Unless you know who’s producing your 100% ceramic vape cartridge, then you’re not safe from lead in your vape cartridge.

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To be clear, the issue is not with the distillate within your vape cartridge. At least, not at first. Although distillate is, indeed, being dinged for lead content, this is simply because vape cartridges contain structural metal that is leeching lead into the actual distillate before it’s being smoked.

Legalization opened the doors to the scientific study that’s discovering all sorts of heavy metals and chemicals contaminating cannabis products. The absence of federal regulation means that state legislative bodies are setting limits on what can and cannot be in their state-produced marijuana. The industry standards are disjointed and consumers should be rightfully alarmed at the state of what’s being found in vape cartridges and not dealt with appropriately.

The industry is at a crossroads: While it seems that states are (slowly) coming around to a .05 μg (PPM) / limit for lead in cannabis products such as vape carts, there is no real study justifying that number.

Either more research comes out of states actively observing that .05 PPM limit (California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and as of July 1st, 2019, Colorado) or ceramic vape cartridges should become the new industry standard, so that lead is removed from the equation. If you’re reading this, you’re educating yourself. That’s the best path available at the moment.

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How and Where to Buy Lead-Free Vape Cartridges

Close up shot of two disposable vape pens iStock / HighGradeRoots

A slew of upstart laboratories provide cannabis testing services (Milestone, CDX Analytics, PhytaTech, etc.) Competition amongst the labs is messy and they are very publicly producing differing results for pesticides, heavy metal (lead + others) contamination, and more. NBC did a great investigation of laboratory variance of pesticide levels in cannabis products and found many producers involving lawyers immediately, totally unwilling to recognize lab reports that suggest they’re illegally cutting corners. National standards are obviously necessary.

With any luck, media attention will raise awareness and standards for testing. For now, if you want to avoid lead contamination, it’s best to totally stay away from vape cartridges containing metal parts! If you aim to buy lead-free, you need to know exactly what you’re buying and who you’re buying from. This applies doubly in Oregon, where there are no heavy metal testing standards. It is likely that Chinese cartridge-producing companies, knowing their vape cartridges would be rejected elsewhere, are depleting their supply of so-called Hot Dog Carts (because you don’t know what they’re made of) by flooding the market in Oregon right now!

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The only certifiably lead-free vape cartridges are going to be 100% ceramic, containing no plastic or metallic parts. If you’re buying vape cartridges from your local recreational or medical dispensary and you don’t see an overt advertisement stating “lead/heavy metal-free” and “100% ceramic”, you’re not buying lead-free.

There are still only a few outlets for lead-free ceramic vape cartridges, but that number is bound to grow. For now, consider buying from the good folks at 701labs.com if you live in Southern California or Colorado. If not, consider switching over to refillable vape cartridges and order online with 02Vapes.com.

How Much Lead Is Bad For You? 

Lead test iStock / jarun011

Any amount of lead is bad but exposure is realistically unavoidable. Lead is in the rain, in the soil, in our food, and its in our electronics. Lead contamination is a global issue and everybody can expect to be exposed to some degree of inhaled or ingested lead through cross-contamination. The unique properties of lead mean that it continues to be used, despite its deleterious effects on the human anatomy. Lead is unique because of its softness, malleability, poor conductibility, resistance to corrosion, and abundance — it’s cheap. There are so many ways we ingest it in (hopefully) small amounts, the best a human can do is to monitor intake. Even that is difficult because good information is scarce.

California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Colorado (as of July 2019) allow .05 PPM in their cannabis products. Washington allows 1.2 PPM and Portland still has no heavy metal testing.

The major unexplored consideration is that all of the major government and university studies have not measured the effects of lead being inhaled. The now-popular .05 PPM standard is based on FDA’s historic regulations for ingested food, not combustion and inhalation. Given marijuana’s complex relationship with the brain’s neuro-receptors and tissues, is damage magnified when we smoke lead? Probably?

In the 90’s, the national limit for how much lead a baby could healthily ingest was set at .006 PPM. This number has not been updated, despite decades of science proving that no level of lead exposure is safe. The reason that the outdated .006 PPM standard has not been updated is that living lead-free is virtually impossible and brain damage among children is usually minimal under that level of exposure. In 2017, the EPA estimated that 5% of American children under the age of seven have more than .006 PPM of lead in their bodies. The number is much higher in other countries.

Adults have more robust bodies than children and can reasonably have more lead in their bodies without sustaining overt brain damage.  A number that shows up in most studies draws the line at .3 PPM, which indicates significant lead exposure. at .6 PPM, the body is toxified and begins to fall apart. In 2013, the FDA produced the Total Diet Study (TDS) report analyzing regular supermarket food for heavy metal content. Just about everything had some lead in it. Canned Fruit Cocktails averaged .010 PPM, Candy .011 PPM, Canned Peaches .012 PPM,  Sweet Potatoes .013 PPM, and Chocolate Syrup .016 PPM. You can see the whole study here For reference, meat from other countries typically cannot be shipped if lead measurements exceed 0.05–0.10 ppm.

The lead content inhaled in one pack of 20 cigarettes is 0.97-2.64 PPM.