The Shocking Truth about the Dangers of Vape Pens
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The Shocking Truth about the Dangers of Vape Pens


You know those annoying e-cigarette thingeys that everyone and their mothers were completely obsessed with last year? (Okay, so that wee cultural obsession actually seems to be extending into 2014 as well—come on, people!) Well, as marijuana laws change (i.e., loosen) across the country and more and more peeps are able to obtain medical marijuana cards of their very own, those annoying vape things are being used, more and more, by pot smokers as they rely on the pens to puff up inconspicuously in public. Those crazy potheads!

Feeling Vapors

As this aptly titled NPR piece, “Pot Smoke and Mirrors,” notes, “The latest versions of e-cigarettes contain a battery-powered heating element that vaporizes a liquid containing nicotine. Vape pens for pot use the same mechanism, but the devices are optimized to vaporize the active molecules in concentrated marijuana oils, not nicotine. And just as with e-cigs, there’s no fire or smoke.”

Because the vape fumes are negligible, it’s easy for users to smoke up in public without drawing any real attention. They don’t carry the social stigma of using a bong or smoking a joint, so people seem more comfortable whipping them out anywhere and everywhere. I’ve seen many a person do just that throughout San Francisco, and despite the weed smell being almost imperceptible, the key word there is “almost”—they do retain a twinge of that ever-recognizable maryjane odor.

The New Joint

And how does this rush in interest translate to sales—and escalating pot use? Well, the pens are legal in every state, and “the vape pen industry has been quietly ballooning. And it’s reshaping the business and culture of marijuana,” NPR asserts. “One out of three reviews on Leafly, the Yelp of the pot world, is about vaping marijuana.”

A Denver store owner is seconding that emotion, saying, “We are getting people buying vape pens who wouldn’t normally come into a [marijuana]dispensary…Now, all of a sudden, they have an alternative [to smoking pot].”

Risky Stoning

What are the downsides to the mighty vape pen? Well, obvs, as with any drug, the potential is there for overuse. Also worth noting: the pens use a hash oil concentrate instead of loose marijuana. The oil is much stronger than regular old weed, containing up to 90 percent THC instead of pot’s usual 20 percent. Gah! That alone has some folks freaked out because of the probability of simply ingesting too much. (Also, home-grown hash oil has resulted in fatalities.)

As Mark Kleiman, who studies marijuana laws and policies at the University of California, notes: “The problem is that, right now, it’s hard to tell how much [THC] you are actually getting when you take a puff of one of these things…The risk of getting wrecked is a lot higher.”

We’ll say. And dude, not to be alarmist about this but don’t forget that pot isn’t always benign; sometimes it’s not just the hash oil that results in fatalities.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.