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Study raises concerns over safety of CBD e-liquids



Vaping device
Researchers studied the content of CBD e-liquid products

Researchers have called for better regulation of CBD e-liquids after examining the prevalence of harmful substances in products.

European research company Fundación Canna insists that better regulation is needed in the CBD vape market to ensure consumers have access to quality products without fear of suffering harmful effects to their health. 

Its experts analysed a selection of CBD e-liquids on the European market in search of vitamin E acetate – the substance associated with lung damage caused by e-cigarette products.

In February 2020, the Center for Disease Control Prevention (CDC), with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other public health agencies published a report on the e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) epidemic. 

More than 2,800 patients were hospitalised, 68 of whom died. Lung damage was blamed on vitamin E acetate. 

In late 2019, a death associated with the use of these cigarettes, containing CBD was also reported in Belgium. 

Concerned about the risk of vitamin E acetate, Fundación Canna initiated the study in order to determine its presence along with other harmful substances in CBD-enriched e-liquids marketed in Europe.

Fifteen samples of different brands of e-liquids containing CBD were purchased between late 2019 and early 2020. The products were purchased anonymously at tobacconists, in physical stores, and online. 

These products were then analysed in two internationally-renowned laboratories, according to two different methodologies established by researchers, in order to obtain complete information on the content of the samples.

The study looked for traces of substances in the analysed samples using gas chromatography with a mass detector. 

In the 15 CBD e-liquids were tested, vitamin E acetate was found in only one sample.

Fourteen of 15 samples showed the presence of propylene glycol (PG) and glycerin (VG), which are usually the base of e-liquids. 

In the remaining one product neither of these were found and qualane and glycerol tricaprylate, as well as a form of vitamin E, were identified, which later tested positive for the presence of vitamin E acetate. 

“There is no data on how much of this compound can be harmful when inhaled through e-liquids,” authors concluded.

“However, previous literature on the use of these electronic cigarettes, and the presence of vitamin E acetate in people with serious lung problems, makes its consumption inadvisable.”

The presence of benzyl alcohol, which can cause coughing, dizziness, and headaches, was identified in another sample by both methods. 

Traces of THC were also found in all of them and 14 of the samples tested showed lower levels of CBD than those indicated on the label. 

Only four samples presented values that were less than 10 percent lower than what was declared. 

On average, CBD was found to be 27 percent lower than the concentrations stated on the labels. 

Only one sample contained values higher than what was stated on the label. 

A tendency to add terpenes found in the cannabis plant to the e-liquids, perhaps in an attempt to make the e-liquid taste similar to the plant, was also observed. 

Most of the samples – 12 out of 15 – contained terpenes that also occur naturally in cannabis plants. 

Researchers also declared that there was little ‘homogeneity’ in products.

If the product is not homogeneous, this means that two drops of product extracted from the same container contain different levels, depending on the sample being extracted. 

According to the Fundación Canna, this makes it difficult for the consumer to control the dosage and shows a lack of control in the production process.

Researchers stated: “The presence of other compounds such as benzyl alcohol, which can cause short and long term pulmonary problems, highlights the need for greater control over the composition of these products, either by limiting their use or by providing information on the label.”

They added: “The presence of d-9 THC in all samples means that, depending on the amount consumed, drug tests can yield positive results for this substance. 

“As for the CBD content, in some samples the deviation between what is declared and what is quantified is very high, as is the lack of homogeneity, showing a lack of controls and good practices when producing the product.”


Sarah Sinclair is a respected cannabis journalist writing on subjects related to science, medicine, research, health and wellness. She is managing editor of Cannabis Health, the UK’s leading title covering medical cannabis and CBD, and sister titles, Cannabis Wealth and Psychedelic Health. Sarah has an NCTJ journalism qualification and an MA in Journalism from the University of Sunderland. Sarah has over six years experience working on newspapers, magazines and digital-first titles, the last two of which have been in the cannabis sector. She has also completed training through the Medical Cannabis Clinicians Society securing a certificate in Medical Cannabis Explained. She is a member of PLEA’s (Patient-Led Engagement for Access) advisory board, has hosted several webinars on cannabis and women's health and has moderated at industry events such as Cannabis Europa. Sarah Sinclair is the editor of Cannabis Health. Got a story? Email / Follow us on Twitter: @CannabisHNews / Instagram: @cannabishealthmag


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