Vaping & Solventless Cartridges
Over the past couple years, a wave of lung injury incidents started showing up across the United States. In August 2019, the CDC began collecting data as an increasing number of people started showing up at hospitals with severe injuries to their lungs. The common denominator in these cases came down to one thing, the use of vape pens and cartridges. In time, the collective incidents were named EVALI, or e-cigarette/ vaping associated lung injury.
Image from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Since then, over 2,800 people have been diagnosed and cases of the crisis have been recorded throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Of those reports, 76% of patients were under the age of 35, with 24 serving as the median age of those affected. While the majority (37%) of those affected were between 18 to 24 years old, the more troubling statistic may be that 15% of EVALI cases impacted a minor.
As of February 18th, 2020, 68 people across 29 states have died from their injuries. After many questions surrounding what element(s) of vaping specifically could be causing the injuries, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) identified vitamin E acetate to likely be the source.
A study was conducted on a group of 99 healthy individuals and 51 patients, 25 of which were confirmed to have EVALI and 26 were diagnosed with a probable case. The bronchoalveolar-lavage (BAL) fluid in their lungs was tested for toxicants by performing an isotope dilution mass spectrometry on the BAL. The fluid was tested for the following toxicants: vitamin E acetate, plant oils, medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, coconut oil, petroleum distillates, and diluent terpenes. Of those 51 ill people, 48 patients (94%) had traces of vitamin E acetate in their BAL fluid and vitamin E acetate was found in 0 of the 99 healthy individuals.
With both nicotine and THC vape users being affected, 85% of the confirmed EVALI cases found THC or its metabolites in the BAL fluid sample. On the other hand, 65% of those with EVALI had nicotine traces in the their BAL fluid sample.
Most commonly, vitamin E acetate is used in various cosmetic products and even some foods such as vegetable oil, produce, meat, and cereal. But the use of it as an additive in vape cartridges has unfortunately shown us that vitamin E acetate should not be inhaled.
With cannabis products so prevalent in the crisis, each of us must stay informed about vaping, how these products are made, and how to spot fake products that are potentially harmful.
As mentioned, analysts identified vitamin E acetate as a probable cause for these injuries. In its report, researchers said, "this is the first time that we have detected a chemical of concern in biologic samples from patients with these lung injuries. These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury within the lungs."
By early 2020, EVALI occurrences were on the decline. That said, a few new cases were still coming in each week and brands or black market dealers that were selling counterfeit vape products were largely to blame here.
Much of the public pointed the blame at Dank Vapes, a rather dubious player in the space. Depending on who you ask, vape companies are either threatened by the fact that their packaging is often used on the illicit market, or that they are operating to produce low-cost, counterfeit cartridges that are dangerous to inhale. However, the CDC said its analysis found differences in THC products among regional outbreaks, leading them to believe that multiple producers are behind the problem.
Image from Klover Up
“While Dank Vapes was most commonly reported in the Northeast and South,” noted the CDC report, “TKO and Smart Cart brands were more commonly reported by patients in the West and Rove was more common in the Midwest.”
The CDC’s findings highlight a fundamental fact about the vaping issue: many come from lawbreakers in the space. Though, it is still possible that some patients have developed EVALI from the use of compliant, licit vape products. Brands doing so have filled carts with additives rather than pure cannabis oil and compliant ingredients, giving the market at-large a lousy name.
What’s in a Legal Vape Cartridge?
A legitimate vape cartridge and a fraudulent creation are easy to confuse. It’s not as if vitamin E acetate is going to stand out prominently. All you can do is gain a better understanding about what should and shouldn’t go into a vape cartridge. From there, you can follow brands who are transparent about their processes or even go on to produce your own solventless cartridges.
In many cases, producers make cartridges using distillate, which is a highly refined cannabis concentrate oil. Others may use CO2 or other hydrocarbon extraction methods.
Distillate and CO2 pens are much more common on sales shelves today. With both distillate and hydrocarbon extracted oils, additives may be needed. The lack of terpenes due to solvent based extraction requires thinning agents to be used so the product can be easily vaporized. Common additives in the process include polyethylene glycol (PEG), propylene glycol (PG), medium chain triglycerides (MCT) and vegetable glycerin (VG).
As the process nears completion, some producers re-introduce terpenes or flavors to help replicate the plant's aromatic and flavor profiles. This is likely to be the case when consuming a cartridge that contains oil that was extracted with the use of solvents or hydrocarbons.
This isn’t the case with solventless rosin cartridges or other solventless vapes though. While solvents dissolve and separate the plant material from the oils, it is also stripping away the plant's terpenes and other valuable components. Solventless extraction methods on the other hand, are chemical-free and done by mechanical separation. The resinous trichomes are separated from the plant matter via ice water, or dry sift extraction. After extraction, the dry hash is introduced to heat and pressure, usually on a rosin press, which is what gives us solventless hash oil or rosin.
The absence of such chemicals replaced with clean, gentle extraction methods allow your final product to retain most of its live plant profile, giving it a delicious natural flavor. This is evident when vaping solventless cartridges from companies like some of the ones listed below:
- Lazercat; Colorado (Instagram: @lazercatcannabis)
- Olio; Colorado (Instagram: @dabolio710)
- Äkta Creations; Colorado (Instagram: @aktacreations)
- Pyramid; Colorado, Michigan (Instagram: @pyramidpensusa)
- Voda; Colorado (Instagram: @vodaconcentrates)
- Nokhu; Colorado (Instagram: @nokhulabs)
- Doc Greens; California (Instagram: @docgreensofficial)
- Blue River; California, Florida (Instagram: @blueriverterps)
(Please note: these are just a few companies that have stood out to us recently, we know there are many more to be appreciated!)
Image from Instagram @dabolio710
Solventless cartridges can provide consumers with an extra level of safety over non-solventless options. That said, some solventless products do rely on cutting agents. While most states approve of their inclusion, any outside addition can raise concerns in today’s public climate. To ensure your safety, only buy from reputable sources and don’t be afraid to ask questions to verify your products.
Like you would with regular cannabis flower, ask to see an item’s certificate of authenticity or test results. If a company can't verify its products, consider buying something else. Many brands have even started using self-verification processes to ensure that the customer is receiving a legitimate product. QR codes and water marks on packaging are just a couple of the methods brands are using for product verification. Not only does it help combat the issue of counterfeit products but it also gives the customer peace of mind, knowing they are consuming a safe and approved product.
Stay Informed, Stay Safe
The EVALI concern is warranted and raises concerns around reform in the industry. However, instances are trending down, and a culprit seems to have been identified. Despite EVALI, the vape cartridge market is absolutely booming. The solventless and rosin cartridge sector mainly, is seeing upward trends now more than ever. Consumers but especially connoisseurs are looking for ways to make their rosin and solventless products more portable.
Regardless of the outcome, it is wise to educate yourself. If you are a producer, do the same for your consumers. Offering a premium product to customers is almost always a smart idea and as times progress, we expect to see many customer bases expand. By providing your consumers with solventless rosin cartridges, you are giving them a reliable, top-shelf product. Not only that but they will have the assurance that what they are consuming is not only enjoyable but is also safe.
If you are a solventless hash producer, you should definitely consider introducing producing premium rosin vape cartridges to your customers, that is if you have not already. Many brands are seeing success in doing so while also growing their customer base. Now more than ever, people are looking for high-quality products that they can trust no matter what. With 100% solventless extraction methods and proper techniques, you can create naturally viscous, solventless oil for vape carts that not only tastes delicious but are also safe to inhale.