impossible to be completely safe. Stricter regulation needs to be enforced, and as CBD increases in popularity, this becomes more and more necessary.
Essential Oil Vape
Another type of diffuser, albeit less well-known, is the essential oil vape. Essential oil vapes look like colorful plastic cigarettes. They work similarly to regular vapes, but instead of using scented oils, they use a mixture of essential oils, vegetable glycerin, and water. Essential oils provide numerous health benefits, especially when it comes to reducing stress. As they are all-natural, it seems unlikely that they would result in a toxic vapor. However, like CBD oil, which is also natural and has health benefits, essential oils could pose a potential risk when vaped.
When it comes down to it, specialists really have no clue if aromatherapy vapes are safe. Heating them changes their chemistry and could change them into something harmful. One component of the essential oil blend, vegetable glycerin, is known to become carcinogenic if it’s heated to more than 536 degrees Fahrenheit. Like vegetable glycol, it’s safer than using propylene glycol, but still questionable. Since the FDA has performed barely any tests on vaping, no one really knows what chemicals you’re inhaling or if you’re inhaling the vegetable glycerin at all.
If you decide to use essential oil vapes for stress-reduction, it seems safest to use vapes that heat oils at a lower temperature. The lower the temperature, the less the chemical structure of the oils will be altered. The safest way to get the most health benefits from aromatherapy is to ditch the vape altogether and get an ultrasonic diffuser for your home.
Dangers of Vaping
No matter what you are vaping, you are posing a risk to your health. Just how bad of a risk, we have yet to fully understand. Vaping is a fairly new trend, and research into its health effects only started in the past year or so. Naturally, it will take significant time to understand the long-term risks. Since cigarettes have been around for decades, we can link them to lung cancer. Vaping, however, is new and will take many more years of study.
We can examine some different kinds of vaping and compare their risk levels to each other, though. For example, is vaping with nicotine juice more dangerous than vaping with nicotine-free? While nicotine is the most well-known addictive chemical associated with tobacco use, it doesn’t cause cancer. Nicotine in and of itself is a stimulant, not a carcinogen. The more dangerous chemicals from smoking are produced when a cigarette burns. Vapes don’t use combustion, making them safer in that aspect.
As a stimulant, though, nicotine is still responsible for increasing your body’s stress response by increasing blood pressure, blood flow, and narrowing your arteries. Nicotine-free vapes don’t do this to your body. Whether or not they still harm your body, we don’t know. Regardless, your lungs clearly perform best with a clean, oxygen-rich air supply. No matter what you vape, you are not vaping clean air. Because of this simple fact, I recommend avoiding vaping if you can.
*This post may contain affiliate links to the products and services that we talk about.