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Study Finds Nano Metals in Legal and Illegal Vape Pens

Emily Mullins

by Emily Mullins

March 21, 2024 12:13 pm ET Estimated Read Time: 3 Minutes
Fact checked by Kymberly Drapcho
Study Finds Nano Metals in Legal and Illegal Vape Pens

A new study by researchers from Health Canada and the National Research Council of Canada analyzed the amounts of metals like nickel, lead, chromium, copper, zinc, and more in both legal and illegal vape pens to determine how harmful they may be. Vapes are often seen as one of the safer ways to consume cannabis, and the researchers aimed to find out how true this is.

To conduct the study, they analyzed samples from 20 legal, regulated vape pens and 21 illegal pens donated by the Ontario Police. Mass spectrometry equipment was used to search for 12 different metals. The scientists found that nano-sized toxic metal particles can exist in cannabis vaping liquids prior to the application of heat, with unregulated products having higher concentrations of metals than legal products.

Metals including arsenic, mercury, and cadmium were within the accepted tolerance thresholds for cannabis products, but lead and certain other metals were detected at alarmingly high levels. According to the research, some of the illegally sourced vaping products had 100 times more lead than the regulated vapes. There was also quite a bit of variety in metal contamination between samples, even if they were produced by the same people.

This concerned the researchers, as any presence of metals can come with potential health risks. Additionally, many of the vapes that were tested had never been used and were less than six months old. “The evidence strongly suggests that metal contamination can come from the device when it’s produced, and not from the heating of the coils. But depending on the quality of the device, the contamination may be increased by that heating,” said scientist Dr. Zuzana Gajdosechova. 

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Andrew Waye, a scientist who will be presenting this research at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2024 meeting, stated further: “If contamination is happening when the device is assembled, you should be testing at that stage rather than earlier.”

Additional research is needed to understand what percentage of these particles are actually transmitted into users’ lungs while inhaling, and the research team plans to tackle this next. This will have further implications on the health effects of cannabis vape pens.

Don’t panic just yet, though. The researchers acknowledged that these findings are not absolute and merely a first step in determining contamination. “Different types of cannabis products present different risks. Our research doesn’t answer whether vaping is riskier than smoking, it just underlines that the risks may be different. Previously uncharacterized risks with cannabis vaping are still being identified,” said Waye.

This evidence greatly underscores the importance of purchasing legal, regulated products to avoid potential health issues. Since cannabis is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), you must use other ways to verify that you’re buying legitimate vapes. One way to ensure that you’re getting vapes from quality sources is to check for a Certificate of Analysis (COA), which helps users confirm the authenticity of their products. You should also only purchase vapes from licensed dispensaries, and you can check for batch numbers, potency, terpenes, and other relevant markers that indicate a regulated product.

Hopefully, these tests will help regulators create stricter testing regimens that can lead to healthier cannabis products for everyone.

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