Essential oils cloud judgment on vapes

Nora Callahan and Molly Parker, Lifestyle Editor and Opinions Editor

An essential oil vape lies on a nightstand with essential oils and a diffuser, as essential oils are marketed to help people sleep. Photo by Nora Callahan.

Ecstasy, refresh, active, tired, focus, health. These are some of the moods marketed towards those looking to purchase an essential oil vape.

Although vaping has been present around Glenbrook North, the new trend of essential oil vapes is beginning to emerge. Similar to nicotine vapes, essential oil vapes contain liquids that turn into vapor when inhaled.

During a phone interview with Dr. Peter Pressman, retired internal medicine physician, he said vaping is a general term to describe inhaling vaporized oils, whether it is delivering nicotine, CBD oil or essential oils.

Pressman said vaping essential oils is quite different than using them topically or with diffusers due to the short and long term effects that come along with direct inhalation.

Dr. Roger Clemens, professor of food safety and toxicology at the University of Southern California, said in a phone interview that essential oil vape brands claim on their websites that the vaporizers are safe to use and have benefits that align with the topical use of essential oils.

There is virtually no safety data despite what people claim on websites and what the public says on social media,” said Clemens. There are no good clinical studies to show at temperature ‘y’ a population ‘x’ actually has [a] benefit at ‘z’.”

Pressman said the vapors from the essential oil vape can be toxic to the human body because the compounds created by the vapors, called pyrogens, are unknown to scientists.

The problem may be that when you heat these substances to a high enough temperature, you are actually making compounds that are toxic,” said Pressman. “In other words, [the pyrogens] cause injury to the very sensitive cells that line our airways.”

According to Pressman, the cloud that is formed when people vape is composed of lipoid particles, which are microscopic fat particles created by the heating of essential oils.

“Those particles can deposit themselves in great quantities in the large and small airways of the lungs, particularly if there’s a large depth of inhalation,” Pressman said.

According to Pressman, essential oil vaping differs from using an essential oil diffuser because of the purposeful inhalation and the higher concentration of the vapors in the airways when vaped, which can lead to serious health conditions such as lipoid pneumonia.

Furthermore, Pressman said allergic reactions similar to asthma attacks can occur when essential oils enter the lungs.

“Essential oils and whatever they are carrying can still trigger what amounts to an allergic reaction or a bronchospasm, which is a spasm of the airway itself, very much akin to an asthmatic attack where you get a twitchy and constricted airway,” Pressman said.

According to Clemens, long term effects of vaping essential oils include reactions within the body that can lead to impaired brain development.

In the teenage years, brain development is a continual process, so anything done that could possibly affect the development in a negative way could lead to a diminished quality of life in the future.

The bottom line is that, you know, we’re seeing not quite an epidemic, but we’re seeing a very sharp increase in some scary, scary disease that’s associated with not so much … the instrument, not so much what that instrument is delivering, but with the vehicle itself, in other words, the oil and the glycerin,” Pressman said.