A a new trend is emerging in the vaping world, one that promises great health benefits. Known as ‘wellness vapes’, they contain vitamins or other supplements instead of nicotine and claim more energy, increased immunity and better sleep.
Wellness vapes or “dietary supplement diffusers” — which allow users to inhale ingredients such as vitamin B12, caffeine, melatonin or essential oils — have grown in popularity alongside e-cigarettes. They come in thin cartridges with clear packaging and big names like Inhale Health and NutriAir, are sold on websites around the world and are mostly aimed at young people. Some claim to fight ADHD, or treat anxiety or depression.
But regulators and other experts warn that these products don’t live up to their claims. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration warned consumers late last year that wellness vapes are unproven, ineffective and can be harmful if used. The vapes do not require FDA approval to go to market because they contain no nicotine, and the agency has not approved any vaping products to treat or prevent any health problems or disease.
Still, the number and types of wellness vapes are growing. According to Irfan Rahman, a professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center and the director of the Center for Inhalation and Flavoring Toxicology Research, the vapes hit the market about three or four years ago and have steadily grown in popularity.
Indeed, a recent Stanford University survey of 6,000 people found that 4% of younger teens and 24% of young adults have used non-nicotine vape products — and about a quarter of them didn’t know what was in the products. was sitting.
The wellness vaping boom comes as e-cigarette use in general is on the rise, prompting governments to curb the rise in vaping among young people. Last month, the FDA ordered Juul to withdraw its popular products from the market, although that ban is currently under appeal.
Vapes with the appeal of something cute and healthy could undermine efforts to warn young people about the dangers of vaping, experts say.
“Marketing vaping products as healthy vapor vitamin inhalation products represents a potentially new phase in misleading e-cigarette advertising,” USC researchers wrote in a 2019 journal article. “In the past, e-cigarette companies have claimed that their products were less harmful than cigarettes or even completely harmless, but now some marketers are positioning their products as health-promoting based on unsubstantiated claims.”
Meanwhile, the FDA has warned that these vapes may actually have adverse effects. “Inhalants can be dangerous and can even cause severe coughs, cause airway constriction, and make speaking and breathing difficult,” the regulators wrote in 2021. People with heart disease, diabetes, lung disease — such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) — or a lung infection may be at risk. a greater risk of serious complications, the agency said.
Medications can be inhaled — just think of asthma inhalers — but it’s not known whether inhaled vitamins or melatonin can be absorbed into the bloodstream, says Dr. Gregory Ratti, a pulmonologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.
There are no studies to support the use of vapes for sleep, energy or wellness, he says. “We’re really wary of putting anything unknown in our lungs. The things we recommend are drugs that have been well studied,” he says. “What we don’t know about these things is the biggest problem here.”
Ratti adds that the flavors added to make the vapes more appealing — such as banana or watermelon — can cause lung injury. Vapes and the propellants they send to the lungs can contain things like propylene glycol, flavors of unknown origin, and glycerin. “If they end up in the lungs, that’s worrying,” he says.
Wellness vaping companies often say their products are “safe to use” but cite no evidence of safety testing. Vitamins are needed to keep people healthy, but most of the vitamin intake is through the gut, and researchers say a balanced diet is key, not extra supplements.
Rahman studied a few non-nicotine wellness vapes and found that oxidative stress causes damage to lung cells by these devices, especially in the vitamin B12 vapes. That’s probably due to the complexity of the vitamin’s chemical structure, he says. He also co-authored a paper in 2018 in which he found that some flavorings cause damage to cells. “The lungs are for oxygen and not for these complex chemicals.”
Ratti points out that new vaping companies are constantly popping up online, making it difficult to keep up with the latest trends. There are at least 10 brands of vitamin and wellness vapes for sale on the internet. The devices often use the terms “aromatherapy stick” or “personal diffuser” to avoid confusion with vapes, but they share the same technology.
Non-nicotine vape products are considered supplements – a largely unregulated world – and customers have no guarantee that the ingredients listed are actually in the vape. A recent study of dietary supplements found that nearly 800 of them contained prescription drugs and other substances.
Ratti says that in his practice he asks questions about patients’ use of nicotine, but he thinks doctors should be more candid when asking questions about vaporizing non-nicotine substances like melatonin or vitamins. “Maybe we miss it,” he says. “Patients don’t give us information because they don’t want us to know about it.”
It’s important for people to recognize that unfounded claims are being made, and ultimately, Ratti says, there are no shortcuts to getting healthy and improving quality of life and sleep.
“It’s easy to get sucked into flashy labels and slogans,” he says. “They can be ineffective at the very least, but at worst they can be harmful and exacerbate other health effects.”