What to Know About Vaping THC Oil

Person smoking a vape pen

Verywell / Alex Dos Diaz

As more states legalize medical and recreational marijuana use, you may be curious about the types of products available to you. The popularity of vaping tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) oil is one that is on the rise.

Vaping THC oil involves heating the oil and inhaling it through a vaporizing device like a vape pen or e-cigarette. Many healthcare providers are concerned about the health-related effects of this THC product type.

Also Known As: A THC vaping device can be referred to as a vape pen, dab pen, wax pen, THC pen, e-hookah, or mod. THC oil is sometimes called vape juice, 710 (OIL spelled backward), wax, shatter, or black glass. The container that holds the oil is known as a pod.

Drug Class: Marijuana has long been known for both its stimulant and depressant properties. However, it is also sometimes classified as a hallucinogen.

Common Side Effects: Cannabis vaping can result in side effects such as cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and gastrointestinal issues.

How to Recognize THC Vaping Oil & Devices

The appearance of THC oil vaping devices can vary, ranging from having a pen-like shape to being rectangular or oval. The oil either comes pre-filled in the device or is sold in compact containers (pods) for refillable devices. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers a helpful visual dictionary for identifying both THC vaping devices and oils.

What Does Vaping THC Oil Do?

THC is the main psychoactive compound found in marijuana and the substance that makes you feel "high." In addition to giving a euphoric feeling, THC is also believed to impact pain, mood, and other feelings. It provides these effects through the way it impacts cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

While people can react to THC differently, some of the most common reasons people use marijuana include helping with anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and depression. Additionally, vaping is the third most common marijuana consumption method, followed by smoking and edibles.

What the Experts Say

Research suggests that vaping THC oil, especially oil that contains vitamin E acetate, can be particularly harmful to the lungs. Vitamin E acetate, which is regularly added to THC when preparing it for use in e-cigarettes and vaping devices, is particularly harmful when it's inhaled.

In 2019, the dangers of vaping came to light. In September of that year, health officials began investigating an outbreak of a severe lung disease associated with vaping and e-cigarettes. By December, 2,561 cases of the lung disease often referred to as e-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) had resulted in hospitalization or death.

Nearly 70 deaths have been confirmed from EVALI, spanning 29 states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, 82% of people hospitalized reported using THC-containing products, with 33% reporting the use of these products exclusively.

Currently, the CDC recommends that people avoid using e-cigarettes and vaping products—particularly those that contain THC oil. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has joined the CDC in this recommendation.

Vaping THC oil just once can significantly impact your lungs. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that first-time and infrequent users of marijuana were more likely to experience adverse reactions from vaping THC oil.

This study's authors suggest that the negative impacts of this THC ingestion method are largely due to the enhanced delivery of the oil. This was evidenced by participants having more pronounced effects and experiencing significant impacts on their motor skills and cognitive abilities.

Marijuana concentrates, such as those used in vaping, also have incredibly high THC levels—up to four times as high as those found in top-shelf marijuana. This may also explain why their effects are more enhanced.

Off-Label or Recently Approved Uses

The FDA has approved a few THC-containing medications for use with certain medical conditions, such as those related to cancer, AIDS, and epilepsy. However, these medications use purified chemicals that are either derived from or based on those contained within the marijuana plant.

Because the long-term impact of marijuana use in less-purified forms is unknown, the FDA does not approve of THC use in any form beyond these medications. This would include vaping THC oil.

Common Side Effects

Marijuana use, in general, has both short- and long-term side effects. Some of its short-term effects include:

  • Coordination issues
  • Distorted senses (such as sight, sound, touch)
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Issues with attention, memory, and learning
  • Paranoia

Longer-lasting side effects of marijuana use include learning, memory, and sleep issues. People who use marijuana repeatedly over time may also experience effects such as:

  • Increased risk of addiction
  • Increased risk of chronic cough
  • Increased risk of schizophrenia (if a genetic risk also exists)
  • Learning and memory issues

Using marijuana in higher doses, sometimes referred to as marijuana intoxication, can also result in a variety of side effects, some of which include:

There are a few side effects that have been associated specifically with vaping THC oil, especially for people who vape infrequently. Among them are:

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry eyes
  • Dry mouth
  • Feeling sick
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased coughing
  • Increased hunger
  • Memory issues
  • Racing heart
  • Restlessness

Vaping can injure the lungs, resulting in symptoms such as a rapid onset cough, breathing troubles, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and weight loss.

Signs of Use

How do you know if someone in your life might be vaping THC oil? Signs of marijuana use can include:

  • Being drowsy during the daytime
  • Having bloodshot eyes
  • Inability to judge time
  • Increased cough or wheezing
  • Increased hunger for no apparent reason
  • Lack of focus or inability to concentrate
  • Secretive behavior
  • Trouble with coordination
  • Unusually talkative
  • Vaping devices or oils in their possession or in their room
  • Weird, unexplained smells (some THC vaping oils are flavored, resulting in a variety of scents)

Marijuana vaping use is on the rise, particularly in certain age groups. For instance, the number of college-age students who've vaped in the past month increased from 5.2% to 14% in just two years' time. A 2022 study adds that the number of teens vaping cannabis in the last 30 days increased seven-fold from 2013 to 2020.

Common Questions

There are a couple of misconceptions surrounding both THC and vaping.

THC Is Not the Same as CBD

Some people confuse THC with CBD (cannabidiol), another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. However, it's important to note that CBD oil and THC oil impact the body in completely different ways.

One notable difference is that while THC has psychoactive properties, CBD does not. As a result, CBD does not make you high, and it is believed to work with other receptors in the body to produce an overall feeling of well-being.  

There are legality differences too. As of February 2022, 37 states and four territories have approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes and 18 states and two territories have approved marijuana for recreational use.

Even though these states and territories allow marijuana use for medical or recreational purposes, it is still illegal under federal law. Conversely, the 2018 Farm Bill removed hemp (of which CBD oil is a derivative) from the definition of marijuana, making it legal federally as long as it contains 0.3% THC or less.

Vaping THC Is Not Safer Than Smoking It

A 2018 Gallup Poll found that most Americans believe that vaping is less harmful than smoking, with 40% of the respondents indicating that marijuana was "not too" harmful. Some think this because vaping involves inhaling vapor rather than smoke. The issue is that there isn't enough research to support this belief.

Research indicates that the dangers of vaping include having no regulation of the compounds in vaping products (so you don't know what you're getting); the fact that vaping delivers a higher amount of THC; and the potential of heating coils in vaping devices to increase exposure to carcinogens.

Other health experts warn that vaping marijuana may even damage the lungs more so than smoking or vaping nicotine. This doesn't mean that vaping nicotine is safe, but that vaping THC oil is thought to create a greater amount of lung damage.

A study published in Addiction adds that while vaping nicotine may be safer than smoking cigarettes, the same may not hold true when it comes to marijuana. In fact, additives like vitamin E acetate may make this delivery method even more dangerous than smoking a joint, putting the person's lungs at a greater risk for injury.

Although the FDA has not approved the use of THC and it remains illegal under federal law, people are experimenting with the drug more frequently by either smoking it, eating it, or vaping it.

Tolerance, Dependence, and Withdrawal

If you vape THC oil regularly, you may develop a tolerance, potentially through the way cannabis creates neuroadaptive changes in the brain. Vaping THC oil can also lead to a substance use disorder.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that between 9% and 30% of people who use marijuana develop some sort of substance use disorder. Also, people who begin using marijuana before they turn 18 are four to seven times more likely than adults to develop cannabis use disorder.

How Long Does THC Vaping Oil Stay In Your System?

The amount of time THC stays in your system varies based on a variety of factors. Among them are how often you use it, how much of it you use, your consumption methods, and the rate at which your body metabolizes the drug.

One study of people with heavy cannabis use found that THC was detectable in their saliva for up to 78 hours, in their blood for at least 7 days, and in their urine for up to 5 days. Those who use the drug less frequently would likely have smaller detection windows.

Another study looked at how long THC showed up in the saliva after vaping it, smoking it, or consuming edibles. It noted that THC levels were higher both immediately and later in people who smoked or vaped when compared to those using edibles.

Addiction

The National Institute on Drug Abuse shares that cannabis use disorder can turn into a marijuana addiction if the usage of this drug cannot be stopped even when it interferes with various aspects of your life. This could include causing issues at work, school, or home.

Additionally, because some confuse dependence with addiction, it is unclear exactly how many people may be addicted to marijuana. Though, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that one in 10 people using marijuana will develop an addiction.

In a survey of 9,003 U.S. adults, one-half of them said that they felt that addiction is a risk of marijuana use.

Withdrawal

People with a history of long-term marijuana use (including vaping THC oil) may experience mild withdrawal symptoms if they stop. These include:

Symptoms such as these can make it difficult to quit using marijuana. Though they are typically mild, if they are bothersome or severe, talk to your healthcare provider. They may be able to help.

How to Get Help

Several options exist for people who want help with their marijuana use. Ones that seem to provide the best outcome include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which includes learning how to identify and correct behaviors, resulting in better self-control and the resolution of issues contributing to drug use
  • Contingency management, which is a form of behavioral therapy that involves monitoring certain behaviors and instituting rewards if a specific positive behavior occurs, or rewarding a lack of the behavior if that is the desired outcome
  • Motivational enhancement therapy, which helps promote motivation within the individual to change, and to engage in treatment

At this time, no medications are FDA-approved to treat cannabis use disorder, but research is ongoing for several options that may help by relieving issues related to stress, anxiety, and trouble sleeping.

If you or a loved one is struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

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Verywell Mind 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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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon is a published author and a bullying prevention expert.