Some people get CBD by smoking the flowering parts of the hemp plant, similar to the way people may smoke marijuana in rolled cigarettes. But increasingly CBD is available via e-cigarette vaporizer devices, or “vape pens,” says Amanda Reiman, Ph.D., a cannabis policy and public health expert based in California who also works for Flow Kana, a cannabis company.
The device heats up a small portion of concentrated CBD oil until it boils, allowing you to inhale the vapor, says Michael Backes, an expert in cannabis science and policy, and author of “Cannabis Pharmacy” (Hachette). He has also worked with the nonprofit educational and research group Project CBD.
Pros: Inhaled CBD tends to enter the bloodstream faster than other forms—in as quickly as 30 seconds or less, according to Mitch Earleywine, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the State University of New York, Albany, and an adviser to the marijuana advocacy group NORML. He is also the author of “Understanding Marijuana” (Oxford University Press). The quick action means it should affect the body sooner, which could be especially useful to ease immediate pain or anxiety, for example.
Vape pens are easy to use and can go undetected because they produce little smoke, Raiman says. (Note that Oregon and certain other states have laws that prohibit vaping in the same places where smoking cigarettes is prohibited.)
Cons: The CBD cartridges used in vape pens can contain a solvent called propylene glycol, which is also used in e-cigarettes containing nicotine, Earleywine says. At high temperatures, propylene glycol can degrade into formaldehyde, a chemical that can irritate the nose and eyes and could increase the risk of asthma and cancer. Earleywine suggests looking for CBD vape pens that advertise “solvent-free oils.”
Also, controlling dosing can be particularly difficult with vape pens. How much CBD you absorb depends on how hard and long you inhale, Earleywine says. In addition, labels on vaping devices can be especially confusing, he says. “You might get a vape oil that says it has 1,000 mg of CBD, but it’s not clear if that’s how much is in the whole bottle or in each inhalation. It can be hard to guess what your dosage really is under some of those situations.”
Finally, even if you’re using a vape pen without propylene glycol, it’s important to know that the long-term safety of smoking CBD in any form, including vaping, is unknown. Backes particularly emphasizes that vaping high concentrations of CBD—and even THC in marijuana products—“has not been studied at all.”
Good to know: Consider trying the lowest dose first—in this case, a single inhale—then wait a few minutes and see whether there is an effect, such as pain relief or reduced anxiety. If not, try another. And avoid holding your breath after inhaling, because that can irritate the lungs.