A Poisoner’s Guide to Vaping

Blueberry cheesecake, rainbow sherbet, strawberry cream and cinnamon funnel cake are some popular vape juice flavors commercially available among the thousands for sale today.

However, Michigan and New York State recently made it illegal to sell flavored vape juices, except for tobacco and menthol. If people cannot buy their favorite vape flavors in a shop, they may decide to mix them at home. Recipes for do-it-yourself vape juices and tutorials on exactly how to succeed at making a vapable product are easily accessible on the internet.

Some people have begun making vape juice for profit. If a consumer pays $25 per 60 ml of vape juice, the overall price is about $1577.25 per gallon. If a consumer buys the cheaper juice at $10 per 120 ml, the price per gallon is about $315.45.

The primary ingredients in commercially available vape juice are propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine (sometimes) and additional flavorings. The primary flavors of the juice are usually contained in the propylene glycol. But watching DIY videos, people have discovered they do not need a background in chemistry to create vape juices. Creatives around the world have come up with recipes anyone can create in their own kitchen using sugar, Splenda, fruit juices and other handy pantry items.

When vaping sweet flavors, many vape enthusiasts are concerned with after effects such as sugar lips, a lingering feeling on the lips, and headaches caused by too much sweetness. However, even if vape lovers are not including nicotine in their juices, the juices contain chemicals people may want to consider before breathing them.

“Let’s say I really like jalapenos, and I’m going to put jalapenos juice in my vape pen,” Jim Hrncir, a compounding pharmacist and owner of Las Colinas Pharmacy, said. “That will cause bronchoconstriction in the lungs. It will cause the muscles of the lungs to become so inflamed they will shut down. People who have asthma will have those muscles shut down. It creates a lung disease-type inflammation.

“Say, they wanted to get a sweet flavor, I know they are using peppermint and menthol [in the juices] those are inflammatory to the lungs as well.

“Anything with sugar in it is going to taste sweet,” he said. “Breathing sugar is going to cause glycation in the lungs. The lungs were never expected to handle that.

“When you are diabetic, you have higher than normal levels sugar [in your blood.] When sugar oxidizes, it starts inflaming tissues in the body.

“Let’s say sugar is floating around in the bloodstream and it hits the lining of a blood vessel, and it causes a reaction called glycation,” Hrncir said. “Glycation is kind of like the caramelization of sugar. When sugar burns, it turns brown, that’s the glycation process. So that happens in the lining of a blood vessel in your foot. Pretty soon the blood vessels to that foot are so compromised by glycation it actually causes an amputation of a toe or a foot.

“Say glycation happens in the heart and that leads to a heart attack and stroke. What if that glycation is happening in the lungs? In every other tissue in the body, glycation is a horrible thing. How can people not understand that causing glycation in the lungs is going to cause the lungs to be damaged? Damage over time builds up from minor at first to significant over time.

“The lungs have a hard time repairing themselves. You start destroying more and more of the processes that allow you to breathe air in and oxygenate your blood, that just seems crazy to me.”

Several recipes include sucralose, known commercially as Splenda.

“Vape pens heat juices up,” Hrncir said. “When you heat up sucralose, it’s going to release chlorinated compounds, which are definitely toxic. They are toxic to the thyroid, and the lung tissue.

NutraSweet could also be used to sweeten vape juice.

“It says on the NutraSweet packaging ‘do not use in cooking,’ because it converts to acid aldehyde, a formaldehyde like compound. We know formaldehyde is not good in the lungs unless you are being embalmed,” he said.

Sugar alcohols are also used to sweeten vape juices.

“The sugar alcohols like erythritol and ethyl maltol in medium doses cause diarrhea. They draw water into the stool. If it starts causing inflammation in the lungs, one of the proposed side effects would be that it might cause water accumulation in the lungs. If that water starts getting infected, you have pneumonia. It’s just one more bad thing.

“Everyone thinks, ‘I’ll outthink it,’ and all they do is damage tissue that is not designed to handle toxic and noxious substances,” Hrncir said.

For those who choose to mix nicotine into their juices, small variations in the amount of nicotine can make a big difference.

“To go from what you would consider a normal dosage of nicotine to a toxic dosage, is a tiny amount of nicotine,” Hrncir said. “Nicotine is a very strong stimulant. After the stimulant effect hits, there’s a depressant effect. It has a two phase effect.

“Nicotine is sort of a weird drug, and there are various reports about how much is actually lethal. We also know that as with a lot of poisons, the more you use it, the more your body can take.

“Way back in the pre-dark ages, kings would have professional poisoners on the king’s court who would give the king a small amount of poison every day, because poisoning was the main way they got rid of each other. They would actually train these kings’ bodies to become more and more resistant to poison.

“Let’s say the average 130 pound girl could be killed by 29 mg of nicotine. But after she’s vaped or smoked nicotine for a while, she can tolerate 29 mg. I don’t know that it’s a good thing she could tolerate more poison.

“Our lungs don’t have the capability of detoxing. When we [eat], our stomach has the advantage of having the liver to detoxify anything that goes into the stomach. The lungs don’t have that advantage. You are talking about virgin tissue. Inflammation can build up. Anybody who knows anything about lungs, knows that when your lungs become inflamed, it is never going to be a good outcome.”

Among the additional flavors added to vape juice is malic acid, which brings out sour notes in citric flavored juices and makes the flavors ‘pop.’

Some of the side effects of ingesting malic acid are headaches and diarrhea. As malic acid, and all the other ingredients discussed in this article have not been studied as inhalants, vape users are left to speculate as to the effect they might have when inhaled.

Citric acid is often used with malic acid and is also used to enhance the flavors of citric flavored juices. It is a skin irritant and can cause minor burns to those who are sensitive.

Triacetin provides added mouth feel and increases flavor.

When ingested triacetin’s side effects are rare, but tend to be severe, they include abnormal heart rhythm, abnormally low blood pressure, and decreased lung function.

Ethyl vanillin, also known as vanillin, adds vanilla flavor.

Unlike the other agents mentioned in this article, ethyl vanillin is harmful if swallowed and contact with the skin can cause scaling, reddening or blistering. It can irritate the respiratory tract. In severe cases, respiratory tract irritation can progress to acute respiratory distress syndrome, which may have a delayed onset for up to 72 hours. Ethyl vanillin can irritate or burn the esophagus and can cause allergic hypersensitivity dermatitis or asthma with bronchospasm.

Salt/saline increases flavor, adds salty flavor.

Table salt is an inorganic chloride salt made of sodium chloride combined with iodine. Saline solutions are mixtures of non-iodized salt and boiled or distilled water. Both sodium and chloride are elements listed on the Periodic Table, neither break down into anything smaller. Salt draws water out of tissue, which could lead to increased fluid in the lungs.

Most adults should get about 150 micrograms of iodine per day. Side effects of mild iodine poisoning include diarrhea, burning sensation in the mouth, nausea. Consuming too much iodine can also lead to iodine-induced hyperthyroidism.

Koolada adds ‘cool’ flavor expression to juice. Despite research, the Rambler Newspaper staff were unable to determine the makeup of Koolada or find any studies into possible side effects.

It is reasonable to assume that vape juices which ‘gunk’ coils or leave behind hard to clean slag are depositing a similar residue in the mouth, nasal cavities, throat, bronchial passages, lungs and blood vessels leading to the heart.

Vape juices created outside the U.S. are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration, which seems primarily concerned with juices containing nicotine or THC. Black market and international producers have no obligation to inform consumers what ingredients are in the liquids they are inhaling.

Often basic product knowledge, such as where vape juices are made, by whom, with what ingredients, is kept from consumers unless the producer chooses to release the information. Unfortunately, even if the vape juice ingredients are revealed, there are few to no studies indicating how people react to inhaling the ingredients or what the long term consequences of vaping those ingredients are.

About the Author

Jess Paniszczyn
Jess discovered an aptitude for writing in high school. After earning a B.A. degree in English he joined the ranks of the working class where he quickly found he did not work well in a corporate environment. He took a series of technical writing contract jobs working for such companies as AT&T, Sykes Enterprises – where he worked on IBM projects – and Lomas Mortgage. To support himself during lulls between contracts, he began working with the Dallas Morning News in operations where he worked part-time for several years, eventually migrating to the Irving Daily News in its final year of publication. Jess was the first writer hired by The Rambler Newspapers and has been with the company since the publication of the initial Irving Rambler Newspaper. He has found a home at the newspaper that as a young writer he never thought would ever find working ‘in the real world.’