As more and more states legalize marijuana and cannabis plants, people—especially young adults and teens—are starting to become curious about what products are available to them. Additionally, many are experimenting with vaping these products, usually in the form of THC oil and CBD oil. However, it’s important to note that CBD oil and THC oil impact the body in completely different ways.
What was once vilified as a potentially dangerous “gateway drug” is now being recognized by many states (33 plus Washington, D.C., to be exact) as having medicinal properties that can help manage a range of health conditions, from anxiety and cancer to chronic pain and more.
Marijuana is now also recreationally legal in 11 of those 33 states. (Note that marijuana is still classified as illegal by the U.S. federal government.)
In states where marijuana is legal, it’s being sold mostly in three different ways:
- to be smoked
- to be eaten
- to be vaped
What Is THC?
Both CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) are the most common cannabinoids found in cannabis products. And even though they are both found in marijuana and hemp, THC is more prevalent in the marijuana plant than it is in the cannabis plant.
THC also affects your body differently than CBD does. Even though it works like CBD to impact neurotransmitters in your brain, THC is the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana and is the substance that will make you feel “high.”
Additionally, it’s believed that in addition to giving you a euphoric feeling, THC also impacts pain, mood, and other feelings. CBD on the other hand does not make you high and is believed to work with other receptors in the body to produce an overall feeling of well-being.
Even though several states allow medical marijuana that contains THC, it is still illegal under federal law. Some states have even made recreational marijuana legal, but it’s also illegal under U.S. law.
Smoking and vaping both carry risks
For decades, health experts warned the public about the dangers of inhaling tobacco smoke from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes.
For marijuana, some research suggests some compounds in it, known as cannabinoids, may have a few benefits.
One of the more well-known cannabinoids is called CBD. For this reason, some people believe smoking marijuana is less dangerous than smoking tobacco.
Cannabinoids, such as CBD, are different from tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the chemical in marijuana that gets a person “high.”
What about smoking?
Inhaling smoke of any kind — whether it’s cannabinoid-containing weed or tobacco or another substance — is bad for lung health, according to the American Lung Association.
Most marijuana users hold smoke in their lungs longer than tobacco smokers, putting them at greater risk for exposure to tar — which is harmful to the lungs.
Some negative health effects associated with chronic weed smoking include:
- air pockets between the lungs and lungs and chest wall
- chronic bronchitis
- excessive mucus production
- possible increased risk of infection in immunocompromised people, such as those with HIV
- possible increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections
- weakened immune system
What about vaping?
Vaping marijuana involves inhaling heated oil through a vaporizing device, often referred to as an e-cigarette. Vaping marijuana can also refer to using a vaporizer, such as a VolcanoTrusted Source, to produce vapor from dried plant material.
Some people believe vaping is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke. But the reality is, when it comes to vaping marijuana, there’s much less known about the negative health effects.
The most recent research suggests vaping THC oil could be quite harmful to lung health. The greatest concern at the moment is the severe effects of inhaling vitamin E acetate. This additive chemical has been found in many vaping products that contain THC.
What You Need to Know
Recreational use of marijuana, which contains THC, is now legal in 11 states. But the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the use of THC and it remains classified illegal under U.S. law. Still, people are experimenting with the drug more and more frequently by either smoking it, eating it, or vaping it.
Marijuana use, and more specifically vaping THC oil, is on the rise according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. In fact, in 2018, more than 11.8 million young adults had used marijuana in the last year. Meanwhile, the number of teens in 8th and 10th grades who say they use it daily also has increased. Additionally, nearly 4% of 12th graders say they vape THC daily.
Vaping THC oil involves heating the oil and inhaling it through a vaporizing device like a vape pen or an e-cigarette. Some people believe that vaping THC oil is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke. But the issue is that vaping hasn’t been around long enough and there isn’t enough research to really determine whether or not it’s safer.
Recent research suggests that vaping THC oil, especially oil that contains vitamin E acetate, can be particularly harmful to your lungs. Vitamin E acetate, which is regularly added to THC when preparing it for use in e-cigarettes and vaping devices, is particularly harmful when it’s inhaled.
For instance, in September 2019, health officials began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with vaping and e-cigarettes. By December 2019, more than 2,800 cases of the lung disease, often referred to as EVALI, had been reported across the United States.
Additionally, nearly 70 people have died so far from the disease and as vaping continues to grow in popularity, the number of deaths is likely to increase. What’s more, 82% of the people hospitalized reported using THC-containing products and 33% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products.
Consequently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that people avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products, particularly those that contain THC oil. Even just vaping the oil once can significantly impact your lungs.
In fact, a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that first-time and infrequent users of marijuana were more likely to experience adverse reactions from vaping THC oil. They indicated that these negative impacts were largely due to the enhanced delivery of the oil through vaping. The participants in the study also had more pronounced effects from the drug and experienced significant impacts to their motor skills and cognitive abilities.
Meanwhile, another study published in Addiction found that while vaping nicotine may be safer than smoking cigarettes, the same may not hold true when it comes to marijuana. In fact, additives, like vitamin E acetate may make that delivery method even more dangerous than simply smoking a joint, putting the vaper’s lungs at a greater risk for injury. Yet, a Gallup Poll indicates that most Americans believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking. In fact, 40% of the respondents felt that marijuana was “not too” harmful.
Ultimately, vaping THC oil can lead to a substance use disorder. In fact, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 9% and 30% of people who use marijuana develop some sort of substance use disorder. And, people who begin using marijuana before they turn 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop a marijuana use disorder.