A friend of mine has been panicking about his status as a Vape Lord. He's one of those dweebs you see on the street corner, sucking nicotine vapor out of a box with flashing lights before blowing out heavy, thick clouds and looking around to see who's watching. “I read one study that says vaping is safe and another that says it'll kill you,” he told me, his voice rising with each syllable. “I don't know what to believe! People are dropping dead!”
“That's science,” I told him. I promised to do some legwork, but my spidey sense was buzzing away. The long-term effects of vaping are years from being conclusively found out, but divisive study results always make me edgy and skeptical. One thing that bothered me, though: It wasn't just nicotine e-juice that had people worried.
Last month, the New Mexico Department of Health released a warning concerning vaping and dabbing. According to the release, the department is investigating a number of reported cases of New Mexico residents who have developed lung disease after vaping or dabbing marijuana oils, extracts or concentrates in the weeks and months before being hospitalized. Patients reported shortness of breath, coughing and fatigue.
Last week the Department released further information on the investigation. According to the update, eight individual cases are under investigation. The patients range in age from 17 to 46 and reside in three counties: Santa Fe, Los Alamos and Bernalillo. Five of the eight patients are male. “All of patients who have been interviewed regarding vaping behavior reported the use of vape cartridges containing Tetra hydro cannabinol (THC) oil,” read the statement.
When asked to clarify the sources of the concentrates, David Morgan of DOH told this reporter that the patients reported receiving the cartridges “via black market sources in the weeks and months prior to illness, not from our Medical Cannabis Program dispensaries or vendors.”
Nevertheless, the agency is suggesting that consumers take care. “Because of the association of this very severe new disease with vaping THC, we are advising New Mexicans not to use these products out of an abundance of caution,” said DOH Cabinet Secretary Kathy Kunkel. “Our department is continuing to work with other state health departments and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate this new disease.”
A rash of what health officials say are vaping-related cases of lung disease have been occurring all over the country. According to CNBC, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are investigating 215 cases of lung disease in 25 states associated with vaping nicotine, THC or CBD. Last week a patient in Illinois died. Doctors reportedly say the patients seem to be suffering from an inhalation injury caused by contact with a caustic substance. Note that this is not from prolonged use but an acute injury.
The agencies say they still don't know what connects these cases. The products being investigated are varied and not necessarily comparable. A possible culprit could be propylene glycol or vegetable glycerin—chemicals used in nicotine-containing e-liquids and some of the cheaper or illicit sources of THC and CBD cartridges. But I find it highly unlikely. It's way too late in the game for acute injuries caused by these substances to suddenly occur out of nowhere.
So is this a health crisis that demands we all give up vaping for good? Possibly, but I won't be tossing out my vape pen anytime soon. If anything, I'm thinking this is a good example of how legalization on the federal level would create a system of regulation that could help people avoid problems like these. If it pans out that these instances were caused by black market substances—as we've seen here in New Mexico—then we can blame the need that drives citizens to partake in the illegal market instead of legitimate vaping.
In the meantime: If you notice yourself having trouble breathing or experience chest pain in the weeks or months after vaping, seek immediate medical attention.
A bizarre saga continues this week as a judge orders officials to allow out-of-state applicants into the Medical Cannabis Program.
Last month Ultra Health CEO and Arizona resident Duke Rodriguez and two Texans asked the DOH to allow out-of-state patients into the program, claiming the door was open after a wording change in the cannabis program expansion law defined a patient as a “person” instead of a “resident of New Mexico.”
According to the Albuquerque Journal, Judge Bryan Biedscheid ruled last week that “this statute, plainly and unambiguously, does away with the requirement of residence of the state of New Mexico.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham had some choice words to say on the matter. “We remain of the opinion that New Mexico’s medical cannabis program should not be bulldozed by an out-of-state litigant operating with his own financial interests at heart rather than those of the state’s medical program or of the many New Mexicans who depend upon it,” she said in a statement.
She added that the state will be appealing the decision.
Rodriguez was ecstatic. “We’re totally excited. It’s a tremendous victory for all medical cannabis patients,” he told reporters.