New research from Portland State University indicated that additives in cannabis vape products can cause chemical reactions that can in turn lead to higher levels of toxins for consumers. In some cases, this means that what is listed in the ingredients is not what is in the end consumed.

PI and chemistry professor Rob Strongin led the research team in this study. The team approached the question of what happens when chemicals such as terpenes are added to vaping products.

Specifically, the team studied the chemical reaction that users trigger by consuming cannabis with a dab rig or vape pen.

“What’s inhaled is actually different than what’s listed in the ingredients,” Strongin said in press materials from Portland State University.

Toxic when vaped

In fact, the scientists discovered that more of the known toxins during vaping came from terpenes than from THC, the principal psychoactive chemical in cannabis. Terpenes occur naturally in cannabis. However, because some vendors add additional terpenes to products, it isn’t clear what impact that might have.

Natural terpenes occur at lower levels than they are measured in many THC concentrates. Furthermore, the researchers found vendors adding 30 percent more terpenes to some products.

(It is worth noting that the team focused solely on known toxins here, although it is clear why they did. The issue of adding terpenes is important to unravel since it is now such a common practice.)

“There are fewer toxins formed from THC as compared to terpenes,” Strongin said in press materials. “This is consistent with some of the vaping-related injuries we’re seeing. It’s not the active ingredients, like THC or nicotine, that appear to be causing the hospitalizations and deaths, but what they are combined with.”

Vaping additives that may be toxins

Researchers have already shown that thickening agents like Vitamin E can have devastating effects on the lungs. They can also undergo chemical reactions during vaping, according to the team in this case, which can potentially render them toxic and aerosolized.

According to the researchers, experts have not yet studied many e-cigarette ingredients for inhalation toxicity, primarily because no one anticipated anyone inhaling them.

“But the problem now is that there’s a huge gap in our knowledge,” Strongin comments in the materials, emphasizing that their study seems to indicate that fewer additives are better, although much more research on the subject remains outstanding.

The team says they will next focus on precise dosages and when additives become toxins.

“People are assuming the dose is the amount of THC in the product before vaping,” Strongin said in the materials. “It’s not true. There’s more work to be done.”