Lately, it seems like one issue has been creating more anxiety in cannabis users than both Jeff Sessions and bud rot combined. Cannabis oil vaping-related illnesses are raging across the nation like wildfire, leaving a swath of injured people and freaked-out consumers in its wake.
The federal government isn't helping at all. It seems the Trump administration and a number of legislators are taking advantage of the situation to attack e-cig companies and ensure that the tobacco industry continues to corner the market on murdering people for profit. All the while, the real culprit, cannabis prohibition and the black market it creates, doesn't even seem to be part of the conversation.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 1,080 cases of acute lung disease associated with vaping have been reported in 48 states as of Oct. 1. There have been 18 related deaths confirmed in 15 states at the same time. But health officials are still in the dark as to what's causing the outbreak.
So far, the only big connection between the various cases around the country are their symptoms. Most involved an acute toxic lung injury associated with a single, or limited, use and patients did not appear to be suffering from an active infection (although many of the cases appear to have involved long-term users of vaping products). Those afflicted have experienced shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, fever, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. The injuries resemble chemical burns.
The source of these injuries is still unclear. According to the CDC, all of the patients reported having used e-cigarettes in the past. “Most” patients reported a history of using THC vaping products, and “findings suggest products containing THC play a role in the outbreak,” said the agency.
A leading theory is that these injuries are being caused by an adulterant that's been added to THC cartridges. In September, the Food and Drug Administration said it was “following any potential leads, including the presence of Vitamin E acetate found in many of the samples containing THC.” In a more recent warning, the agency avoided mentioning the chemical specifically—maybe because the cannabis community had been so quick to jump on the scapegoat bandwagon before more information was made available.
But the chemical's presence should not be ignored. Vitamin E acetate is safely used as an additive in topical treatments, like skin cream and lotion. It's also often ingested orally in the form of a vitamin supplement. And it's fairly cheap to order online. It's not, however, used as an additive in cannabis oil cartridges. So if health officials are looking for a dangerous adulterant, they'd be hard pressed to find a better one. Testing the theory out might prove difficult as well, considering the damage that would be done to test subjects. And don't forget: This is still a fresh outbreak in terms of how agencies like the CDC respond. After all, they're responsible for public health at large and can't go off shooting from the hip.
And while state leaders and evening newscasters continued to gleefully quote the death toll and argue over flavored e-juice and teens, over 800 cannabis companies joined the National Cannabis Industry Association early in October to sign a letter pointing out the glaringly obvious source of this health crisis.
“The recent illnesses are an unmistakable reminder of the importance of effective regulation,” the letter reads. “If it is confirmed that Americans are being hurt because of unregulated, illicit market cannabis vape products, it is yet another reason for real, comprehensive federal cannabis reform … The current patchwork of state regulations highlights the need for uniformity. And uniformity comes with descheduling and federal regulation.” The letter rightfully points out that “there are no illness outbreaks related to tainted alcohol in this country.” The NCIA also released a set of recommendations to establish a federal regulatory structure for cannabis and hemp products through existing federal agencies.
Good luck. Our nation's lawmakers are currently too busy playing grabass with the tobacco companies to actually care about fixing the real problem. The conversation was immediately hijacked by discussions about the dangers of vaping and the deliberate luring of children through the use of flavored e-juice—a valid conversation, but one that's completely unrelated to the problem. It's almost like our government isn't all that concerned with our health and well-being after all. Weird.
Until the exact source of the injuries is discovered, the CDC, FDA and even your local New Mexico Department of Health have warned users to stop buying illicit THC cartridges and—if at all possible—discontinue the use of THC cartridges altogether.