Coffee vapes are now a thing, and experts worry they could get never-smokers hooked on e-cigs
If you don’t have time for a cup of coffee, just inhale it.
A new vaporizer billed as delivering “coffee you can breathe” is showing up on Facebook ads, and coffee-lovers are curious about how it might feel to vape their daily caffeine.
“It allows me to have coffee when I’m on the go,” Canadian model and influencer Adrianne Ho, a self-proclaimed latte lover, said in an October ad for the coffee vaping device. “It can keep you energized without actually having to drink coffee, it’s a coffee alternative.”
But a coffee vape may not be the best way to fuel up in the morning, and could even be dangerous.
Health experts who are concerned about a rash of mysterious and deadly lung injuries popping up in nicotine and THC vapers caution that the same issues could occur with caffeine vapes, which use the same types of e-liquids to deliver their drugs. Pharmacologists also suspect that coffee vapes may not be caffeinating people much at all.
The coffee vape is being marketed as a new way to skip morning brew and still get a jolt
What’s being billed as the world’s first vape pod “made from real coffee” (no nicotine included) was first mentioned by a Hong Kong-based electronics company called Otolab earlier this year.
By September, Otolab’s SnowPlus coffee vapes were shipping around the globe via VapeHK, a vaping industry blog and distributor. SnowPlus international coffee vape sales are now up and running as well.
“I sold over 100 starter kits and lots of pods,” VapeHK owner Jesse Jin told Insider in an email.
Jin also tried out the caffeine vape for himself. He said that the buzz was strong and the taste a bit like steak.
“People nowadays in the industrialized world are under high pressure. They need to wake up their mind as quickly as possible in the morning, and to dive into the work as efficiently as possible,” he wrote in a September review of the coffee vape. “Making coffee takes time and energy. You need to grind the coffee bean and pour the boiled water and finally produce a cup of coffee that’s extremely hot.”
Otolab says it’s created coffee that can go in your pocket
Otolab says that its coffee vape fills a void for busy caffeine aficionados.
“We can’t live without coffee in our daily life, but coffee is not always accessible everywhere,” Otolab said on its website. “Why don’t we create a device that can be carried every day in your pocket, like the super-nano espresso machine, so that you can enjoy your coffee anywhere you want, hassle free.”
Otolab’s coffee vape release announcement even appeared to be signed off on by deceased former US Senator John McCain, as if he were the brains behind the whole thing.
The SnowPlus vape starter kit costs $39.99. That includes one iced matcha latte pod, one cappuccino pod (which the company describes as “smooth and creamy”), and the vaping device, which is compatible with both nicotine and non-nicotine pods.
Otolab did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment about the company’s coffee vape that is advertised on Facebook. A representative for SnowPlus vapes also declined to comment on the McCain signature, saying only that Otolab.io is “not our website,” though the McCain signature mysteriously vanished from the page hours later.
Coffee vapes may not have enough caffeine in them to be effective stimulants
It is actually possible to vaporize caffeine, delivering it into your lungs and body faster than coffee takes effect.
“I’m sure I’m the only person who’s smoked caffeine and measured the levels,” pharmacologist S. Casey Laizure, a professor at the University of Tennessee’s department of clinical pharmacy, told Insider.
Laizure smoked caffeine powder last year, just to see if it was possible, before applying for a federal grant to study vaping (he didn’t get it). He had to make his own caffeine vape solution, he said, because after looking around at commercial options, “I couldn’t find one that had a reasonable caffeine concentration.”
Snowplus coffee vape pods claim to pack 0.4 milligrams of caffeine per gram, which isn’t enough to have any sort of effect, according to Laizure.
His homemade e-liquid was about 65 times as strong as the Snowplus vape, at 25.8 milligrams of caffeine per milliliter. For comparison, there are about 95 milligrams of caffeine in a single 8-ounce cup of drip coffee, and about 19 milligrams per gram of nicotine in the average cigarette.
Laizure felt a very slight caffeine buzz from his vape, which peaked about 10 minutes after he inhaled. That’s faster than any coffee drink would work, but the SnowPlus vape doesn’t even come close.
Nicotine researcher Anna Lee, an assistant professor of pharmacology at the University of Minnesota, thinks there may be an ulterior motive behind coffee vaping.
“I think it’s just a flavor mask, a marketing gimmick for people to become interested in [Otolab’s] product, which looks very much like a Juul competitor,” she said, referencing the San Francisco-based vape giant now at the center of several federal and state-level probes. Laizure suspects it’s only a matter of time before vapes become the go-to delivery vehicle for all kinds of drugs, both legal and not.
“You can put any drug in a vape solution,” he said.
Coffee vapes use the same nicotine-friendly delivery systems that are at the center of lung injury investigations
The SnowPlus coffee vape uses the same type of drug delivery system that vapes like Juul use: An e-liquid formulation that’s a mix of oils including propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin (often referred to as PG-VG). SnowPlus users can easily swap out one coffee vape juice pod for another flavor, which could be laced with nicotine.
These e-liquids, which deliver a vaper’s desired drugs by heating up and turning into a white haze, are the same unregulated systems that have come under federal scrutiny in the US this year, as investigators continue to puzzle over why they’re connected with dozens of deadly lung injuries.
Public health researchers are still flummoxed as to how people are becoming ill, as there is no single contaminant, brand, or drug associated with the lung injuries. There is some burgeoning evidence, though, that any vaping at all may irritate people’s lungs, and could prompt breathing issues.
The same lung problems popping up in nicotine and marijuana vapers now could easily hold true with the new coffee vapes, experts say.
“I guarantee that there have not been studies that have evaluated the safety of inhaling caffeine,” public health expert Jessica Barrington-Trimis, who directs the USC Epidemiology of Substance Use Research Group, told Insider. “It’s not like the [US Food and Drug Administration] is approving these vaping devices for the administration of caffeine.”
Barrington-Trimis, herself a coffee lover, says she won’t be relying on the coffee vape any time soon.
“Would I use that product on a regular basis instead of coffee? Definitely not,” she said. “We don’t know anything about what is in this.”
Vaping coffee is being billed as a quick way to energize, but public health experts warn the trend may be nothing more than a marketing gimmick.
A new craze has people ‘vaping’ caffeine
Caffeine vaporizers deliver a puff of the popular stimulant on the go. Instead of coffee beans, the active ingredients are guarana (an Amazonian plant rich in caffeine), taurine (a supplement used in energy drinks), and ginseng.
Like e-cigarettes, these devices use a heating element to vaporize the ingredients to provide a stimulating hit when inhaled.
The New York Times described the experience as “Red Bull for the lungs.”
While a 12-ounce cup of coffee contains between 95 and 200 milligrams of caffeine, a standard “serving” of inhaled caffeine is roughly 20 to 40 milligrams, with each caffeinated puff containing about two milligrams, according to Eagle Energy Vapor, a Billings, Montana-based company that makes one of these devices.
Is caffeine vaping safe?
The simple answer is that we don’t know. The US Food and Drug Administration has not reviewed the Eagle inhaler to assess its safety, because the product is considered a dietary supplement. “This isn’t a medication, it’s safety has not been reviewed by the FDA, and they should [exercise] caution,” Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist at New York University Langone Medical Center, told Business Insider.
Consuming too much caffeine, whether from energy drinks or in vapor-form, can cause symptoms such as a rapid or fluttering heartbeat, lightheadedness, upset stomach, and overall feelings of jitteriness. At high enough levels, it can make blood pressure spike and cause heart problems, Goldberg said.
As with drugs like marijuana, caffeine is absorbed into the bloodstream faster if you inhale it than if you eat or drink it. With coffee, the caffeine you’re drinking is typically diluted with milk or water. But vaporized caffeine can be inhaled much more quickly, and Goldberg is concerned that caffeine vapers might up their consumption over time.
Elliot Mashford, the president of Eagle Energy Vapor, said the company is taking steps to ensure its product’s safety. “We don’t require FDA approval because we’re a dietary supplement,” he told Business Insider. But just in case, the company is currently conducting clinical trials in Northridge, California. The vaporizers are manufactured in China and imported through Canada, and the company tests every shipment to confirm there’s no nicotine in it.
Mashford and his family and friends have been using the product for five months with no side effects, he said.
What it’s like to inhale caffeine
Alex Williams, a style reporter for the Times, tried the Eagle Energy Vapor. He claimed that after five puffs of caffeine, his fingers tingled, and after 10, he felt a buzz. But the experience was a little bizarre: “it felt a bit as if one had been freebasing a Jolly Rancher Cherry Stix,” Williams said.
Given the potential downsides of caffeine vaping, perhaps we should stick to traditional coffee for now.
And “maybe, people should focus on a better night’s sleep,” Goldberg said.
You're probably better off with a plain old cup of coffee.