International Cannabis Business Conference

What's in Your Vape? Cannabis Industry Should Identify All Additives Used in Oil Products

True Terpenes’ Viscosity Extract Liquifier, which is added to cannabis oils.

I recently purchased a vape cartridge that was Black Lime flavor, a legal product from a registered extract maker purchased at a licensed dispensary in Oregon. The state-approved ingredient label on that oil cartridge package says it contains “cannabis extract, non-cannabis derived terpenes, artificial and natural flavors.” There’s no mention of the diluent that was used, no detail at all about what ingredients are in this stuff.

That’s all that’s required by the state of Oregon currently, though it has to be said that state law seems to demand more detail: “(9) List of all ingredients in descending order of predominance by weight or volume used to process the cannabinoid product.”

Consumers face a huge problem in this vape scandal that has thus far led to 16 deaths, several cannabis-related. The idea of a legal market is supposed to be that consumers can make an informed choice because products are regulated, tested, controlled and made with known ingredients. Mostly that’s true, but not when it comes to vape products.

Portland-based True Terpenes makes products for the industry. They’re not a cannabis company. Their products are added to cannabis oils for flavoring and viscosity.

Their website states that they don’t add “PG, VG, PEG, MCT, coconut oil or vitamin E acetate” to their viscosity product. That’s propylene glycol, vegetable glycerine, polyethylene glycol and medium-chain triglyceride oil, respectively.

I recently purchased a vape cartridge that was Black Lime flavor, a legal product from a registered extract maker purchased at a licensed dispensary in Oregon. The state-approved ingredient label on that oil cartridge package says it contains “cannabis extract, non-cannabis derived terpenes, artificial and natural flavors.” There’s no mention of the diluent that was used, no detail at all about what ingredients are in this stuff.

The statement by True Terpenes is reassuring, yet a visit to their website raises uncomfortable questions. A material safety data sheet (MSDS) is a basic requirement for any kind of manufacturing. Simply and in context, MSDSs are information sheets for substances and materials stored or used by a manufacturer, which contain all the relevant safety information in case there’s an accident, fire, spill or chemical release.

In the MSDS for True Terpines’ Viscosity Extract Liquefier diluent, on page two, section 3.1, Components of Substance or Mixture, under chemical name all it say is “trade secret.” The word “mixture” is given for formula, molecular weight, CAS (for chemical abstracts services) number and EC (enzyme commission) number. It reads: “Specific chemical identities and exact percentage (concentration) of composition has been withheld as a trade secret.” Under Hazardous Components, the component is listed again as “trade secret.”

The real kicker at the end of the MSDS, page nine, section 16.5, Document Revision, is the disclaimer buried in the middle of a long paragraph: “This product has not been evaluated for safe use in e-cigarettes or any vaping application where the product(s) is/are intentionally vaporized and inhaled. True Terpenes has performed no testing on these products in e-cig-vaping applications. It is the sole responsibility of the individual(s) purchasing this product to assess its safety in the final application.”

The same disclaimer can be found on the MSDS for their flavoring products. I was particularly interested in their Black Lime profile: “Black Lime Special is a special cross that will enthrall fans of all three classic parents (Northern Lights, Purple Kush, and Chemdawg Special Reserve).”

Some of the 599 ingredients commonly found in cigarettes.

We’ve gone down this road before. In 1984, the tobacco industry was forced by the federal government for the first time to start submitting a list of the substances that were being added to cigarettes in the U.S. That list was kept confidential (only the government and the tobacco companies were allowed to know what was on it) until it was leaked a decade later. The resulting public uproar forced the cigarette companies to make public the list of 599 cigarette additives. It’s never been updated.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has a long list of ingredients they admit go into their tobacco posted at their website. At the top of that page, it reads: “Most of these ingredients are commonly used in foods and beverages, or permitted for use in foods by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), or have been given the status ‘Generally Recognized as Safe in Foods’ (GRAS) by FDA or other recognized expert committee, organization or regulatory body.”

What consumers need is information. That’s not going to happen until people demand it. The industry won’t do it on its own. This is why we really need regulation.

This should be an obvious point, but it’s worth stating: People don’t smoke foods and beverages. The ingredients on that list are not recognized as safe when it comes to burning or boiling them and then inhaling the resulting smoke or vapor. (Vitamin e acetate is also “generally recognized as safe” when it’s added directly to human food, but that doesn’t apply to other uses, for example when it’s vaped or smoked). The same goes for terpene flavorings and viscosity boosters.

Even as this lung disease outbreak has unfolded, the vaping industry, both cannabis and nicotine, has been acting a lot like the tobacco industry, which is not surprising really, all things considered, but still very disappointing. What consumers need is information. That’s not going to happen until people demand it. The industry won’t do it on its own. This is why we really need regulation.

Until full lists of ingredients in cannabis-oil products are standard and I can know exactly what I’m being sold to put in my lungs, I’m sticking with flower.

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Doug McVay

Doug McVay

Writer and KBOO radio host based in Portland, Ore. He's also editor of DrugWarFacts.org.