The chemistry and toxicology of vaping

Pharmacol Ther. 2021 Sep;225:107837. doi: 10.1016/j.pharmthera.2021.107837. Epub 2021 Mar 19.


Vaping is the process of inhaling and exhaling an aerosol produced by an e-cigarette, vape pen, or personal aerosolizer. When the device contains nicotine, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists the product as an electronic nicotine delivery system or ENDS device. Similar electronic devices can be used to vape cannabis extracts. Over the past decade, the vaping market has increased exponentially, raising health concerns over the number of people exposed and a nationwide outbreak of cases of severe, sometimes fatal, lung dysfunction that arose suddenly in otherwise healthy individuals. In this review, we discuss the various vaping technologies, which are remarkably diverse, and summarize the use prevalence in the U.S. over time by youths and adults. We examine the complex chemistry of vape carrier solvents, flavoring chemicals, and transformation products. We review the health effects from epidemiological and laboratory studies and, finally, discuss the proposed mechanisms underlying some of these health effects. We conclude that since much of the research in this area is recent and vaping technologies are dynamic, our understanding of the health effects is insufficient. With the rapid growth of ENDS use, consumers and regulatory bodies need a better understanding of constituent-dependent toxicity to guide product use and regulatory decisions.

Keywords: Cannabinoids; DNA damage; Electronic cigarettes; Electronic nicotine delivery system or ENDS; Flavorings; Lung injury; Nicotine; Oxidative stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chemistry
  • Humans
  • Toxicology
  • Vaping* / adverse effects