Why the FDA’s data doesn’t apply to Polyethylene glycol (PEG) in vape cartridges

The marijuana industry is still in its infancy, but that hasn’t stopped ambitious entrepreneurs from developing new ways to consume marijuana. In general, products are much more potent than they were even a few years ago, and it’s partially due to the advent of cannabis concentrates. Connoisseurs will be familiar with cannabis concentrates like wax, shatter, budder, crumble and oil, but vape cartridges containing some of these concentrates are appealing to new users for their convenience and ease of use.

It’s not surprising at all. The devices used to consume concentrates can be hundreds of dollars, and people new to cannabis aren’t likely to make such an investment on a whim. So when a bud tender presents a disposable marijuana e-cigarette for under $20 to a brand new cannabis consumer, it will appeal far more than a $50 for a customer interested in vaping extracts.

The problem with some of these cheaper vape products is the additive known as PEG, or polyethylene glycol. As one scientist quoted to me when I asked for a laymen’s summary, “it’s great for getting stuff in and out of other stuff.” It has many industrial applications, but its FDA-approved use in medical applications is how vape cartridge manufacturers justify its presence in their products.

In a cartridge, PEG helps make marijuana extracts more viscous, allowing for better vaporization. This especially benefits disposable e-cig products that have a weak power source. It can be found in inhalers, laxatives, eyedrops and in pills for slowing the rate of absorption, giving the pill a time-release effect.

So what do these applications, and the FDA’s assessment of PEG, have in common? None of them involve the heating of PEG to temperatures much higher than the human body’s core temperature.

What we know

Unfortunately, the marijuana industry has very little regulation, and very little research to back up most product claims.

  • Cannabinoids begin to vaporize at 285°F. There’s conflicting data that THC has a boiling point of 315-392°F. This means your entry-level vape pen (like this one) needs be working within this temperature range in order to make a vape cartridge function as intended.
  • The flash point of PEG is 360 to 549°F. A flash point is the temperature at which a substance transforms through combustion. Not all substances have a flash point because not all substances are combustable. Water, for instance, does not combust.
  • This study here describes what happens to PEG at 104 to 122°F. The short version: the degradation results in formic acid.
  • Formic acid, like all substances, is dangerous in some forms and perfectly safe in others. Once again, we need more information to determine what we’re inhaling and whether or not it’s safe. 

Based on these temperatures, there is a chance PEG, potentially formic acid, and yet to be determined heat-generated PEG degradation (i.e.: what happens to PEG after it’s heated) could be in these products. Users have reported soreness in the throat in chest when inhaling vape products containing PEG. The body is pretty good at signaling when something is wrong through pain, so perhaps that is an indication in itself.

The product claim that PEG is safe in vape products is not only misleading, but potentially inaccurate. The data they’re referencing isn’t quite applicable. For example: water is necessary for us to live, but will drown us if we inhale it. Formaldehyde naturally occurs in the body in tiny amounts, but poisonous if you were to ingest a glass of it. In order to be educated consumers in the absence of research, take a look at these three variables when looking at product ingredients:

  1. How hot?
  2. How much?
  3. How does it get into your body?

Luckily, there are many great vape manufacturers out there who do not use PEG in their products or their extraction process. Here’s a few that I’ve tried and love (in alphabetical order):

AbsoluteXtracts: they make great vape products, and also great edibles and tinctures as well. They’ve made the effort to carry many different strains, including high-CBD strains like Blue Jay Way and AC/DC. Read my review for Blue Jay Way here.

Care By Design: this company and AbsoluteXtracts have the same owner, but Care by Design specializes in CBD-rich products specifically for medicinal use. These products aren’t for getting high; they’re for getting well. They’re also invested in research studies, which ultimately helps the whole industry. Read my review of their tincture sprays here.

Eureka Vapor: Consistently great vape cartridges, and wonderful flavor.

Honey Vape: All of their cartridges test at 70% THC-A or higher. While they make half-gram sizes, it’s their 1-gram and 1.5-gram cartridges that have incredible airflow and are built like a German sports car.

Jetty Extracts: A brand that appeals to both medical and recreational users. They specialize in extracts of all kinds, including vape “juice,” cartridges and their “dablicator” which is a far less messy way to do dabs. Their Gold products test at 90% or more THC, which is incredibly potent for any extract. Plus, they do a lot of good for the community.

What are your thoughts on PEG? Do you notice it in your vape cartridge? Do you have a favorite vape cartridge? Let me know in the comments!


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