CBD Vape Oils: What's in Them & Why You Shouldn't Try to Make Your Own
Reading time - 17 minutes
Have you been getting crafty during lockdown? Maybe you've dusted off the toolbox and put up some shelves, knitted your cat a scarf or even made your own sourdough starter (fancy!). This attitude towards creativity is great and hopefully here to stay. However, certain things should be left to the experts. DIY CBD vape oils certainly fall into that category. Health experts are concerned about the do-it-yourself videos that have been cropping up online, they warn that mixing your own vape oils can be unhealthy and at worst, fatal. But why exactly are people trying their hand at making their own CBD vape oils?
In 2019, a string of mysterious vape-related illnesses and deaths in the US led to an understandable crackdown on vaping. While it was being investigated, many states took a prohibitionist stance on vaping, with some banning flavoured vapes and others banning vaping altogether. These restrictions have now been lifted after health officials found a link to vitamin E acetate in black market marijuana vaping products, and it was agreed that tighter regulation was better than an outright ban. However, in September 2019, the Trump administration started working on plans to ban flavoured vape oils to discourage underage teens from taking up vaping. This news gave rise to an online community of do-it-yourself vapers sharing recipes for their favourite flavours with makeshift chemistry sets. Since unregulated vape oils were the cause of the crisis in the first place, this behaviour has sparked concern. Just like the war on drugs and people making ‘moonshine’ back in the days of Prohibition, a black market is arguably a lot more dangerous than a regulated industry. And it's not just happening in the US, the CBD and vaping hype in the UK has led to people turning to homemade CBD vape oils to supercharge their nicotine e-liquids or as a cheaper alternative to in-store CBD vape oils.
Why Vape CBD?
Fast-paced modern lifestyles have led many people to search for more natural ways to bring balance back to their lives. Cannabidiol (CBD) has been rising in popularity for its ability to help people find physical and mental balance. Scientists discovered that CBD interacts with a system named the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) which regulates many bodily processes like appetite, mood, memory, and stress. Go into a health shop today, and you will likely see CBD in many forms; from tinctures and edibles to vapes, topicals and patches... the list continues to grow. Each approach has its own merits; however, the efficacy offered by vaping CBD is incomparable to the other methods of delivery. While regular oral CBD supplements can help keep a level of balance over time, when we're feeling stressed out or in pain, faster-acting methods are a more attractive choice. Through vaping, the CBD diffuses directly into the bloodstream and gets to work within minutes. In comparison, CBD that is ingested needs to pass through the gut and liver which can take 2-5 hours, and much of the CBD is lost in the process. In more scientific terms, inhaling CBD has a higher bioavailability than oral application. Because of this, the vaping industry is growing far beyond producing nicotine products geared towards helping people quit smoking. There are now products that give quick access to ingredients like CBD, caffeine, vitamin B12, and melatonin.
A consumer craze for CBD has led to people trying their hand at making their own CBD vape oils, sometimes using ingredients and oils that are better suited to salad dressing then inhalation. So, let's look at what exactly goes into manufacturing CBD vape oils.
Ingredient 1: CBD Extract
As is the case with many things, when it comes to the ingredients list, the less ingredients, the better. Let's start with the most obvious element... CBD. There are three different types of CBD extract, these are;
- CBD isolate: CBD isolate is the purest form of CBD as the other cannabinoids like CBG and THC are removed, along with other plant extracts like terpenes and flavonoids.
- Broad-spectrum CBD extract:Broad-spectrum CBD contains CBD as well as a whole host of other supportive cannabinoids and plant extracts like terpenes and flavonoids but with THC removed;
- Full-spectrum CBD extract: Just like broad-spectrum CBD, full-spectrum extract contains all of the plant extracts like terpenes and flavonoids as well as all of the cannabinoids, including legal concentrations of THC.
Generally, broad-spectrum is the most popular form of CBD as you can experience the 'entourage effect'without the THC. The entourage effect is the theory that the other cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids work in synergy to bolster the therapeutic effects of CBD. THC is the intoxicating cannabinoid which is found in small concentrations in industrial hemp. Many prefer traces of THC to be completely removed, especially if they take routine drug tests. When it comes to making your own CBD vape oils, most websites and videos recommend using CBD isolate as it is the most accessible and most affordable pure extract to source. You would need pure CBD extract when making DIY vape oil, as oral CBD oils contain carrier oils that are dangerous for the lungs. CBD extract should come in crystals, white powder or translucent clear slabs. CBD isolate that has a yellowish or brown hue could contain contaminants and harmful substances like solvents leftover from the extraction processes.
It's not talked about often enough, but the different methods used to extract CBD from the hemp plant can produce very different results when it comes to purity and the impact on the environment. CBD extraction is where the raw material (hemp) is put through a process to extract desirable cannabinoids and plant compounds. The end result is a distillate or a highly concentrated extract which is then infused into CBD products. The purity aspect is especially important when it comes to CBD used for vape oils since residue from solvents, heavy metals and other noxious substances are not lung-friendly. Hemp flowers are currently illegal to sell or buy in the UK, so you would need to buy the CBD already extracted from the plant. There are a few different methods of CBD extraction that companies use, the main four methods are listed below:
- Solvent Extraction: This involves soaking the raw plant material in a solvent such as alcohol, butane or propane, to strip the plant of cannabinoids. This is the cheapest and most common method, but it is also the most dangerous thanks to the highly flammable substances used in the extraction. Many cannabinoids can be destroyed in the process, and solvents that are not entirely eliminated during the evaporation process can be toxic. It is the method most likely to cause health problems, and butane can irritate the lungs.
- Olive Oil Extraction: This is one of the oldest methods of extraction. The raw hemp plant is heated in a process called decarboxylation and then, in a similar way to solvent extraction, is soaked in heated olive oil for a couple of hours until the cannabinoids separate from the plant material. This is a safer method than solvent extraction, although it is not commonly used as it is low yielding. Another drawback is that the olive oil isn't evaporated, so it isn't as concentrated and is highly perishable.
- Supercritical CO2 Extraction: This is the gold standard of CBD extraction. Liquid CO2 is heated to the temperature and pressure point where it becomes 'supercritical'. It leaves behind a CBD oil extract that is potent with minimal risk of contaminants. This process is pricey and involves expensive machinery but produces a much superior and cleaner result.
- Distillate: Distillate is the crème de la crème of CBD extraction. This is an additional refinement process where high heat is applied to the extracted oil to further remove contaminants and undesirable plant compounds like chlorophyll. This results in an even more concentrated and pure form of cannabis extract which is ideal for CBD vape oils. The natural hemp taste is also largely removed to produce a cleaner finish. At Amphora, we use natural-organic CBD distillate which has been extracted using supercritical CO2 extraction for the best vaping experience.
Ingredient 2: Terpenes
Terpenes are the natural constituents that give fruits and veggies their distinctive smell, taste, and colour. There are over one hundred different terpenes in cannabis which are discussed much more frequently compared to other plants because they define different cannabis strains and their varying characteristics. Terpenes work in synergy with cannabinoids and can enhance their therapeutic properties. That's why we use broad-spectrum CBD distillate with carefully selected flavoured and unflavoured terpenes for wellness goals. For example, as the name suggests our Zzz CBD cartridge includes terpenes best suited for relaxation to help you get a good night's sleep and our Inspire CBD cartridge has terpenes that are great for when you need to focus.
Here are some of the terpenes found in cannabis and their benefits:
- Myrcene: This is the most abundant terpene in the cannabis plants and is responsible for its 'earthy' taste and smell. It may help boost CBD's anti-inflammatory properties.
- Limonene: The name gives it away, limonene is a terpene found in citrus fruits. It is often used in cleaning products because it has natural antibacterial and antifungal.
- Pinene: Again, just as the name suggests, pinene is found heavily in pine trees and is also found abundantly in cannabis. Studies have found pinene has a broad range of benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties and may increase memory and alertness.
- Linalool: Linalool is responsible for lavender's soothing properties. It has been shown to have anti-depressant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.
- Ocimene: Ocimene is found in plants like orchids and basil and is known for its sweet scent. Studies have found that ocimene can act as a powerful anti-convulsant and antifungal.
Next up is solvents and this is where the research gets a bit hazy. Not all CBD vape oils are made equal and many companies add solvents to their CBD vape oils as a thinning agent to make it more easily inhalable. There have been few scientific studies and virtually no long-term studies on how these solvents affect human health, so the long-term effects of inhaling them are unknown. Many believe that because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US, or the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the UK accept these solvents as generally safe for human consumption, they are safe to add to vape oils. However, the lungs work in a very different way to the digestive system, and these statements only refer to substances intended for ingestion. When making CBD vape oil with CBD crystals, you would need to dilute it in a solvent to make it into vape oil. Let's take a look at some of the solvents used in CBD vape oils:
- PG (propylene glycol): Propylene Glycol (PG) is a base ingredient for most nicotine e-liquids and CBD vape oils. It's a common solvent used in vape oils to create the "throat hit" associated with cigarette smoking. It's a popular choice as it's "generally recognised as safe" by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and used in some pharmaceuticals and food products. However, as mentioned, the FDA controls substances intended for ingestion, and "safe to eat" doesn't translate as "safe to inhale". It is widely accepted as a safe inhalable product. However, when heated, it can create small amounts of formaldehyde, a known cancer forming carcinogen, and long-term use has been linked to inflammation of the lungs.
- VG (vegetable glycerine):Vegetable Glycerine (VG) is another odourless base ingredient used in most nicotine e-liquids and is responsible for the dense clouds of vapour we've become accustomed to seeing. VG is derived from vegetable oils and is a food additive recognised as safe by the FDA. However, as with PG, studies have suggested that long-term use may cause inflammation of the lungs, and there are limited studies on the effects of VG inhalation. Most instructions for homemade CBD vape oils call for a PG/VG mix alongside your CBD isolate.
- MCT (medium-chain triglyceride) Oil:As mentioned, CBD vape oils ideally won't contain any additional oil at all. More research is needed on the effects of vaping MCT, and we don't think you should take the chance. Studies have shown that inhaling oils onto the lungs can cause lipoid pneumonia. However, another recent study found that using MCT as a solvent produced lower levels of acetaldehyde than PG and VG, a chemical compound that can damage your lungs, heart and blood vessels. The jury is still out on MCT oils in CBD vape oils.
So when it comes to CBD vape oils, there should be as few ingredients as possible. Your CBD vape oil should ideally only contain a good quality CBD extract and maybe some added terpenes for natural flavour and to boost CBD's natural therapeutic properties. At Amphora, our goal is to enhance our customers overall health and wellbeing so we do not include any solvents in our cartridges.
What Not To Put In CBD Vape Oils
Unfortunately, many companies and online videos suggest adding artificial flavours, solvents and thinners to their CBD extract, making it a less clean and more toxic product. So let's explore what might not belong in CBD vape oil.
CBD Oil Vs CBD Vape Oil - An Important Difference
First off, it's essential to highlight the important distinction between CBD oil and CBD vape oil. Both CBD oils and CBD vape oils often come in glass bottles with a dropper mechanism, but if the label doesn't mention vaping it shouldn't be used for this purpose. Put simply, CBD oil is designed for sublingual application (under the tongue) and CBD vape oil is intended for inhalation. Because our lungs and digestive system work in very different ways, it is vital that the two aren't mixed-up or are thought of as interchangeable. CBD oil can also be applied to the skin and swallowed but should not, under any circumstances, be mixed with vape oils or nicotine e-liquids. That's because CBD oils contain CBD extract diluted in a carrier oil, usually hemp seed oil, olive oil, or MCT coconut oil. Just as breathing water on the lungs is dangerous, the same goes for oil. Our lungs are not equipped for metabolising lipids, and oil build-up on the lungs has been linked to an increased risk of contracting a rare form of pneumonia. Despite this, some companies continue to add small amounts of MCT or hemp oil to their vaping products as thinning agents. These oils are used in much lower ratios than oral CBD oils, however, this practice is controversial. Most sublingual CBD oils start with CBD concentrations of less than 1% and go up to strengths of around 40%. That means 99% - 60% of the bottle is a carrier oil, the stuff that doesn't belong on your lungs.
So to summarise, CBD vape oil ideally shouldn't contain any additional oil at all. Maybe a more accurate name for CBD vape oil is CBD distillate since vaping products should consist of pure CBD distillate and natural terpenes for flavouring. As mentioned, some companies add oil-based ingredients to their CBD vape oils as thinning agents, but since this can lead to fat particles accumulating in the lungs, we don't take the risk.
Vitamin E Acetate
In 2019, vaping hit the headlines after an outbreak of mysterious vape-related illnesses and fatalities in the US. These illnesses were linked to black market vapes containing an additive known as vitamin E acetate. Vitamin E acetate was being used in small concentrations as a thickening agent in illicit, and therefore unregulated, THC products. While vitamin E acetate is safe for ingestion and skincare, the lungs cannot metabolise it in the same way. As a result, it caused a dangerous and in some cases, fatal, inflammatory response in the lungs as they tried to dispel the substance. This highlights the importance of adequately regulated vape and CBD products, so you know that what you're using has been tested and is safe for the lungs. Although no such cases were found in the UK, it is always best to choose companies who are honest and transparent and produce third-party lab reports for all of their products.
Piña colada, bubblegum, cola…there are estimated to be more than 7,000 e-liquid flavours on the market with the vast majority of these flavours made with artificial ingredients. Just like the solvents mentioned, we can't be sure of the long term implications of inhaling artificial flavourings into the lungs. Some scientists discovered that cinnamon, vanilla, and cherry flavours react with propylene glycol (PG) to create new chemicals that may irritate the lungs. However, the reaction to the Trump administration's stance on banning flavoured vape oils has shown the desire for the satisfying feeling of enjoying some tasty flavours with our CBD. That's where terpenes come in. As mentioned, there are over one hundred terpenes that naturally occur in cannabis, which include aromas like mango, pine and citrus. Cannabis has been smoked for thousands of years so the terpenes that naturally occur in cannabis are considered a safer alternative to newer, artificial counterparts. It is our stance that it is best to avoid rolling the dice with your health by preventing unnecessary artificial flavours and enjoying the natural aromas and flavours of terpenes.
The hemp used for CBD extraction should preferably be organic to avoid any pesticide residue. Organic is best, particularly when it comes to hemp as cannabis is a bioaccumulator, meaning it is very effective at sucking up environmental contaminants from the soil and the air. This is great for the earth, but it means it's especially important to avoid using any added chemicals in the cultivation of hemp, so they don't end up inside the plant or adding to the degradation of the environment. The residue of butane and propane from some solvent extraction methods can also create contaminants left over in the final product if not performed properly. That's why at Amphora, we only use pesticide-free, organic hemp and the supercritical CO2 method to create our CBD distillate. A company should provide a lab report or a Certificate of Analysis for every product which should give a breakdown of contaminants like pesticides, chemical solvents, and microbial contamination like mould and mildew.
Some people wish to make their own CBD vape oils because they have concerns about the safety of the unregulated CBD and vaping industry. If that's you, you're not alone. The unregulated nature of the industry has led to some questionable products landing the shelves that aren't what they claim to be. Responsible brands are taking extra steps to ensure that they're sourcing the highest quality hemp and working with top-notch labs and chemists to produce CBD products that are safe and effective. Responsible brands now self-regulate by using third-party laboratories. This is where CBD products are sent off in batches to be analysed by an unbiased entity. Each batch should have a Certificate of Analysis (COA) which provides a breakdown of the cannabinoids present (like CBD and THC) as well as terpenes and contaminants like solvent residue and heavy metals. This is the best way to know exactly what is in your CBD vape oil and should be readily available to download from a brand’s website or by scanning a QR code on the packaging. You can access ours via both these methods.
The Bottom Line
Making your own CBD vape oil using CBD crystals and solvents like PG and VG is possible and can be safe if done precisely. However, the quality is almost certainly going to be several cuts below what the top CBD producers are bringing to the market. Making your own vape juice is somewhat more complicated than rolling your own cigarettes. In fact, there are quite a few calculations to consider. Once you've bought the raw ingredients and have collected equipment to make your own chemistry set, it can become almost as expensive as buying it premade. Both CBD and vaping are still relatively new to the market, and experts have spent a long time studying the best methods to create CBD that is safe and beneficial to your wellbeing, as well as the effective delivery methods that are safe for consumers to enjoy. DIY vape oils are moving more towards an unregulated market, one that the CBD industry has been fighting against. CBD has become popular as a wellness supplement, and to us, it is counterproductive to combine it with contaminants that may negatively impact our health.
Written by | Infused Amphora Team
The Infused Amphora Team is dedicated to creating resources to educate and engage consumers on the growing evidence of CBD benefits and the extensive health and wellness properties of CBD Oil.
Contributor | Angus Taylor CEO
Infused Amphora “Learn” is intended for informational purposes only and is NOT a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.