January 6, 2021 5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
In the last several years, vapes have become increasingly popular across the legal cannabis market. Market researchers report that the cannabis vape market could reach $20.5 billion by 2030. Consumer demand for vape products is holding steady despite the ongoing pandemic.
But although there are thousands of legal vape products and brands currently available on the market, they vary widely from high- to low-quality. Unfortunately, a surprising number of cannabis consumers and patients still do not know how to identify adequately manufactured and tested vaporizer equipment and oil versus those with subpar testing. Many consumers believe that a burning or pinching sensation is a normal part of the vaping experience to compound matters. Not so!
Vapes made with high-quality hardware and cannabis extractions should not cause a burning feeling or send consumers into a coughing fit. Some of the most prevalent chemicals behind these sensations (which should never be in your vape cart) can cause chronic respiratory illnesses. Every vape consumer should be equipped with the knowledge to make empowered choices the next time they are in search of a new vape.
The common culprits of low-quality vapes
Unpleasant physical sensations from vaping can stem from low-quality hardware or cannabis extracts that contain pesticides or chemicals not intended for human consumption. Unfortunately, it’s common for illegal manufacturers to source inferior e-cigarette or thick hemp oil cartridges from third-party sites off the internet, fill them with cannabis oil, and sell them far below market value.
These vapes often contain nickel, brass, and silica fiberglass that will break down and leach toxins into the oil cartridge after prolonged heat exposure. Any vapes that have a metallic aftertaste or create a pinching sensation near the bottom of the throat likely contain these harmful ingredients. Consumers should discard them immediately. Fortunately, there are many reliable resources available to patients and consumers who know what to look and ask for.
How lack of federal regulation hurts the consumer.
Although legal vape products must undergo mandatory testing for potency, pesticides, and contaminants, regulatory standards still vary widely from state to state. Since testing equipment can only flag contaminants that they are programmed to detect, some laboratories in more lenient states could pass products that may actually contain unsafe levels of chemicals. For instance, Oregon requires cannabis producers to test for 68 pesticides, while Oklahoma, which only came online recently, only requires producers to test for 13 pesticides. Regulatory discrepancies like these are commonplace in new markets and can create a false sense of confidence in consumers that are unaware of their state standards.
Because cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance, no federal regulatory agency oversees cannabis testing and quality control. Tragically, over the past few years, there have been instances of labs committing fraud, inflating potency figures, and passing legal products with contaminants that exceed the legal threshold.
In our experience, when we have sent samples to multiple testing labs during the vetting process, sometimes we see inconsistencies in test results of the same products. Pesticides can show up on results from some laboratories and not others, which can be a significant issue. For this reason, over the years, we have rejected roughly 70 to 75 percent of third-party oil and biomass in the market because it didn’t meet our strict testing criteria.
What companies can do to ensure safety.
To guarantee nationwide consistency and combat subpar testing practices, we partner only with reliable third-party laboratories. We have developed a comprehensive vetting system geared toward ISO certification requirements that prioritize consumer safety and product transparency. In addition to ensuring lab compliance, we also work closely with producers in every state where Select operates and ask them to test for 60 of the most damaging pesticides and toxins, which is far beyond the legally required amount in many states. Until there is federal oversight into the cultivation and testing process, companies are left to take proactive steps to safeguard consumer health. It’s in every consumer’s best interest to inquire what steps their favorite provider, whatever brand it is, has taken in that direction.
Cannabis consumers who are especially concerned about their vape products’ purity and quality should, before making a purchase, ask for a certificate of analysis (COA) from the dispensary or brand website, which will provide detailed test results about the product batch. However, to verify the COA results’ legitimacy, consumers should look for an ISO accreditation at the top of the report. ISO certified labs meet international standards for testing standardization and quality assurance. Most government and medical testing facilities require them.
Additionally, consumers in newly legal states should research their own state’s testing requirements and purchase from vape brands that are testing above what is legally required. Many new markets have not yet mandated best practices for testing and prioritize bringing products to market quickly rather than establishing stringent regulations. That’s sometimes the unfortunate cost of a new industry rushing to meet a demanding market. States can have different departments charged with regulating cannabis, such as a standalone cannabis agency, alcohol control, the department of taxation, or the department of health. That lack of continuity can hinder communication between states and operators who are forced to reinvent the wheel continuously.
Until cannabis becomes federally legal, consumers will have to advocate for higher vape product standards by supporting businesses that go out of their way to develop safety protocols that put patients and consumers first. Vapes are one of the most rapidly evolving product sectors in the industry, and protecting consumers by creating quality products should always be paramount. The days of cannabis vape discomfort are numbered, as consumers who arm themselves with knowledge have the agency to seek out products that give them the cannabis experience they ultimately deserve.