The wide array of cannabis products available on the market are meant to appeal to a wide customer base. Those who enjoy smoking can get their hands on pre-rolled cones or raw flower, while others who prefer to get elevated might choose from the selection of edibles available.
Just like the tobacco industry, the rise of vaping has taken over cannabis dispensaries, though there have been some serious questions regarding its implications on public health.
Last year, Canadian cannabis company Canopy Growth commissioned a study to explore the effects of phytol — a naturally occurring terpene in cannabis plants that are used to cut vape cartridge e-juice. It’s typically blended with vape cartridge contents to boost flavor profiles with cannabis oil and propylene glycol, a thinning agent.
One of Canopy Growth’s chain of dispensaries, Tokyo Smoke, pulled all products containing phytol from their shelves in August 2020. In a matter of months, the study conducted by Canopy Growth scientists revealed a scary reality. “Phytol, not propylene glycol, causes severe pulmonary injury,” reads the study.
Ultimately, the data revealed that the harms of phytol are lethal. “I wouldn’t use a product that contains it,” said Panacea Plant Sciences and Ziese Farms CEO & founder David Heldreth, who formerly served as a chief science officer at True Terpenes — a massive reseller of phytol.
Here’s why you should be concerned about phytol:
Vaping was once considered a safer alternative to smoking but that doesn’t seem entirely true anymore. As Leafly put it, “humanity has engaged in a massive, uncontrolled field trial of electronic drug-delivery systems known as vaporizers.” As smokers of all ages began dabbling with vape pens, 2019 put all concerns into focus. There was a lack of quality control on vape pens which resulted in nearly 3,000 cases of illnesses related to vaping and 68 fatalities. Canopy Growth’s research revealed the reason behind it: vitamin E acetate — an additive frequently found in illegal vape pens that can be made from phytol.
While phytol is a derivative of the cannabis plant, there’s no word on how much phytol is safe to inhale. Canopy Growth’s study is among the first to explore the toxicity levels between phytol and propylene glycol. The study was conducted on lab rats who received a mist of phytol and air, or propylene glycol and air, or just air. While the study ran for 14 days, researchers unfortunately found all the rats who were tested with phytol had passed away or were in a near-death state.
Researchers said that they found “acute toxicity in all dose groups” while those tested with phytol suffered “severely purple” lungs that were “hemorrhaging.” Additionally, the rats with phytol were said to have their nose, throat, and lung tissue melted away from necrosis.
Still, many questioned whether tests on rats could be applicable to humans. Ultimately, researchers found that it’s unclear if any level of phytol being inhaled to the lungs is a danger to consumers. Overall, the results were not promising.
The Canopy research on rats isn’t comparable to humans since no one is hotboxing phytol in a room for an extended period of time. However, it was enough to call for these types of products to be pulled from Canopy’s catalog.
Places like Canada and the U.S. still haven’t placed bans on phytol but it’s becoming increasingly rare to find in the legal market. Since cannabis brands must provide a detailed breakdown of the contents of their products, along with THC levels, it wouldn’t be difficult for consumers to identify that their vape carts are being cut as long as they buy from legal, reputable companies.
Health Canada might not have moved forward with a complete ban but provincial review boards are keener to keep phytol off of shelves. Meanwhile, states across America are not regulating its use but because of full label disclosure on the contents in a vape, most quality, reputable cannabis companies aren’t going to compromise the quality of their products with cutting agents like phytol.
In places like California, phytol isn’t commonly found in their legal market. THC testing is a mandatory process for all dispensaries in the state. Most customers strive for high-quality products with high THC percentages towards the 80% to 90% mark. Adding phytol can cut down its potency to 70%.
If vaping is your preferred method of consumption, it’s best to make sure that your purchase is from licensed dispensaries that have gone through rigid testing processes. Quickly breezing through the ingredients on a vape pen will break down whether there’s an additive, artificial flavors, or even terpenes added to the final product.