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How Does CBD Vape Oil Work?

CBD Vape Oil, How does it actually work

Chemistry is really fun for those that are interested.  Yes, it does have some difficult formulae, but chemists can still talk about it without using a single one.  It is surprising how many people don’t mind learning a little bit about chemistry because it makes them sound so smart when they are talking to their peers!

Today we’re going to discuss a bit about some easy to understand chemistry that you’ll be able to tell your friends about.  Don’t worry, it’ll be fun!

The Truth about CBD e liquid

Here’s the first interesting fact that you can share: CBD Vape Oil isn’t really an oil!  This is the reason it behaves differently than how you would expect oil to behave.  If it was a true oil, it wouldn’t turn into a vapour at all.  It would just decompose (burn) when exposed to heat. And that’s not how CBD vape oil works!

Water is volatile, just as petrol is volatile.  If you leave either in an open container they will eventually disappear as individual molecules break free of the surface of the liquid and drift away, or evaporate.

Common sense tells you that oils are not volatile—that is to say that they do not evaporate.  You could leave a bottle of frying oil open above the cooker and the worst thing that would happen is that it would go rancid, but it certainly wouldn’t evaporate away.  

Of course, petrol can ignite, too, though water does not.  People often mistake the word volatile for the words explosive, inflammable, or flammable.  Diesel fuel is volatile, since we can certainly smell it, but you could drop a lit match in a bucket of diesel fuel and it won’t light, explode, or really do much of anything except extinguish the match—a considerably different result than if it were petrol.

Why do we call it CBD Vape Oil?

If you have obtained it in a see-through container you will observe that it does move rather sluggishly if you upend or agitate the bottle.  In this state, it resembles nothing so much as thinned corn syrup and behaves in the same way. It does bear a superficial similarity to oil, but that appearance is where the resemblance ends.

What’s in CBD vape oil?

There are four primary components in what would more accurately be called CBD vaping liquid, which includes Cannabidiol (CBD) naturally, as well as carriers and diluting agents.  The carriers are almost always vegetable-derived glycerine (glycerol) and/or propylene glycol (PG), whereas the diluent is most often distilled water.

CBD is separated from cannabis as CBD Isolate, meaning pure CBD.  It comes in the form of a sugar-like crystal, and it cannot be dissolved in water. To understand why this is so, we have to understand soap and/or detergent, but we’ll begin with water.


H2O is called a polar molecule because, like a battery, it has one end that is positive and one end that is negative.  In chemistry, we actually call water the Mickey Mouse molecule for obvious reasons, where the ears are the positive end and the head is the negative end.

What all this means is that water molecules like to align with other water molecules, positive to negative, just as we do with batteries.  It also likes to align itself with other “polar” molecules.


Oil is a nonpolar molecule meaning it doesn’t have ends that are different from each other.  Oil likes to align itself with other nonpolar molecules, but “hates” polar molecules, which is why we have all observed that oil and water don’t mix.

The Secret of Soap

Soaps and Detergents are special molecules.  They have one end that is polar and an opposite end that is nonpolar. Putting your clothes in the wash with just water won’t get them clean since water won’t attach to the oils and grease. Add some “magic” detergent however and one end will bind to the grease while the other binds to the water, and suddenly the greases and oils are suspended in the water and can be rinsed away.

CBD is nonpolar, too so it won’t dissolve in water.  It will only dissolve in a nonpolar liquid. Fortunately, we have some nonpolar liquids that are also volatile.  We’ve already mentioned two of them above: glycerol and propylene glycol. These are both alcohols, different from poisonous ones like methyl-alcohol (methanol), or intoxicating ones like ethyl-alcohol (ethanol).  

Did you happen to notice that all these alcohols share the two-letter ending of –ol?  In chemistry that is how we identify an alcohol—anything that ends in the letters “ol”—so now you know that even that fatty cholesterol that is clogging up your coronary arteries is an alcohol!

Congratulations!  You have learned so much today.  The best is yet to come, however, so let’s sum up.

The Takeaway

CBD is dissolved in an alcohol so it can be in a liquid form.  Alcohols form solutions with water very easily, so the (pure distilled) water can be used to dilute the concentration of CBD liquid to the required level, such as a typical 200mg per 30 ml.

This solution is completely volatile, which means that it leaves no residue behind when it evaporates.  That is perfect because no one wants to have to completely disassemble their vape-pen or e-gig to clean it after each use.

Is there a difference when using Glycerol compared to Propylene Glycol?  In effect, no, it makes no difference.

Only about 20% of the products on the market use glycerol.  Vapers report glycerol as producing more vapour, but they also anecdotally report that it is smoother with less of a throat hit compared to PG.  In addition, the higher viscosity of the glycerol can lead to a marginally shorter life of the atomizer/heating element in e-cigs and CBD vape devices.

PG has a minor drawback for a small percentage of CBD vape oil users because the PG, although harmless, does decompose into lactic acid in the muscles which can cause aches or cramps.  Glycerine avoids this trouble.

So, which should you choose for your CBD e liquid?  Both carriers, glycerol and propylene glycol, have a rating of GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) for use in drugs and food preparation.  In fact, the vegetable sourced glycerine has found use as a sugar substitute in many foods, which is why some people believe that glycerol based products are “sweeter” tasting.

Ultimately, it is up to you.  Choose the one you like or try a variety of them.  The real reward is the benefit you derive from CBD.
To discover more about CBD vape oil and vaping CBD be sure to check out our new CBD vape oil guide