In case you've been living under a rock, there has been a vaping crisis sweeping the nation. Vaping has been under much scrutiny, especially after the US Surgeon General declared it an epidemic in December 2018 (prior to the current pandemic rightfully distracting us).
Originally, the fight against vaping was due to defective batteries that could explode. Although a rare occurrence, there were numerous deaths reported. There were also reports of some consumers experiencing seizures. Now, the CDC has reported over 2,600 serious lung injuries related to vaping– including vapes for both tobacco and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). That number has increased by as much as 200 in just two weeks, adding to the scare. To make matters worse, little is known about what is causing these injuries.
With the outbreak showing no signs of slowing down, the federal and state governments are doing what they can to limit the damage. The CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued clear warnings to consumers against using any vaping device, THC, tobacco, or neither. Some states, including Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington, have placed temporary bans of some sort on vaping products in an attempt to avoid more injury cases.
What Do We Know?
In a March announcement by the CDC, we learned that a majority of the injuries were suffered by younger victims aged under 35 years old – 80% of the cases to be exact. 15% of the cases involved those under the age of 18. Of all the cases, the CDC has reported 26 deaths across 21 states. Those states include Indiana, Kansas (2), Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, California (3), Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia (2), Illinois, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oregon (2), Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia.
A majority of the deaths were reported in older victims with an average age of 49 years old. The CDC continues to investigate more deaths. Although test results have come back mixed for the most part, it was found that 76% of the victims reported using products containing THC. In comparison, 58% of the victims reported using both THC and tobacco products, while only 13% used only tobacco products.
A lot of the confusion stems from the fact that it's happening in all vapes, just more frequently in THC products. Scientists are also having difficulty finding any one substance in all the samples. Mixed results and inconsistencies are causing several obstacles for the FDA in its investigation.
Is Cannabis Still Safe?
Vaporizers are considered to be the safest method of smoking, as they leave zero chance of producing combustive smoke and also allows you to avoid the health risks associated with smoking. The same goes for e-cigarettes, with these being around for even longer. When taking all of these factors into consideration, it's no wonder that people everywhere, every day are making the switch from combustibles to vaping.
For those who are nervous that this could be the downfall of cannabis, think again. The many health benefits that the plant provides is backed by powerful scientific research and is in no way under doubt during this investigation. These health benefits include, but aren't limited to:
- Providing relief from chronic pain
- Improving lung capacity
- Regulating seizures
- Helping with ADHD
- Managing stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders
As of now, the FDA is more focused on certain ingredients and additives in the oil solution that might be causing these lung injuries. They fear that it's not the THC, but the additives that our bodies are not reacting positively to.
Searching For a Possible Cause
In their research, the FDA has uncovered several potential causes that have been linked to the outbreak of lung injuries in vape consumers. A major concern is in vaping products bought off the streets. With no way of regulating this, the possibilities are endless as far as what could be in that product.
One box of counterfeit products found in the US was said to contain a pesticide that turned into cyanide when heated. This is definitely something that shouldn't be inhaled into our lungs. Some reports suggest that it's not just the chemicals in the liquids and oils that cause concern, but the device itself could contain harmful chemicals. There were also reports of some counterfeit products being made with butane honey oil (BHO), which is known as the most dangerous way of extracting cannabis.
Through analyzing a wide variety of vape samples containing THC, the FDA has been trying to find similar substances in all of them that could be causing the injuries. Unfortunately, they haven't found one substance that appeared in all of the samples. This is causing the FDA to suggest that there are multiple reasons consumers could be experiencing these lung issues. One substance that has been found in nearly half of the samples is vitamin E acetate.
Used to cheaply thin the THC oil in the vape cartridges, this chemical is the oil derived from vitamin E. Despite it being safe for consumption as a supplement or a topical, there are growing concerns about the effects when inhaled. In addition to the vitamin E acetate, the FDA has found numerous other chemicals including metals, cutting agents, pesticides, among others.
What Can You Do to Protect Yourself?
With so much unknown in this investigation, the worst thing we can do is make it definitive and assume that vaping is dangerous.
In the meantime, it's important to remain on the lookout for more information from the CDC, FDA, and local organizations. The good news is, there are plenty of other ways to consume cannabis without ever touching a vaping product. If you're looking for something to inhale, flower is always a good choice. For those that aren't a fan of flower, edibles are an easy and fun alternative. Even certain topicals will give you the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) if you're trying to avoid THC all together. Either way, there are safer ways of enjoying cannabis. If vape products are the preferred choice, only purchase from a trusted and regulated source. Ask the retailer for more info on what ingredients were used in making the product – both the oils and devices. It is also suggested to heat your vape at the lowest temperature possible.
Just because current law is murky, doesn't mean consumers can't continue to enjoy ourselves in the realm of cannabis -- all is good in moderation and well-conducted research.