By Nari Nayini, Ph.D – Food and Cannabis Consultant
The vape craze
Vaping has gained popularity with both medicinal and recreational cannabis users in recent years. The main advantages of vape cartridges are their portability and ease-of-use compared to smoking cannabis flower. Additionally, vaping is a more discreet method of consumption, as it gives off far less of the distinctive smell that comes with smoking. Vape cartridges contain a cannabis concentrate and are available in various cannabinoid and terpenoid concentrations. The concentrate is flash vaporized by an electrical ignition circuit inside the cartridge apparatus to create a cannabinoid aerosol cloud that can be easily inhaled.
In California, vape cartridge sales have been booming. The 2018 “The State of Cannabis,” an annual report tracking consumer trends published by Eaze, a California based cannabis delivery company, shows vape cartridges consistently ranked as the most popular non-flower purchase, accounting for up to 40% of the product sold through their service.
The dangers of lead contamination
The new testing regulations require all cannabis products to undergo heavy metal testing prior to sale to the general public. Testing laboratories are reporting that some vape cartridges are testing positive for lead contamination (in particular) at unacceptable levels.
There is no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe. Lead exposure is especially dangerous to children; however, adults can still suffer from significant adverse health effects following exposure. Some known symptoms include difficulties with memory or concentration, mood disorders, high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, headaches and abdominal pain. In pregnant women, lead exposure can directly cause miscarriage or premature birth and may adversely affect the health of the child even if carried to term.
Sources of heavy metal contamination
Flowers can contain failing levels of heavy metals because cannabis is known to bioaccumulate soil borne heavy metals to the degree that the plant is used for phytoremediation. This source of contamination can be controlled by testing growth medium and fertilizers to be sure they are free of heavy metals and limiting environmental exposure to contamination from other sources.