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What to Know When Selecting Cannabis Extracts

 December 12, 2019  Written by Emma Chasen
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In the legal cannabis industry, there are many products to choose from. Cannabis extracts and concentrates have made a particular rise in popularity in developing markets. Cannabis extracts are products that have highly concentrated cannabinoids and in some cases, terpenes. Consumers often enjoy extracts via vaporization or dabbing. 

Not all cannabis extracts are created equal. Recently, people have been developing lung injuries from the consumption of vaporization devices including cannabis extracts and e-cigarettes. 

The CDC (Center for Disease Control) released a report on the outbreak of lung injuries associated with vaping and vape products. As of November 20, 2019, 2,290 cases of vaping associated lung injury have been reported from all over the country and 47 deaths have been confirmed. Vaping is often marketed as a healthier alternative to smoking, but the recent outbreaks urge us to re-evaluate the safety of these products. 

It is imperative that when selecting cannabis extracts and concentrates you conduct an investigation of the company’s ethos and formulation practices. Ultimately, you want to make sure you are only consuming 100% pure cannabis extract that comes from high quality plant material. Unfortunately, companies may include additional ingredients to favor profits, amplify flavor and/or decrease the likelihood for device failures. 

Here are some common adulterants to watch out for when evaluating cannabis extracts:

Thickening Agents - Vitamin E Acetate, Olive Oil

Cartridge companies may include vitamin E oil or olive oil to “thicken” the cannabis extract. This allows companies to cut costs and increase profits as they can use less cannabis extract in each cartridge. While vitamin E oil and olive oil are completely safe to eat and apply topically, they are NOT safe to heat and inhale. Our lungs are built to exchange gases not to waste out foreign compounds. When oil is heated and inhaled into the lungs it coagulates and blocks the alveoli from properly exchanging gases, thereby preventing the absorption of oxygen. This can result in a life threatening disease called Lipoid Pneumonia. In its most recent report the CDC released this statement, “CDC has identified vitamin E acetate as a chemical of concern among people with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury (EVALI).”

Thinning Agents - Propylene Glycol

Vaporization devices can experience issues if the extract is too thick. Therefore, companies will use thinning agents to reduce the likelihood of cartridge failures. Propylene glycol is one such thinning agent. While propylene glycol is safe to eat and apply topically it is NOT safe to heat and inhale. When heated, it turns into formaldehyde, an incredibly toxic compound. An easy way to test if a cartridge has propylene glycol is to flip it over. If the extract immediately runs to the other side, it most likely includes a thinning agent and should be avoided. 

Non-Cannabis Terpenes

This is big as many companies add terpenes to distillate - a type of cannabis extract that includes a highly potent, albeit small range of cannabinoids without terpenes. The added terpenes are used to enhance the flavor of the cannabis extract when vaped. These terpenes are often botanically derived or synthesized in a lab. Either way, they should be avoided. When exposed to high heat, terpenes may transform into carcinogenic compounds, such as benzene. If you want a cannabis extract that has a higher concentration of terpenes, choose a live resin extract that has undergone subcritical CO2 processing. This extraction methodology will preserve the terpenes present in the original plant material and deliver a naturally delicious flavor to the extract without compromising safety. 

Vaporization Device Hardware

Lung issues may also arise from the hardware of the device. What is the vaporization device made of? Where does it come from? These are questions that must be considered when evaluating vapes as heavy metals, plastics, cotton, and synthetic materials can leak into the extract when heated. 


Even if the vaporization device contains 100% pure cannabis extract, you must evaluate the quality of the plant material used in extraction. Pesticides present in the original plant material, even in miniscule concentrations, can become concentrated to substantial amounts in the extract. One such pesticide that has been present in cannabis extracts is myclobutanil. When myclobutanil is heated and inhaled, it transforms into cyanide. Cyanide is highly poisonous and should be avoided at all costs. 

Vaping cannabis extract can be a very enjoyable, easy and discreet way to consume. However, when choosing a vape product, a rigorous investigation into the company’s ethos and formulation practices is imperative. Choose companies that formulate with clean, high quality plant material and only include 100% pure cannabis extract in their products. 

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