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Study with University of California on Vaping Byproducts

New Study by ABSTRAX & University of California, Riverside Sheds Light on Vaping Byproducts

Initial Peer Review Findings Demonstrate that Vitamin E and Vitamin E Acetate, the latter of which has been implicated in the 2019-2020 Vape Crisis, May Cause Inhibited Cell Proliferation in Human Airway Epithelial Cells

IRVINE - September 22, 2020 - ABSTRAX, an industry leader in the study and production of cannabis and botanically-derived terpenes, and the University of California, Riverside (UCR) have officially released their first peer reviewed study on dangerous byproducts created during vaping of certain liquid diluents and their potential role in more than 2800 vape-related illnesses and several deaths.

The initial study, directed by Dr. Huanhuan Jiang from the Lin Lab at UCR and T.J. Martin, Director of Research and Development at ABSTRAX, concluded that vitamin E (VE) and vitamin E acetate (VEA) may not only contribute to E-Cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI), but both ingredients also form toxic byproducts.

“We found these byproducts work to form oxygenated radical degradants that are very harmful, so not only does VE and VEA possibly lead to EVALI via lipid lung disease, but they also form byproducts that are extremely dangerous,” says Martin.

To reach this conclusion, ABSTRAX and UCR scientists collaborated to understand how commonly used vape juice diluents — including vitamin E (VE), vitamin E acetate (VEA), propylene glycol (PG), triethyl citrate (TEC), vegetable glycerin (VG), squalane oil (SQL) and coconut oil or medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil — react to the high temperatures produced during the vaping process.

“Some of these liquid diluents and viscosity enhancers are generally considered safe additives for food via ingestion. However, their safety has not been fully assessed for vaping inhalation, a process that can potentially degrade the liquid ingredients and produce reactive and toxic compounds such as formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein that are known human carcinogens,” says Martin.

To best understand how the above diluents react to heat, ABSTRAX and UCR worked to answer the following questions: 

  1. Do the diluents degrade under normal vape temperatures, and if so, what are the byproducts they degrade into?
  2. Do the byproducts have a significant impact on cellular toxicity?
  3. Are there different cellular responses for different diluents and their byproducts?

The initial findings of the study show that all of the aforementioned diluents thermally transform to some extent when vaped, and some byproducts may be toxic if consumed at high enough concentrations. A follow up study will quantify these products and confirm the extent of toxicity.

Additionally, some diluents produced significantly less byproducts than others, but were far more dangerous than most that formed several byproducts. For example, VE and VEA were two of three diluents that formed the lowest number of byproducts during vape scenarios, but the two byproducts formed by VE and VEA (duroquinone and durohydroquinone) are particularly worrisome.

These VE and VEA byproducts can form radical oxidation compounds that are very damaging to lung cells. What was even more a cause of concern for the scientists is that the two byproducts have already been studied for decades in relation to toxic air pollution.

“While our research uncovered important information about the chemistry of vaping these diluents, it must be mentioned that we do not know the concentrations formed during a normal ‘smoke session,’” says Martin. “We ran all tests in a laboratory setting using instruments in a controlled environment and obtained human bronchial epithelial cells that were then exposed to both unvaped liquid diluents and vaping emission samples for 48 hours. The next step in this work is to more closely emulate the vaping conditions a general consumer would experience to determine what amount of these degradation compounds are present.”

The researchers also don’t have the full story as to which diluent is the safest; however, this body of research is the first piece of the puzzle in understanding how the byproducts may affect users. 

What the researchers did discover was that every diluent, except TEC, showed significant changes in cellular toxicity after vaping. TEC was the only diluent that did not have a significant difference between vaped and unvaped exposure. Although the unvaped TEC showed some toxicity at the highest measured concentrations, when vaped, it did not increase in toxicity, potentially indicating that the byproducts were not as harmful as the other diluent vape products. These findings will be further quantified in a follow up study.

In addition, studies using lactate dehydrogenase assays (LDH) were conducted to determine if the vape degradants induced damage to cell membranes. These results revealed that exposure to MCT, Squalane, and VE increased LDH release — indicating that the vaping products of these compounds are disrupting cell membranes at highly concentrated levels (significantly above that of a normal vape consumption) — whereas TEC did not have a significant increase. Further studies are needed to fully understand the implication of these results.

The following summarizes the number of degradants observed along with their general chemical functionality:

  1. PG - primarily formed reactive carbonyls - 6 degradants
  2. VG - primarily formed reactive carbonyls - 7 degradants
  3. Vitamin E - formed highly reactive organic compound durohydroquinone - 4 degradants
  4. Vitamin E Acetate - formed highly reactive organic compounds duroquinone and durohydroquinone - 6 degradants
  5. Squalane - produced alkanes and reactive carbonyls - 13 degradants
  6. Triethyl Citrate - primarily short chain esters - 4 degradants
  7. MCT Oil - many types of compounds including short chain esters, alkanes, reactive carbonyls (e.g. formaldehyde), and alkyl alcohols (e.g. tridecanol) - 19 degradants

The sheer number of degradants in the diluents can be alarming, but researchers do not know the concentrations during normal vaping conditions. It is important to note that the amount of degradants is not as important as the identity and the toxicity of the degredent compounds. For example, squalane has 13 degradents that are not glaringly dangerous, whereas Vitamin E has four degradents, but they are known toxins that are far more dangerous and cause physical harm.

Taken together, these results shed light on the complex chemistry that occurs during vaping and their possible effects on human lung cells. The identification of the degradation byproducts combined with the cell studies are a first step in understanding the safety of these diluents. However, additional studies that more closely emulate the vaping experience are needed to determine the amount of each produced, and if those levels have significant health effects.

Leveraging its proven background in cannabis research, ABSTRAX is the leader in the research, development, and production of botanically-derived and cannabis-inspired terpenes that create unforgettable sensorial experiences. Headquartered in California, the company owns and operates a state-of-the-art type 7 licensed research and manufacturing lab where it’s award-winning product developers and scientists leverage the most advanced strain analysis technology to extract and study aroma compounds via three-dimensional analysis, allowing for each and every compound within a plant to be named and studied. The company has partnered with many of the best cultivators in the industry to study their cannabis profiles and create the world's most advanced terpene formulations. As a result of its efforts, ABSTRAX offers the largest terpene catalogue of the most popular strains - botanically-derived terpene blends and isolates native to cannabis. These ingredients, also known as functional flavors and aromas, are used in vapes, concentrates, edibles, beer, essential oils, fragrances, cosmetics, topicals, tinctures, alcohol, food and beverage, personal care, and more. The company works with internationally recognized brands and provides unparalleled cannabis research, innovation, and custom formulations to create products that engage and thrill consumers. ABSTRAX also devotes significant resources to developing the highest terpene standards and best practices in the industry. The company has developed a robust quality management system including Gas Chromatography analysis and molecular distillation of natural ingredients to achieve the highest purity standards. Investigating and ensuring that ingredients used in its own products, and products within its industry, are safe for consumption. The terpene industry is a rapidly growing segment of the global flavor and fragrance market, which is expected to grow to $35 billion by 2024. This market segment includes the cannabis, CBD, skincare, cosmetics, health and wellness, food and beverage industries.


Media Contact:           
Stacey Kaszton Jones
La Voz Marketing
213.925.8177 (direct)

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