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Tuesday July 30, 2019

By Abby Hutmacher

Reviewed By Mohammad Ashori, M.D. on Monday May 2, 2022


Though legalization has purportedly led to more people getting ill from cannabis products, many believe that these findings are the product of propaganda designed to deter further cannabis reform. And though skepticism is justified (we’ve all heard of the whole “reefer madness” thing), the fact is, some concern is warranted regarding the health consequences of certain types of cannabis products. 

Specifically, the presence of plant waxes in impure cannabis concentrates may contribute to a condition known as lipid pneumonia and the chronic cough, chest pain, and breathing difficulty that accompanies it.

The Facts About Lipid Pneumonia

Lipid pneumonia is a condition caused by lipids (oils, waxes, etc.) entering the lungs. There are two different types of lipid pneumonia, exogenous lipid pneumonia (caused by fats entering the lungs from an outside source via either the nose or the mouth) and endogenous lipid pneumonia, a more advanced form of lipid pneumonia characterized by diffuse inflammation in the lungs.

Symptoms of lipid pneumonia include chronic coughing and chest pains, and in more severe cases (especially those left untreated) fever, weight loss, night sweats, difficulty swallowing, and coughing up blood.

The most common substance contributing to lipid pneumonia is mineral oil-based additives that “go down the wrong pipe” so-to-say (or rather, they enter the windpipe instead of the esophagus), but can occur with the misuse of oils in foods and nasal drops, overexposure of oils in the workplace, or through the consumption of sub-standard vaporizer cartridges and e-juices.

Waxy Concentrates are a Risk Factor

Almost all plants have a waxy coating on their leaves (called the cuticle) that either protects against water loss or in wet areas like the rainforest, helps protect plants from fungal infections. The wax can be rubbed off the leaves – and may even change its appearance a bit – but to completely remove the wax, a whole dewaxing process is necessary.

waxy concentrates
Avoid concentrates with a cloudy, inconsistent color to prevent health risks. photo credit

Cannabis also contains plant waxes. Unless concentrated cannabis products go through a dewaxing or winterization process, they will retain much of their wax content which could lead to lipid pneumonia, especially if it is inhaled regularly and in high concentrations (concern is even more significant for consumers over 65 years old). Though much of the industry is going away with waxy concentrates either by distilling their products or by dewaxing them, the black market and those with little concern (or understanding) of the health risks associated with waxy weed continue to distribute these unsafe cannabis products. Vaporizer companies that use oils as thinning agents, for example, or those who use cold ethanol or low-grade rosin extraction methods are especially risky for consumers.

The Importance of Dabbing Quality Concentrates

When it comes to your health, every measure should be taken to prevent unnecessary risks – especially throughout the dabbing process. As mentioned above, many commercial manufacturers have refined their processes to remove unwanted plant waxes and lipids from the final product. However, it’s still wise to do your research before inhaling anything into your lungs. And if you’re still shopping on the black market, you need to be even more vigilant. In an unregulated setting, not only are lipids and waxes cause concern, but residual solvent levels from home extraction operations can well exceed the legal limits for commercial standards. With this being said, we can’t stress the importance of dabbing quality cannabis concentrates enough. To help you find the best products for your needs, here are a few key tips to think about:

Tips for Buying Dewaxed Concentrates:

  • Look for clear, consistent color (avoid anything that looks cloudy)
  • Uniform consistency is a good sign of stable concentrate
  • Ask your budtender about extraction practices (Has this been dewaxed?)
  • Want to know for sure? Try a distillate product
  • Fans of cartridges should avoid anything cut with non-cannabis oils or glycols
  • Black market consumer? Do your best to consult with the extractor to learn more

Cannabis makes its way into the headlines daily – sometimes the news is good, sometimes it’s bad – but understanding the details and implications of those stories is always important. While we make history with our understanding of cannabis and the different elements therein, we also must take a realistic approach toward compassionate consumer safety. The first step toward consumer protection in the cannabis industry is to share accurate, unbiased information so that our readers can learn and share the knowledge they gain.

Have you experienced symptoms of lipid pneumonia? Do you think cannabis consumption might have contributed?

Photo Credit: Yale Rosen (license)


Abby Hutmacher Abby Hutmacher

Abby is a writer and founder of Cannabis Content, a marketplace designed to connect cannabis writers and creatives with businesses in the industry. She has been a professional cannabis writer since 2014 and regularly contributes to publications such as PotGuide and M&F Talent. She is also the Content Director at Fortuna Hemp, America’s leading feminized hemp seed bank. Follow Abby on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin.

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Expert Medical Reviewer

Mohammad Ashori, M.D. Mohammad Ashori, M.D.

Mohammad Ashori, M.D. is a board-certified physician practicing in Los Angeles, CA. He attended UCLA medical school and completed his family medicine residency at UCLA as well. His career started out at a large HMO at Kaiser Permanente which he left in 2016 to work on the then-burgeoning field of telehealth. Since then he has worked with numerous healthcare startups focusing on patient education, empowerment, and access. He is passionate about the science of clinical medicine but doesn't like to stray too far from one-on-one clinical care. As of 2021, he is practicing in various urgent care in the Los Angeles area.

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