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Good Vapes, Bad Vapes and Quality Control

Two dudes in pineapple costumes smoking vapes and having a good time

Quality Control and Staying Safe

Almost all products created and sold at some point needs to go through some form of quality control. When a product is sold, it is expected to reach a certain standard. For example, if you were sold a laptop with a keyboard that does not work, you would probably be pretty annoyed! The way that these standards are reached is via quality control. When a product is created, a batch of it undergoes rigorous testing to make sure that everything is working as intended. In the case of laptops for example, they are checked for assembly errors such as an inappropriately attached keyboard. While quality control is so extensive and designed for the unique product that it is difficult to make direct comparisons, they usually have the same goal. To make sure that what is being sold works as intended, the customer is protected, and the law is respected.

As we start to slowly but surely exit the wild-west era of cannabinoids, safety questions have cropped up more and more: how do I know that my vape is safe? Are cannabinoids safe to vape? How can I be sure that my cannabinoids are safe? While probably one of the more ‘boring and technical’ aspects of cannabinoids, it is still equally important. These cannabinoids have a lot to offer in terms of recreational, health and wellness effects and it would be a shame to contaminate those. What stands between contaminants and a general bad time, and a holistic experience is usually multiple steps of quality control. As is the case with any product, there will always be less safe imitators, amateur attempts at creating a product, and even inexperienced extraction or creation of the product. When it comes to basic commodities, such as clothing or accessories, this is just an annoyance. But when it is something that you are putting into your body, the set of risks are much worse than an annoyance. Cannabinoids are no different. As cannabinoids interact with your endocannabinoid system, which is crucial in complex internal processes, it is important that they are strictly controlled. Despite this, it is not always common knowledge what these quality control processes are and why they are important. It is very understandable why, as documents that go over these aspects are usually very boring and technical. Reading on this topic is always recommended, but it is understandable that not everyone has the time to dedicate to it. With this in mind, we are going to give a solid overview of quality control processes, as well as answer some common questions. These general processes can usually be found in some shape or form in all countries, but we are going to be focusing on the EU.

Quality Control: What are We Looking For?

When it comes to most cannabinoid products, we can separate the quality control aspect into two steps: the cannabinoid liquid and the vape pen. These two are eventually put together, but their manufacturing is separate. While the liquids themselves are mainly checked for contaminants and other biological factors, the pens themselves are mainly checked for hardware capabilities and performance. Because of these differences, it is almost like attempting to quality control for food and headphones. With this in mind, we are going to talk about these two categories separately.

The actual cannabinoid oil that is put into the vape pen comes first. What most quality control tries to keep in mind when it comes to this is the ingredients, manufacturing, and labelling. First thing is first, are the ingredients pure? Do they include any contaminants? Do they have a proper oil base? Are the flavouring or additives safe? The ingredients of the pen must be rigorously tested. While research claims can be taken at fair value, it is not always guaranteed that the ingredients the researchers used are the ones in a pen. For example, if research is conducted around THC for its anti-inflammatory properties, you might think “that’s great, then that applies to all THC pens!”. But you could be wrong. After all, if the manufacturer is using full-spectrum THC, or has perhaps added some THCP just to increase the potency of their low-quality THC, then you are not taking what you think you are taking. Furthermore, the manufacturer maybe did not have THC for this batch, and just made it all THCP and shipped it. These are the types of situations that are prevented with proper quality control. During the quality control process, tests produce documentation, and this documentation can be used to confirm that these tests took place. These are the types of quality control processes that ingredients undergo:

  1. Ingredient Verification: All ingredients used in vape liquids must be verified for purity and quality. This includes the base, such as propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerine (VG), and any flavourings or additives. Products should be assessed to verify the concentration, dosage and purity of cannabinoids match the labelling and intended use. Any additional ingredients in cannabinoid liquids, such as terpenes, must be safe for inhalation. Testing ensures that these additives do not introduce harmful chemicals.


  1. Manufacturing Standards: Production facilities should follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), which involve maintaining clean environments, using proper equipment, and implementing quality control procedures throughout the manufacturing process.


  1. Testing for Contaminants: Vape liquids are evaluated for harmful contaminants. These tests ensure that the products are free from substances that could pose health risks. This involves checking for contaminants like pesticides, solvents, and heavy metals, as well as verifying the cannabinoid profile. This also involves informing on the source of the cannabinoids, and how they were cultivated.


  1. Labelling and Traceability: Proper labelling is essential for transparency. Labels should provide information about the ingredients, content, batch numbers, and expiration dates. Traceability ensures that any issues can be traced back to specific batches. Often, this can be as simple as a barcode that relates to an internal system.


After the main ingredients are sorted, we can move on to the pens themselves. Vape pens are small electric devices and therefore have strict quality control requirements. Small electrical devices must not only be functional, but also safe from a diverse range of situations. From the battery to the rate of airflow, to the generated battery temperature, all these factors can drastically change how a pen is used and its safety. In both the case of safety and user experience, for example, low-quality batteries can make a dramatic difference. These types of batteries can set the temperature too high, causing a burned taste and wasted product, while if they are set too low, they are difficult to inhale and sputter liquid into the mouth instead of smoke. In these types of situations, the only person who loses out is the customer who wastes liquid, as well as potentially causing additional damage to the lungs over time. For these reasons, quality control on vape pens is quite extensive:

  1. Materials and Components: Vape pens should be made from high-quality, heat-resistant materials to prevent leaching of harmful substances. Components such as the coil, heating element, mouthpiece and batteries must meet safety standards to avoid malfunctions. This includes emission testing, as when vape liquids are heated, they can produce harmful byproducts. Emissions testing ensures that the vapor produced is free from harmful substances like formaldehyde, acrolein, and acetaldehyde (which was the main antagonist behind the EVALI outbreak).


  1. Battery Safety: Batteries are a critical component of vape pens. Manufacturers must ensure that batteries are dependable and protected against overheating, short-circuiting, and other issues that could cause fires or explosions. Quality control includes testing batteries for durability and safety under various conditions.


  1. Device Testing: Each vape pen model undergoes extensive testing to ensure it heats the e-liquid to the appropriate temperature without burning it. For example, poor batteries can cause overheating, which can produce harmful byproducts. Because of this, precise temperature control is essential.


  1. Compliance with Standards: Vape devices must comply with relevant industry standards and regulations. This can include certifications, such as RoHS and CE to ensure the device meets safety and environmental standards. Clear instructions and warnings should accompany vape pens. This information helps users operate the devices safely and understand the risks of misuse.

How Can I Stay Safe?

Quality control for vape liquids and pens involve several steps to ensure they are safe for consumption. Manufacturers must adhere to stringent guidelines and regulations to prevent contamination and ensure the consistency of the products. However, it is not always that manufacturers follow these guidelines or attempt to cut various corners. Because of this, it is important to keep yourself safe and informed on what type of products you are using. There are a few things to keep in mind if you are looking at cannabinoid pens, or just vape pens in general:

  1. Choose Reputable Brands: Purchase products from reputable manufacturers with transparent quality control processes. Avoid unregulated or homemade vape liquids and devices. You should research brands and manufacturers to ensure they adhere to quality control standards. Look for brands that are transparent about their testing procedures and results. Consumers should avoid buying vape products from unregulated sources, such as black-market vendors or unknown online retailers. These products may not have undergone proper quality control and could be unsafe. Certifications like GMP, ISO (International Organization for Standardization) indicate that the product has met high-quality standards.


  1. Check Labels and Lab Reports: Look for detailed labels and, if available. Reputable brands will provide lab test results for their products. These results, often available on the company’s website or via QR codes on the packaging, confirm the product’s cannabinoid content and absence of contaminants.


  1. Follow Instructions: Carefully read and follow the instructions provided with your vape pen. This includes proper charging practices and regular maintenance.


  1. Monitor Your Health: Be aware of any adverse effects when using vape products. If you experience any negative symptoms, discontinue use, and consult a healthcare professional.


  1. Store Properly: Store vape liquids and pens in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight and out of reach of children and pets. Proper storage helps maintain product integrity. Proper storage of vape products is essential for maintaining their quality.


Overall, quality control covers everything from sourcing the raw materials to the final product. With them in place, the safety of a product is definitively much higher than one that has not gone through that process. Equally importantly, it gives a legal forum for customers to communicate with the company and reference their experiences and grievances. After all, it is not unheard of that you buy a product but have no way to even actually reach the company who sold it when it is defective. Consumers also must be informed when selecting vape products. By following the tips above, you have a higher chance of making a better choice in using a safe and effective product.


What should I look for on a vape liquid label?

Look for information on the ingredients, content, expiration date, and manufacturer details. Reputable products will also provide lab test results for purity and safety or some other form of documentation on their website.

How can I verify the quality of a vape pen?

Check if the vape pen has undergone safety testing and is made from high-quality materials. Look for reviews and certifications from independent testing organizations. A good sign is to see if there is a partnership with a particular vape pen brand or manufacturer. Vape pens are complex, and it is more unlikely that a cannabinoid brand has the expertise to select high quality pens by themselves.

Are there specific safety concerns with cannabinoid liquids?

Yes, cannabinoid liquids should be tested for purity and potency. Ensure they are free from contaminants and that the cannabinoid content matches the label. Avoid products with unknown or untested additives, as well as unknown cannabinoids. Especially in the field of cannabinoids with many new and exciting variants, it is usually best to do some research on a cannabinoid from a trusted source before testing it.

What are the legal limits for cannabinoid products in Europe?

As these rules vary from country to country and are currently undergoing large-scale changes month to month, it is always smart to see the current rules in the country you are planning to use and buy the product in.

How can I ensure my vape products are stored safely?

Store vape products in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. Keep them out of reach of children and pets. It is also recommended to have the pen standing mouthpiece up with the cap on for maximum longevity.

What should I do if I experience adverse effects from a vape product?

If you experience negative symptoms, pains, or unforeseen effects, discontinue use immediately and consult a healthcare professional.


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