What We Know: You Can Find These Chemicals in Vapes

By Josh Hall

As a new media company focused on separating fact from fiction in the cannabidiol (CBD) industry, we’ve enjoyed occupying the neutral space that positions us to fairly report on the pros and cons of various CBD products—including vapes. But as we watched good, high-quality CBD vapes become imitated and pushed toward young people, we knew it was time for us to take a stand.

That’s why about a week ago we made public our decision to no longer review or recommend vape products. That announcement came amid a rash of cases involving a vaping-related disease that has sickened more than 800 people and killed at least 13. While health officials are still in the dark about what is causing the deadly disease, they have found that most of the products included THC, the cannabis compound most associated with the euphoric high people receive with marijuana.

It’s true that the vapes we wrote about were generally under the 0.3% THC threshold—which made them legal to buy and sell in the United States—but we felt it was our responsibility to now dig deeper into the chemical composition of these products and products like them. Below, you’ll find information about just some of the chemicals you could be exposed to and the dangers you could experience as a result of using a nicotine, THC, or CBD vape product. As you’ll soon read, you should not take these chemicals lightly. If you choose to continue using vape products, only buy cartridges that come from a transparent source with clear test results.

Propylene glycol

In vape cartridges that use CBD oil, it’s very common for there to be the presence of a chemical called propylene glycol. This material thins out the oil so that it’s optimized for use with a vape pen. The type of oil you might use sublingually or under your tongue would both burn the oil and clog the vape because of its thick and viscous composition.

One important thing to note is that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classifies propylene glycol as “generally recognized as safe” when used in food. However, a change occurs when the clear and colorless liquid becomes inhaled and quickly enters the bloodstream. Scientific research shows that repeated inhalation of propylene glycol can lead to skin and lung irritation.

Vegetable glycerin

Similar to propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin is another suspension ingredient included in many e-liquids. Doctors and researchers have long questioned the safety of vegetable glycerin, and there’s some thought that it’s a major contributor to what could potentially be a long-lasting and recurring problem. One professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center for the Study of Tobacco Products thinks it could be a problem in the origination process that makes vegetable glycerin so dangerous.

That professor, Thomas Eissenberg, told Insider that vegetable oil (from which vegetable glycerin derives) could seep into the vape juice. Our mighty lungs are certainly capable organs; the problem is a lung can’t handle oil the way it does air and oxygen. That presence of a substance much thicker than our lungs should ever encounter can rapidly lead to inflammation.


You’re probably familiar with this human carcinogen since its dangers have been associated with traditional cigarette smoking for years. Here’s the scary part about formaldehyde in vapes: NBC News has reported that the exposure to formaldehyde in e-cigarettes could be as much as 15 times higher than what you’d receive in similar patterns of cigarette use.

This all occurs as the vape juice heats, emitting the harmful formaldehyde (and a cousin, acetaldehyde), leaving a string of symptoms in its wake. Inhaling formaldehyde has been known to worsen allergy and asthma symptoms, along with potentially causing cancer.

“The difference in e-cigarettes is the material that is heated and turns into hot gas as it cools is not tobacco, but two main chemicals,” said James F. Pankow, Portland State University professor, when discussing e-cigarettes and the danger of formaldehyde with NBC News. “When it gets really hot, unwanted reactions occur.”


Most e-cigarette juice cartridges also include acrolein. If that chemical doesn’t ring a bell, check your garage and pull out your algae and weed spray—there’s a good chance it’s on the bottle. Like others, it burns off when heated and has been found to induce respiratory, ocular, and gastrointestinal irritations.

If that’s not scary enough, researchers in 2018 announced a discovery that people who inhaled acrolein changed their DNA through the process of repeated inhalation.


Wrapping your sandwich in aluminum foil to keep it hot is a good idea. Inhaling aluminum traces heated to the point of vaporization—not such a good idea. Aluminum is one of the most common household items you can find; unfortunately, it’s also been appearing in some vape liquids.

The belief is that inhaled aluminum can cause chemical pneumonia and slow growth and deform bones in kids.


Here’s another element commonly found in e-liquid that you’ll also find in the home. Like it did with aluminum, a vape’s heating element is what makes silver incredibly dangerous. Inhaling silver can cause irritation in the lung and throat as well as stomach pain. Plus, long-term exposure to aluminum dust can cause a blue-gray tint to your eyes, nose, mouth, throat, and skin.


Heightened in the public consciousness for many years, we’ve all heard about the perils of lead poisoning. This condition can cause nerve damage, digestive concerns, and even death in severe cases. In kids, prolonged exposure to lead can cause a reduction in IQ. And yes, some vape juice does include lead.


Prior to this most recent controversy regarding vapes, the most discussed ailment around e-cigarettes was something called “popcorn lung.” Officially named bronchiolitis obliterans, the disease gained its moniker after so many workers in a microwave popcorn factory got sick. One of the main chemical components in microwave popcorn is diacetyl, which gives the product its buttery taste.

Popcorn lung causes scarring of the air sacs in the lungs, which, in turn, causes coughing, wheezing, and a shortness of breath.

Final words on chemicals in vapes

Choosing to put something in your body is a permanent decision, which is why it warrants a dedicated commitment to understanding exactly what you’re ingesting or inhaling. Since beginning this site, our stance has always been very much in favor of using CBD to treat a number of different conditions—we just happen to think there are better ways to it than with a vape.

It’s worth mentioning that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises people to refrain from using e-cigarette or vape products, particularly those that contain THC. The CDC continues to work closely with the FDA, states, health partners, and clinicians on the outbreak of vape-related illnesses.

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