Vaping Aerosols from Vitamin e Acetate and Tetrahydrocannabinol Oil: Chemistry and Composition

Yichen Li, Jiayin Dai, Lillian N. Tran, Kent E. Pinkerton, Eliot R. Spindel, Tran B. Nguyen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


The popularity of vaping cannabis products has increased sharply in recent years. In 2019, a sudden onset of electronic cigarette/vaping-associated lung injury (EVALI) was reported, leading to thousands of cases of lung illness and dozens of deaths due to the vaping of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing e-liquids that were obtained on the black market. A potential cause of EVALI has been hypothesized due to the illicit use of vitamin E acetate (VEA) in cannabis vape cartridges. However, the chemistry that modifies VEA and THC oil, to potentially produce toxic byproducts, is not well understood under different scenarios of use. In this work, we quantified carbonyls, organic acids, cannabinoids, and terpenes in the vaping aerosol of pure VEA, purified THC oil, and an equal volume mixture of VEA and THC oil at various coil temperatures (100-300 °C). It was found under the conditions of our study that degradation of VEA and cannabinoids, including Δ9-THC and cannabigerol (CBG), occurred via radical oxidation and direct thermal decomposition pathways. Evidence of terpene degradation was also observed. The bond cleavage of aliphatic side chains in both VEA and cannabinoids formed a variety of smaller carbonyls. Oxidation at the ring positions of cannabinoids formed various functionalized products. We show that THC oil has a stronger tendency to aerosolize and degrade compared to VEA at a given temperature. The addition of VEA to the e-liquid nonlinearly suppressed the formation of vape aerosol compared to THC oil. At the same time, toxic carbonyls including formaldehyde, 4-methylpentanal, glyoxal, or diacetyl and its isomers were highly enhanced in VEA e-liquid when normalized to particle mass.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1095-1109
Number of pages15
JournalChemical Research in Toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 20 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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