Is Vaping Marijuana Safe?

Considering making the switch to vaping? Here's what you need to know first

Vaping marijuana is often touted as safer than smoking it. That's because vaporizers heat—but don't burn—herb, oil, or wax forms of marijuana. However, vaping marijuana isn't safe in general, and in some ways, it may be more dangerous than smoking weed.

Both smoking and vaping marijuana has generally been considered safer than smoking cigarettes or vaping with nicotine products. However, when it comes to vaping, that belief may be false, as well.

This article looks at the potential harms of vaping marijuana, how to identify them, and how vaping marijuana compares to vaping nicotine products.

Young woman looking at her phone while vaping - stock photo

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Is Vaping Marijuana Safe?

Some people prefer to vape marijuana for several reasons. It has a much milder smell, it's easier to use, more affordable, and provides a consistent dosage.

Many people also vape because they think it's safer than smoking. They appear to be wrong.

With what's known about it right now, experts are saying no, it isn't safe—or even safer— to vape marijuana.

THC, which stands for tetrahydrocannabinol, is the substance in marijuana that gets you high. Research suggests that vaping THC oil—which is a common form among vapers—may damage your lungs and increase your risk of negative side effects.

Other ingredients in vape products can harm your lungs, as well.

EVALI: Potentially Fatal Lung Injury

The risk of damage increases significantly if your vape product contains a chemical called vitamin E acetate. In 2019, an outbreak of severe lung disease from vaping was largely blamed on this vitamin.

The disease was named EVALI, which stands for e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury. In the first few months, more than 2,500 people were hospitalized or killed by EVALI. Among those people:

  • 82% had vaped products that contained THC, often along with other vape products
  • 33% exclusively vaped THC-containing products

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommend against all vaping, but especially recommend not vaping THC oil.

The risk is greater from illegally manufactured or modified vape products, which are more common in states where marijuana remains illegal. However, even with legal products, vaping THC oil just one time can significantly harm your lungs.

Some experts say chest X-rays of people with EVALI show signs of lung irritation by oily chemicals, which could include both vitamin E acetate and THC oil itself.

Much remains for researchers to learn about EVALI. What's clear so far is that vaping is involved and vitamin E acetate is not the only culprit.

EVALI Symptoms? Call 911

  • Shortness of breath or shallow, rapid breathing
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Fever and chills
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you notice these symptoms after vaping, get emergency medical attention.

EVALI and Legal vs. Illegal Products

Vaporizer products purchased from a dispensary may be safer than black market vape products. In terms of the EVALI outbreak, studies show there were:

  • 1.7 cases per million people in states where recreational marijuana is legal
  • 8.8 cases per million people in states where only medical marijuana is legal
  • 8.1 cases per million people in states where marijuana consumption is prohibited

You can see there were almost as many cases in medical marijuana states as there were in prohibition states. This suggests recreational users who don't have access to a dispensary are more at risk of developing EVALI.

Cannabis is legal for medical use in 35 states, but you should still make sure the products you choose are legal and fully tested. Dispensaries should be able to provide a full report of the product's lab results.

Beware of dispensaries that try to circumvent regulations. For example, those that don't charge a sales tax may be evading other regulations as well, which may increase your risk of illness or injury.

Risk of Side Effects

Marijuana-containing vape products contain concentrated forms of the plant, which means THC levels are many times higher than in the highest-quality marijuana. That makes vaping them especially likely to cause negative side effects or long-term health problems.

  • Addiction: Contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive. About 30% of users are estimated to have substance use disorder.
  • Impaired brain function: Marijuana use has an immediate effect on thinking, attention, memory, coordination, and perceptions of time.
  • Impaired brain development: Exposure during pregnancy, childhood, or the teen years may impair the brain's ability to build connections, which affects attention, memory, and learning.
  • Cancer risk: Vaping or smoking marijuana may contribute to the development of lung cancer.
  • Driving: Because marijuana impairs your reaction time, decision-making, coordination, and perceptions, it's unsafe to drive after using it.
  • Heart health: Marijuana raises the heart rate and blood pressure, so it could increase your risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • Mental health: Frequent, high-dose use may cause anxiety, paranoia, temporary psychosis (disconnection from reality), schizophrenia, depression, and suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Vaping THC oil is linked to an additional set of side effects, especially in frequent users. They include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry eyes and mouth
  • Feeling sick
  • Increased hunger
  • Restlessness

Cannabis and Cancer

While inhaling marijuana can harm your lungs, it's used in other forms to help treat the symptoms of cancer and cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. The FDA has approved two drugs that are synthetic forms of cannabis for this purpose.

Harmful Ingredients

In addition to vitamin E acetate, several non-marijuana-based ingredients you inhale can harm your lungs. 

The FDA hasn't regulated vaping cartridges as tightly as other products. Ingredient lists don't always disclose everything in the product, so you don’t always know what’s in vaping fluids. 

Some harmful ingredients used in vaping products include: 

  • Heavy metals: The tiny coils that heat the vaporizer are made of metals that can break down over time, so you may be inhaling heavy metals.
  • Carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds: Some chemicals used to suspend THC or make a “vapor” can release potentially dangerous, cancer-causing compounds when they’re heated. 
  • Ultrafine particulates: While there's less than in pipes or cigarettes, vaping fluids do contain tiny particulates that, when inhaled, get deep into the lungs and cause irritation. 
  • Flavors: Added flavors in many vaping products contain such fluids as diacetyl, which has been linked to serious lung issues when inhaled.

Flavors and other ingredients may combine to form harmful chemicals when heated.

Vaping in Youth

A 2019 survey of U.S. schools reported that 20.8% of 12th graders reported having vaped marijuana. These numbers are climbing each year, and the risks to children and teens should not be underestimated.

Vaping Marijuana vs. Vaping Nicotine

Smoking anything—be it tobacco or marijuana leaves—is inarguably dangerous to your health. When you smoke, you inhale very hot pieces of debris that irritate the sensitive tissue in your lungs.

Burning leaves can also cause chemical reactions that lead you to inhale potentially toxic compounds, some of which are linked to cancer. 

Vaporizers don’t burn anything. Instead, they heat substances until they’re hot enough to create an aerosol—but not so hot that they combust.

Compared to the hot, harsh smoke of burning leaves, the aerosol made by vaporizers can feel much smoother on the lungs. But that doesn't mean they're safer.

Which Method Is Safer?

When it comes to the question of whether it's safer to vape or smoke, it's a matter of degrees of danger. It's not safe to smoke or vape anything.

With nicotine-containing products, vaping may be safer than smoking. It involves fewer hazardous chemicals and results in less lung damage. Still, it's far from safe and can lead to nicotine addiction and potentially fatal lung disease.

With marijuana products, though, that doesn't appear to be the case.

  • Smoking marijuana harms your lungs, but vaping marijuana appears to be even worse.
  • What's more, vaping marijuana appears to be more dangerous than vaping or even smoking nicotine products.

After conducting a study published in 2021, researchers said they were surprised to find that vaping marijuana was even worse than using e-cigarettes. Among adolescents, marijuana vaping was significantly more likely to cause symptoms of lung injury.

Safer Ways To Consume Cannabis

You can use marijuana without either smoking or vaping. Where cannabis is legal, you can buy it in many different forms that are considered significantly safer.

Edibles

To make edibles, cannabis extract oils or butter can be used to cook or bake any number of sweets, savory foods, or even beverages. No smoke means no risk to your lungs.

However, dosing can be tricky. It can take about two hours to notice an edible's effects. It's common for people to think the product isn't working and take more. That can lead to dangerous side effects.

So if you're using edibles, be patient and don't eat more while you're waiting.

Medical cannabis is used to treat multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, and many other conditions.

Sublingual Forms

Several forms of cannabis products are used sublingually (under the tongue.)

Tinctures are alcohol-based cannabis extracts that are often cut with hemp oil or CBD (cannabidiol) oil. They can be just as potent as edibles but kick in faster.

You just put a few drops under your tongue and generally feel the effects within 20 minutes. Tinctures should come with a dropper that makes it easier to keep doses consistent.

Other sublingual forms include:

  • Mouth sprays
  • Dissolvable tablets
  • Strips or films

Suppositories

Suppositories are products designed to be inserted into the rectum or vagina, where they release the drug as they dissolve.

Rectal cannabis suppositories are sometimes used to treat:

Vaginal suppositories can also be used to treat:

A benefit of suppositories is that they don't get you high.

Any time you consume cannabis in an edible, sublingual, or suppository form, start with a low dose and be patient if you don't feel the effects right away. For sublinguals and suppositories, wait at least 20 minutes before taking more. For edibles, wait at least three hours.

Summary

Research and the EVALI outbreak suggest that vaping marijuana is dangerous in general and may actually be more dangerous than vaping nicotine products or even smoking cigarettes.

This may, at least in part, be due to ingredients of vape products, including vitamin E acetate, flavorings, and other additives.

Safer ways to consume marijuana include edibles, sublingual products, and suppositories.

A Word From Verywell 

If you or someone you know has a marijuana or other substance use disorder (addiction), you have several options for getting help. This includes resources from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

You can:

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are CBD vape pens safe for the lungs?

    No, the CDC says vaping of any kind can cause or contribute to lung disease. Some cases of the serious lung disease EVALI were linked to vaping CBD oil. CBD products are largely unregulated, so it's possible that the oils contain dangerous substances, as well. 

  • Does vaping cannabis leave a smell?

    It depends. Vape cartridges have a faint smell that dissipates quickly. Dry herb vapes have a stronger odor that can linger for about 30 minutes.

    If you're concerned about the smell, edibles, sublingual forms (tinctures, films, etc.), and suppositories are all odorless as well as safer for your health.

22 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Robyn Correll, MPH
Robyn Correll, MPH holds a master of public health degree and has over a decade of experience working in the prevention of infectious diseases.