One of the main draws to CBD oil during its increase in popularity over the recent years has been the claim that it is a 100% pure extract from the cannabis plant. While this is true, it’s also true that many manufacturers use potentially dangerous chemicals in order to extract the naturally-occuring compound from the raw plant material.
In many cases, studies have shown that these chemicals can be leftover as residue in the end product, meaning you may be ingesting them when you consume your favorite CBD product – especially CBD vape liquids.
In this article, in addition to talking about polyethylene glycol (PEG) (which is one of the most potentially toxic chemicals found in many common CBD products), we also talk about some of the other harmful ingredients to look out for – including some that have the potential to break down into carcinogenic compounds naturally over time.
What Are PEG’s in CBD Oil?
First of all, we should go ahead and make the distinction between regular CBD oil and CBD vape oil. While some brands out there claim that the two products are “one in the same” and can be used interchangeably, this is not true. Vape oils have to be made less viscous (more liquidy), in order to be compatible with the electric heaters in many vaporizers.
Meanwhile, regular CBD oil that you would place under the tongue (sublingual tinctures) or otherwise ingest orally, are typically more viscous (more “syrupy”). As such, the oils that are going to be inhaled using a vape pen need to be “watered down” in order for them to work properly. This is where the nasty chemicals get added in, and is where things can potentially get a little sketchy.
PEG stands for polyethylene glycol, and it is one of the most common thinning agents used not just in CBD vape oil, but in vaping liquids of all kinds (including vape juices and e-cigarette liquids).
PEG belongs to a certain class of glycol molecules that are scientifically known to break down into carcinogenic compounds over time, and/or when they are heated to extreme denaturing temperatures (i.e. like the temps that they’re exposed to in a vape pen cartridge).
(In case you’re unfamiliar with the term, “carcinogenic” means cancer-causing. In other words, not good.)
One of the carcinogenic compounds that PEG is known to denature into when exposed to high heat is formaldehyde – the stuff that they used as an embalming fluid with until they realized it was extremely hazardous to people’s health.
A study out of the Medical Marijuana Research Institute in Arizona examined several well-known CBD vape oils that contained common thinning agents such as PEG, PG (propylene glycol), MCT oils (medium-chain triglyceride oil, an extract from pure coconut oil), and vegetable glycerin.
Of the various agents, PEG and PG were definitively shown to break down into formaldehyde when exposed to temperatures of at least 230℃ (about 446℉). While this is a relatively high temperature for vaping (we did an article not too long ago that showed 360℉ to be a more or less optimal vaping temperature), it is definitely within the range of many weed vaporizers and CBD vape pens, especially the lower-quality ones that don’t have adjustable temperature settings.
Here is a statement that the research team released in regard to the findings on the denaturing of CBD vape oil PEG’s into formaldehyde:
“Formaldehyde inhalation has been linked to increased incidence of myeloid leukemia, [as well as] nasopharyngeal cancer. ” Moreover, it was shown that “the amount of formaldehyde produced by heating pure PEG was comparable to the amount [that] one inhales when smoking a single tobacco cigarette.”
So in other words, people who make the argument that vaping is inherently “more healthy” than smoking, seem to have another thing coming.
That being said, though, you can likely avoid the risk of inhaling formaldehyde by simply investing in a vaporizer that lets you adjust the temperature (we don’t really recommend going over 200℃), or better yet, simply avoid CBD oils and CBD vape juices that have PEG in them altogether. Oils that are thinned with vegetable glycerin, for example, seem to be much safer as they didn’t show any high-temperature denaturing into carcinogenic aldehyde compounds.
What Other Dangerous Ingredients in CBD Oil Do I Need to Watch Out For?
Like we mentioned, in addition to testing CBD vape oils that were thinned with PEG, the Arizona research team also tested products that contained PG (propylene glycol), MCT oil, and vegetable glycerin.
Vegetable glycerin seemed to be by far the healthiest option, as they did not observe any denaturing of the compound even when exposed to temperatures upwards of 450℉.
MCT oil also fared pretty decently, as it was shown to produce about 33 times less aldehyde content than PEG (it did produce marginal amounts of acetaldehyde, which is another potentially carcinogenic compound, at the peak temperature of 446℉).
And lastly, while PG was shown to be slightly milder than PEG in terms of its breakdown into formaldehyde, it was still observed to produce significant amounts of the dangerous compound at high temperatures.
In short, if you are vaping CBD oils that have been thinned with PEG or PG, and are doing so at temperatures of at least 230℃, there is a very likely chance that you’re directly inhaling formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and/or other potentially dangerous compounds.
But I Thought CBD Oil Was Safe?
Again, the distinction has to be made between CBD oils that you place under your tongue, and CBD oils that are made to be used in a vaporizer. The only potentially dangerous products are the latter (i.e. the CBD vape liquids), and these are only dangerous IF they have been thinned with some sort of a glycol solvent. Ultimately, if vaping CBD is your preferred consumption method of choice, your safest and healthiest bet is probably to look for a quality oil that has been thinned with vegetable glycerin, or perhaps even MCT oil, though both still lack studies on the long-term effects.
And lastly, it’s worth mentioning that PG has been found to cause respiratory issues such as asthma even at room temperature. So it’s best to find a vape juice without it even if you don’t plan to vape at high temperatures.
MCT oil is a medium-chain triglyceride that occurs in coconut oil, and it is supposed to be incredibly healthy for you when consumed orally. It is only when these natural compounds become heated and denatured, and are subsequently inhaled into the lungs, that they pose a threat.
Final Thoughts on ‘What is PEG in CBD Oil?’
Ultimately, if you follow these simple guidelines and try and avoid CBD vape liquids that contain PEG or PG, you should be able to enjoy all of the healing and therapeutic benefits of the natural cannabinoid without the fear of risking your health.
And lastly, we want to point out that much of the information in this article was taken from a report published back in April 2017 by Project CBD (see link below).
Project CBD is a non-profit organization dedicated to tracking ongoing cannabidiol research, with the singular goal of increasing transparency and awareness on the natural therapy — everyone involved in the contemporary cannabis industry owes them a great debt of gratitude for the work that they’ve contributed, and we hope that they continue to inform the public about the many uses of CBD and other cannabis-based medicines.