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Safety Cartridge Pen Safety

Discussion in 'Vapes and Related Equipment Safety' started by momofthegoons, Mar 6, 2019.

  1. momofthegoons

    momofthegoons Vapor Accessory Addict Staff Member

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    I've been concerned about the safety of cartridges for some time after learning that one of the premier cartridge makers here in Michigan was using coconut oil as their carrier. For those who are not aware, when inhaled, coconut oil can cause lipid pneumonia. But this article brings up new concerns with these cartridges.

    Cannabis Cartridges Have a Heavy Metal Problem & It Is Worse Than Reported
    As testing ramps up in legal marketplaces there are more concerns about just how safe vape pens are.


    Sales data from Eaze and Jane Technologies Inc. confirm that cannabis e-cigarettes (“vape pens”) account for nearly 25 percent of sales in California and other research by BDS Analytics and Arcview found that “vapes already made up more than half of total U.S. concentrate sales.” Considering that these devices did not exist until 2010 in their earliest incarnations, and did not see mass adoption on the consumer market until 2012/2014 (depending on location), these devices have taken the cannabis industry by storm. As with any new technology, while there are benefits there are also potential harms.

    This month, California’s cartridge market was shaken to its core by a memo released by K Street Consulting, drawing attention to the fact that potentially 90 percent of cartridges dry test for actionable levels of lead under the state’s phase 3 heavy metals testing as required by reforms to the state’s medical and recreational cannabis programs. While many outlets been hyper-focused on lead, there are other heavy metals to be concerned about in these devices.

    Big Trouble, Little Care in China
    Sasha Robinson, a founder of Firefly Vapor and their former CTO, did extensive research on material components to create the Firefly 1. Robinson said they “were testing standard heating coil wires of different types,” including nichrome wire, a blend of nickel and chromium. After a month of testing, Robinson said he and his colleague noticed they had “skin rashes and itching issues, symptoms that were consistent with those of nickel poisoning,” but they were never checked out by a doctor. Nickel poisoning is a rare disease which can be hard to diagnose and, in extreme cases, can result in coma and epileptic seizures. While both nickel and chromium are heavy metals, neither one is being tested for under California’s phase 3 heavy metals testing (just cadmium, lead, arsenic, and mercury).

    Since the developers at Firefly were not using filled cartridges, they could “see that there was dust in the heating chamber when we disassembled the device” and Robinson said he noticed that “after repeated heating and cooling cycles the nichrome wire begins to flake off as white powder,” which was then inhaled into their lungs.

    “I don’t want to be an alarmist in this space, we are doing a lot of human experimentation with no studies,” Robinson said.

    With that realization, Robinson and colleagues conducted a lot of research “on different materials that didn’t flake under heat cycling.” Ultimately, they put the whole company on hold for about three months to make sure they had a safe product.

    “In the end, we did find one, but it was very difficult to find a supplier and we had to have our wire custom made,” Robinson said. “All of our coils are now made in the U.S.”

    When it comes to prioritizing human health over company profits, Robinson said he feels that “China doesn’t think that way, they can’t afford to.”

    Robinson described manufacturing in China as the “wild west” when it comes to the issues U.S. companies face in dealing with Chinese manufacturers,

    “The challenge is that most [U.S. brands] don’t know and don’t want to know what they are made of, because then they become liable for it,” he said. “Their supplier can tell them a lie, like the coil is made of titanium, and then they can repeat the lie to consumers without ever verifying it. That happens a lot.” While much of the market has shifted from nichrome wire to safer components, some companies have not, and others may be repeating incorrect information about product safety given to them by their manufacturer.

    A Cowboy of Quality Control
    To learn more about China as the wild west of vape manufacturing, Cannabis Now spoke to a long-term “cowboy” of the quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) testing scene in Shenzhen China, Andy Church. After 12 years doing QA/QC in China, Church founded Insight Quality Services, a company that ensures that what U.S. brands order is what they receive. When I brought up Robinson’s comment about material component deception, Church said it was a common occurrence.

    “I think that it happens all the time, in manufacturing and sales, but that is not limited to China,” he said.

    Church put the onus on the importer.

    “If someone is telling you that a device is made of specific components it is up to the buyer to make sure that what they receive is what they ordered,” he said noting that, for cartridges and any other products, the way to verify is to “send samples in from the inspected lot to make sure the components are what they are meant to be.”

    Are they Actually “Vape” Pens?
    You may have noticed that this article refers to cartridge-style and all-in-one disposable pens not as “vape pens,” as most people do, but as “cannabis e-cigarettes” or simply as “devices.” This is because they all use appropriated e-cigarette technology, which was not designed for cannabis oils. As previously reported by Cannabis Now, the result is a product that doesn’t always vaporize and generally smolders or combusts the oil around the heating element, which can produce carcinogens and potentially other contaminants. Some higher quality disposable devices, such as the dosist pen, include a microprocessor to control the temperature, but in a market racing to the bottom to provide the lowest prices to overtaxed consumers, most brands do not have a way to control the temperature in their device. Robinson stated it about as bluntly as one can, “Those pens have no temperature control and very few electronic parts, most of the electronics are spent on charging the battery and making sure the battery doesn’t blow up in your face.”

    While many people think there is a clear line between what is vaping and what is not, it is more of a gray area than black and white.

    “There is no clear line between burning and vaping, it is a scientific measurement of particulates,” Robinson said alluding to the fact that there is no one accepted temperature. In fact, perhaps temperature isn’t even the best metric to use.

    Heavy Metals Testing Outside of California
    While much of the focus in cannabis vape pen testing is currently on California, it is not the only state to require heavy metals testing and soon Colorado will also be implementing the heavy metals testing requirements contained in that state’s regulations. Despite Colorado testing for the same four heavy metals, the allowable limits are much less restrictive. For example, while California only allows 0.5 parts per million (ppm) for lead, Colorado will allow 10 ppm.

    To learn more about heavy metals testing limits in other states, Cannabis Now spoke to Sarah Krings-Lien, a senior consultant for Pistil + Stigma and the head researcher on their multi-year study on cannabis testing limits around the United States.

    “The lack of scientific evidence on safe levels of heavy metals in cannabis has resulted in a patchwork of state testing requirements,” Krings-Lien said. “The majority of states require testing for just four heavy metals (inorganic arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury), but a few states require testing for up to 10, including chromium, barium, silver, selenium, iron, manganese, nickel and zinc.”

    In addition to the dramatic variance in the number of metals tested for, Krings-Lien said that the limits for each heavy metal vary significantly.

    “For example, in five states the limit for lead in cannabis flower is 1 ppm or less, while two states allow up to eight times that amount,” she said.

    Safer Alternatives
    For cannabis users looking for safer devices, the dosist pen and Firefly are vaporizers that have been around for a few years and have a proven track record for safety and compliance. About four years ago Cannabis Now spoke to Seibo Shen, CEO of VapeXhale and Hanu Labs, who was one of the first C-level executives blowing the whistle on the materials safety issue.

    “I’ll be the first to say that pens seem to be safer than smoking, but they may not be as safe as they are being marketed to be,” Shen said. “I wouldn’t say they are unsafe, but they can choose much safer and better materials to use in the cartridges.” Since the interview, Shen has created the Hanu Stone, a portable vaporizer about to hit the market, which he said was “designed to be ROHS and ROHS2 compliant, which are safety standards for hazardous materials.”

    While California and Colorado brands may be fine using nickel and chromium in their devices for now, there is no guarantee that will last forever. For brands with a national footprint, or those that aspire to have one, it is important to meet the standards of the most restrictive state the company plans to operate in and meet the standards, rather than trying to save money by buying sub-par electronics and fail testing, or worse, suffering a recall, as just happened to one Michigan company whose products tested hot for arsenic and cadmium (among other chemicals).
    Killick, Baron23, Shredder and 3 others like this.
  2. Baron23

    Baron23 Well-Known Member

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    Maryland tests MJ flower for eight different heavy metals....but they do NOT test extractions for metals. F'd up, yeah?
    Madri-Gal and momofthegoons like this.
  3. momofthegoons

    momofthegoons Vapor Accessory Addict Staff Member

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    Growing Concerns about Cannabis Vape Cartridge Additives


    How much do we really know about the additives included in your vape pen?
    E-cigarettes, both with cannabis and tobacco oils in them, rely on additives to standardize the potency of oils and to change their viscosity so that their cartridges do not clog or leak.

    There are several different additives that companies use including propylene glycol (PG), polyethylene glycol (PEG), vegetable glycerin (VG), medium-chain triglycerides (MCT), and even terpenes.

    Complicating matters further, PEG comes in a nearly unlimited range of molecular weights, each with different known uses, risks, and consistencies; simply put, the bigger the number after the PEG the higher the molecular weight, and more solid it will be.

    Most cannabis e-cigarettes that use PEG appear to use PEG 400.

    Problems with PEG, PG and VG
    A 2017 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine looked into the amount of the carbonyls such as acetaldehyde, acrolein, and formaldehyde produced by vapes containing PG, PEG, VG, and MCT.

    That study found PEG 400 produced the most carbonyls, followed by PG, and that MCT and VG produced comparably negligible amounts.

    In an interview following up on his study, Dr. Matthew DiDonato discussed the gravity of his research, saying, “To my knowledge, this is the first study examining the byproducts of vaporized MCT, which is why, given its prevalence in vaporizable cannabis products, we felt it was important to determine its safety as a thinning agent.”

    When speaking at the Institute of Cannabis Research Conference 2017, Harvard-educated physician, Dr. Jordan Tishler, expressed concerns that “PEG can become a carcinogen and PG can polymerize, coating the lungs in plastic and provoking an immune response.”

    Dr. Jeffrey Raber, the CEO and CVO of The WercShop, echoed some of the concerns raised in the 2017 JACM article, saying “We do know that PEG, VG, PG ... produce formaldehyde and other deleterious agents.”

    Some of the deleterious agents Dr. Raber spoke of could be acetals, which are the product of PG and certain flavor chemicals combining, which can happen even without heating.

    Arnaud Dumas De Rauly is another important voice raising concerns about these additives.

    Dumas De Rauly is the CEO and Co-Founder of the Blinc Group, a vapor products incubator; he is also the Secretary General of European and International relations at FIVAPE in France, the Chairman of the ISO/TC 126/SC 3 Vape and Vapor Products, and one of the world’s most renowned experts in vape technology.

    After his years of working in the vape space, Dumas De Rauly feels that “PEG should never be used, and PG is the safest” thinning agent to use.

    Despite that, in the U.S. “80% of the nicotine market uses VG and 20% uses PG, and that is reversed in Europe.”

    Dumas De Rauly said the reason for VG's popularity is that “VG means a bigger cloud,” while on the other hand “PG means you have a better flavor.”

    One thing we do know about PEG is that it can be used as a molecular “glue” to reattach severed nerves as part of a head/body transplant (which is currently being attempted).

    Mixed Opinions About MCT
    While Dr. DiDonato's research seemed to prove MCT oil as a safe thinning agent when compared to PG and PEG, that study just looked at the amount of carbonyls produced, not at the possibility of lipoid pneumonia.

    Lipoid pneumonia is a condition caused by fat particles (lipids) entering the lungs.

    Dr. Jeffrey Raber, the CEO and CVO of The WercShop, mentioned his concerns about it during his keynote at the 2018 Terpenes and Testing World Conference (TTWC).

    “MCT oil can lead to lipid pneumonia,” said Dr. Raber, adding that “your lungs aren’t made to process oils.”

    In a follow-up interview, Dr. Raber expanded on his TTWC keynote: “When we talk about lipid pneumonia, we don't know if it will happen with these lipids, so it’s best to err on the side of caution.”

    The main issue he brought up was that “We don't have any data on the effects,” which means that “we don't know how much is too much when it comes to consumption.”

    Without any research, there is no way to say if two grams of distillate a day is safe or if a safe amount is two puffs on a cannabis e-cigarette.

    In the end, Dr. Raber's advice to manufacturers was straightforward: “Don't put things in there you weren't inhaling before.”

    The Trouble with Terpenes

    Every thinning agent has positives and negatives. None of them have enough research regarding inhalation.
    In his TTWC keynote, Dr. Raber said “Terpenes would be the best dilution agents, as they are natural,” they are something that was always inhaled when people smoked cannabis, not a new additive.

    Terpenes are part of the essential oils of plants and are responsible for many of the aromas of cannabis and other plants.

    While he advocated for using terpenes, Dr. Raber clarified in a follow-up interview that, “we still don’t know what safe consumption rates are for vaporized terpenes.”

    He added that “like it or not, we are all in a running experiment, and we are the subject.”

    Dr. Raber was clear that there is a “concern over when enough is enough, which is hard to tell.”

    Dr. Tishler echoed Dr. Raber's concerns, saying: “Some companies are adding terpenes, but we have no research to show that super concentrated terpenes are any safer than PG or PEG.”

    Concentrated terpenes may even have a corrosive effect on the device itself.

    This is exactly why more manufacturers are moving away from plastic cartridges.

    Justin Pentelute is the CEO of EvolutionZ Consulting, a group that owns the cannabis oil and cartridge company The Clear, one of the pioneers of the cannabis cartridge market who initially used plastic cartridges.

    Pentelute discussed why they switched to using glass CCELL cartridges:

    “In any plastic cartridge you will get leeching from the terpenes, even cannabis-derived terpenes, not all but most will have some acidic value.”

    CCELL Cartridges are quickly becoming standard across the industry due to their higher quality.

    He compared it to soda, “It is no different than coca cola, we drink it all the time but it will take rust off a nail, that is similar to how these terpenes work. They are good for you but they are acidic.”

    Rene Suarez is a veteran of the e-cigarette space and the CEO of Orchid Essentials, a company that uses terpenes as the thinning agent in their CCELL cartridges.

    Suarez also spoke of the potential leeching effects of terpenes.

    “I know that in old vape cartridges we used to have plastic tanks and there were some flavors that were more acidic and they would leech the tank and could crack them,” said Suarez, adding one big example: “Cinnamon flavoring cannot go in a plastic tank.”

    Beyond some terpenes being more acidic than others, some have been shown to have specific medical issues associated with them. The first terpene to attract attention for negative health effects was diacetyl, a butter-scented terpene which arises as a byproduct of creating cultured dairy products.

    Diacetyl first came to attention as an additive to microwave popcorn, where some workers received toxic levels of exposure resulting in a condition called “popcorn lung,” which resulted in new FDA and OSHA regulations.

    Diacetyl is not just used in microwaved popcorn anymore, and was found in 75% of e-cigarettes examined in a 2015 Harvard University study which noted negative health impacts from inhaled diacetyl.

    In 2018, a study published in the American Heart Association's journal, Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, found that diacetyl and eight other terpenes impaired “nitric oxide production, which inhibits inflammation and clotting and regulates blood vessel enlargement in response to blood flow.”

    Over time, that could contribute to heart damage and other health impairments.

    Other than diacetyl, the researchers looked at acetylpyridine (burnt flavor), cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon), dimethylpyrazine (strawberry), eucalyptol (spicy cooling), eugenol (clove), isoamyl acetate (banana), and vanillin (vanilla).

    While the study was looking at tobacco e-cigarettes, these terpenes are also used in cannabis e-cigarettes and, in some cases, like eucalyptol, they are naturally occurring in the cannabis plant.

    So What's Safest?
    It seems like every thinning agent out there has some potential drawbacks and health issues associated with it, but with all of them, we need more research to know the specifics.

    Out of five additives looked at in this article, PG and VG seem to be the safest options to use, or possibly terpenes, as long as they are not terpenes shown to have negative health impacts.

    Dumas De Rauly had some advice for regulators, “If there is one thing that should be tested for it should be an emissions test,” which means measuring what comes out of a used vape, rather than the oil that goes into it.

    “No one is eating the oil, it is being vaporized, so that should be tested and an emissions study is required in both Europe and the US for nicotine vapes.”
    LesPlenty likes this.
  4. momofthegoons

    momofthegoons Vapor Accessory Addict Staff Member

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    This article pertains to e-cig vaping.... but could certainly apply to concentrate cartridges as well since they aren't sure what's causing the contamination.

    Study Finds Signs Of Bacteria And Fungi In Many Vaping Products

    E-cigarettes appear on display at Vape store in Chicago in 2014. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

    Many e-cigarette products show signs of contamination by what could be called e-bugs.

    Harvard researchers who tested vaping cartridges and e-liquid products with high nicotine content made by the 10 most popular e-cigarette brands report widespread evidence of bacteria or fungi previously linked to lung problems.

    The study, out Wednesday in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, found signs of bacterial contamination in nearly a quarter of the products tested, and fungal contamination in more than 80%.

    David Christiani, a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor, says that while the level of exposure is low, the research adds an additional "buyer beware" for users of e-cigarettes. Vaping has exploded among American teens to the point that the U.S. surgeon general has called it an "epidemic."

    "The production is not standardized," Christiani says, "and the contents can vary widely. And they can contain a number of agents that are toxic, that can be harmful to health, in addition to nicotine."

    He says more research is needed on a wider sampling of vaping products and their effects on human health. The study examined the brands most popular in 2013, and bought them in 2015-16, he says.

    Here are a few edited excerpts from our conversation:

    How would you sum up your findings?

    We looked at e-cigarette products to see if there was any contamination by microbial agents — specifically bacteria or fungi. And so we looked at products that those organisms make, known as endotoxins or glucans. And we found them present for bacterial contamination in about 23% of the products overall. The fungi was present in 81% of the products.

    So what's your message to the public?

    This just adds one more "buyer beware," that you’re actually inhaling material that has chemical contamination in many cases, and in this case, biological contamination as well — for agents that have been known to cause inflammation and damage to the airways in other settings.

    It should be clear that those are usually occupational settings at much higher levels than what we’re measuring here. But still, they are present. And we don’t know what long-term, repeated, cumulative use would mean for someone’s lungs from just e-cigarettes alone.

    How would you describe the level of risk for e-cigarette users?

    These are low levels of exposure — lower than in tobacco products or traditional cigarettes and lower than in the occupational environment. So this is pretty low-level exposure, but it’s not trivial. In totality, this is added to what we already know are contaminating these products, including a bunch of chemical compounds. So now you add endotoxins and glucans on top of that, and we know from other studies that glucans and endotoxins are not good for your lungs.

    Are there studies looking at vaping effects on human health?

    They’re coming out now. The literature is starting to really blossom. Long-term studies will take time, just like with other environmental agents, but there is a lot of work going on in e-cigarette exposure in humans, and what even short-term responses — like inflammatory responses — might indicate.

    Is the fundamental problem the production practices, or is this contamination inevitable given the materials?

    We actually don’t know. We’re not sure at which steps the contamination is taking place. The only thing we can say is that we looked at two different kinds of materials; one was cartridges and one was a free-flowing liquid. And the cartridges had a higher level of contamination than the free-flowing liquid did.

    The cartridges usually use cotton wicks. And we know from my previous work in the textile industry that cotton material is more heavily contaminated with compounds like endotoxins. So in that case, it might be right in the wick.

    What's your next step?

    We’d like to do more human studies of both active and passive exposure to vaping. It might show some of the short-term clinical effects that we’re concerned about.

    The other problem is there’s so much variability. We took the top 10-selling brands, but I think there needs to be a larger representative sample of products to confirm these findings. There also need to be studies that figure out what the sources and roots of contamination are. And lastly, the human health effects.
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