Cannabis and vaping

The long-term health effects of using e-cigarettes or other vaping products to consume cannabis still aren’t well known. Make sure you know the risks.

Vaping involves inhaling buds, hash, or e-liquid through a vapourising device. Some people believe vaping is safer than smoking because it doesn’t involve inhaling smoke – but the reality is, very little is known about the negative health effects of vaping cannabis.

In 2019, there was an outbreak of severe lung disease linked to vaping cannabis e-liquid, almost exclusively in the US. This was linked to vitamin E acetate, which was commonly used in THC-based vaping products. THC refers to Tetrahydrocannabinol which is the main psychoactive ingredient of cannabis.

While this has led to some regulation around the use of vitamin E acetate in vaping oils, there are simply too many variables around vaping products and brands to really provide clarity around the cause of the illness.

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So what are the risks?

As always, there’s no entirely safe way to use any drug. While very little is known about the long-term health impact of vaping, it is particularly risky to add any substance to vapes, or to vape home-made or illicit e-liquids.

Compared to smoking, cannabis vapour contains a higher dose of THC and is likely to lead to more frequent use. The effects are often delayed by a minute or two when compared to smoking, making it easy to use more than intended.

Avoid dabbing, a method of flash vapourising cannabis sometimes involving butane. It can result in toxic doses of cannabinoids which rapidly build tolerance, which means more is needed to get the desired effect. This in turn can increase the likelihood of mental health problems like psychosis. Methods involving butane also introduce an added toxin and risk of explosion.

Regardless of how it’s consumed, cannabis use comes with its own risks and the best way to avoid that is to not use it all. However, the NZ Drug Foundation has some good advice to help manage the risks:

  • If you notice your use increasing, make changes early by reducing or stopping and considering when to use cannabis again.
  • Don’t use cannabis as a young adult because it increases the likelihood of cannabis related problems later.
  • Avoid potent strains and cannabis concentrates like resin or oil, especially potent versions, as they are more likely to lead to problems.
  • Do not drive after using cannabis because this greatly increases the chance of an accident.
  • Avoid spliffs - a joint containing a mix of tobacco and cannabis - because they are more addictive and tend to increase cannabis use over time.
  • Don’t use cannabis and alcohol together.
  • As with all drugs, it’s better to not take it alone – always have people around that you trust and who have knowledge of first aid.

If you’re concerned about your own drinking or drug taking, you can reach out to the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800 787 797, or text 8681. You'll be able to speak with a trained counsellor who can provide you with helpful information, insight and support. They’re available 24/7, all calls are free and confidential. You can also chat with the team online through the website.