Why's It Easier To Buy Marijuana Vape Pens Than To Research Them?

By Kelly Burch 10/24/19

"I can buy a vape device around the corner, but I can’t bring it into the lab and test it.”

researcher looking at marijuana vape oil
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About one-third of the legal cannabis industry is based on vape products—but as more and more consumers began to vape cannabis, rather than smoke it, experts were unable to study the health effects because of federal bans on studying marijuana.

“It’s disgraceful,” University of California, San Francisco professor and researcher Dr. Neal Benowitz told The New York Times. “I’m not able to take products we think are potentially harmful and do analysis. I can buy a vape device around the corner, but I can’t bring it into the lab and test it.”

He Tried To Warn Congress

Benowitz, a professor of medicine, studies vaping. This summer, before reports of widespread vaping-related became prevalent, Benowitz wrote to Congress expressing his concern about cannabis vapes. 

“Very little is known about the safety or effects of vaped cannabis oil,” he wrote. He continued, warning that ingredients in the oils “could have harmful, toxic effect on users, including the potential for causing and/or promoting cancer and lung disease.”

Vaping-related illnesses have killed 33 people around the country. 

Even those who are in favor of vaping cannabis recognize that there are many unknowns about vapes. As president of the board of the United Cannabis Business Association, Jerred Kiloh represents 165 California dispensaries, including those that sell legal cannabis vape products. 

“There’s a glaring gap in trying to understand this product,” Kiloh said. 

Black Market Weed Vape Pens Are An Open Secret

Kiloh pointed out that regulated vape pens cost about $55, but people can buy a black market pen with a comparable amount of THC for as little as $25. Investigators say that most of the vaping injury victims have used black market pens. The federal government has warned that people should stop using THC vape products.

“We don’t know what the chemical composition is, and we especially don’t know what the chemical composition is once it’s been combined, heated and inhaled,” Kiloh said.  

Users Discuss Why They'll Continue To Vape

Despite the risk, some people, like Cynthia Valdivia, 34, are still using vape pens. “There’s someone behind the brand and they don’t want to kill people. They want their money.”

Another customer, who is 35, said that he prefers vaping because they are inconspicuous. “You could vape in a police station and no one would even know, not that you’d want to do that.” 

Former FDA tobacco official Eric N. Lindblom said that for a long time there was no interest in regulating the vaping industry. Now, there is.

“Only now that we have this special, extra weird mystery crisis with the disease and deaths is there now interest in doing something.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.