We, as a society, are experiencing our first “vaping crisis.” However, there are misconceptions permeating both mainstream media and our understanding of what a “vaping crisis” actually means, plus how it came to be. Some will say that shady e-cigarette manufacturers are to blame for the rampant spread of a mysterious lung illness associated with vape product use, known as EVALI. Some will say that the ol’ devil’s lettuce is to blame. Some, further, will blame teenagers.
Within the world of cannabidiol, better known as CBD, one question often looms: Can CBD help with smoking cessation? And while a fairytale solution to our e-cigarette epidemic would be, let’s just get everyone to stop smoking, such a resolution is unrealistic. So we need to take our question a step further: Can CBD help solve the vape crisis?
CBD has been shown to induce a variety of effects in users and is popular as a vape product. The similarities between CBD and other smokable goods — notably nicotine and CBD’s psychoactive phytocannabinoid cousin, THC — do exist, the end results from vaping these compounds differ profoundly. These differences make us think that CBD could be useful as a tool that helps solve the vaping crisis, but first we need to understand what the vaping crisis actually is.
WHAT IS THE VAPE CRISIS?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), state and local health departments, and other clinical and public health departments are currently investigating the outbreak of vape-related lung injuries. Such injuries are known as EVALI, which stands for “e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury.”
As of November 13, there have been 2,172 reported cases of EVALI. These have occurred throughout all U.S. states except for Alaska. Forty-two EVALI-related deaths have been confirmed. All EVALI patients have a documented history of using vape products, with most patients reporting that they used THC-infused vape products.
EVALI can bring about a myriad of symptoms as well:
- Mild to severe cough
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
- Weight loss
Vapes and e-cigarette devices have been available in western markets since around 2006, so why did it take so long for us to start seeing cases such as these and to notice these symptoms induced by e-cigarette use? Vape-related illnesses were scarcely reported prior to 2019, with the increase in EVALI skyrocketing over the past 12 months.
The primary culprit for this outbreak, according to the CDC, is vitamin E acetate. Also known as tocopheryl acetate, vitamin E acetate has been used for decades in cosmetic topicals and skincare formulas. It possesses the ability to protect cell membranes from oxygen and free radical damage.
It is also a synthetic oil, and according to the FDA, was found in a majority of THC vape products. The products in question utilized vitamin E acetate as a cheap diluent, cutting costs and increasing product returns.
The overarching problem here is that vitamin E oils, while usually regarded as safe for ingestion, react differently when vaporized and inhaled. As these oils get hotter, they liquify, and as they cool, they resolidify. When vaping a synthetic oil such as vitamin E acetate, the oil heats, enters the lungs, and resolidifies as it cools, coating the lungs and leading to respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms.
HOW COULD CBD HELP SOLVE THE VAPE CRISIS?
When evaluating if CBD could help solve the vaping crisis, it’s important to think of CBD as an alternative to other vaping goods. CBD is smokable and marks a realistic alternative for those addicted to smoking. No, it does not induce a high like THC, nor does it produce the stimulating effects of nicotine — but it does offer specific benefits when ingested. While they may not satisfy the same cravings experienced by nicotine or THC vape users, CBD vapes could be just the alternative to help users break the habit.
A person’s addiction is, most often, not just about chemical dependency. It is also associated with specific actions they perform during the course of their addiction, almost like a routine. You’re not just addicted to smoking a vape device, but addicted to the action of filling your pods, inhaling smoke or vapor, blowing out smoke — the entire routine of vaping.
With CBD e-liquids or vape pens, users could still experience these same associated actions but with a chemically-preferable compound, free from nicotine or Vitamin E. However, this solution to the vape crisis only remains viable if users purchase CBD vape goods from trusted sources. The FDA and CDC both state that a majority of reported EVALI patients received their vape goods from third parties, such as family, friends, or unverified retailers found online or on social media sites.
If CBD vape juices were to contain only propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerin (VG) — the two essential components of most reputable vape juices — and infused with pure cannabidiol, it is reasonable to assume that smoking such a product would not cause EVALI-related symptoms.
CBD could be viable as a smoking cessation aid as well. According to the Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit at University College London, 24 smokers were randomised and received either an inhaler of CBD or an inhaler of placebo. They were told that, when they felt the urge to smoke, they should take a puff from their inhaler.
The group that received placebo experienced no change, and resumed smoking as normal. The group that received CBD, however, reported roughly a 40% decrease in the amount smoked over a one-week period.
TACKLING THE VAPE CRISIS
Since the outbreak of the vape crisis, the FDA, CDC, members of the current government administration, and public health officials have each declared public health crises. However, no other solutions yet seem viable for tackling the vape crisis at hand.
Certainly, EVALI is a profound public health concern. But the CDC and FDA’s recent findings, which identified Vitamin E and disreputable THC vape products as the main culprits, allows us to view the crisis in a new light. While research into the crisis is ongoing, it is vitally important that vape users carefully source their products, and rely on reputable, third-party laboratory testing to ensure the purity and quality of the products that they use.
CBD could offer a viable solution to help solve the vape crisis, especially given that our public health administrations and officials are unsure how to proceed. As long as vape manufacturers are held to strict levels of transparency, their ingredients carefully tested, and their products offered by reputable vendors, CBD vapes could be a powerful tool for weaning-off of nicotine and THC vapes.