The vape-lung crisis that started proliferating across the United States in August has allegedly claimed the lives of 47 people in 25 states and the District of Columbia; three of the deaths occurred in Massachusetts. An additional 2,300 people have been affected in every U.S. state. This is all according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Fingers were initially being pointed at black market dealers initially, but a recent update from the Department of Public Health suggests that state-licensed dispensaries are also to blame for the health crisis. Six patients in Massachusetts with likely cases of vaping-related lung problems have reported falling ill after using regulated cannabis products sold inside state-licensed dispensaries.
As a result, a handful of branded products containing the psychoactive cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) were deemed dangerous after being used by patients with suspected cases/confirmed cases of lung illness; “Dank” labeled products constituted a large portion of the dangerous products.
This information was released by the state on Thursday, December 5. However, state officials have not confirmed which products are regulated or unregulated. State data indicates that 22 out of 90 sick individuals in Massachusetts used THC vape products that were purchased from illegal sources.
President of the Massachusetts Cannabis Business Association, David O’Brien, has urged state officials to disclose the names of licensed companies suspected of selling contaminated goods. His company provides representation for legal cannabis companies in the state.
“The industry wants to know if there’s cause for alarm so we can address it. If they think the companies have an issue, they should tell the companies at least, and tell the ,” O’Brien said, adding that, “I’ve not heard of any other cases being linked to regulated products.”
Discovery of Vitamin E Acetate Concerns
A “breakthrough” laboratory discovery was announced by CDC officials on November 8, when the lung fluids of 29 sick people were found to contain vitamin E acetate. Officials are concerned that vitamin E acetate is the main chemical that has cost many people their lives and health in the U.S. as of late.
Although the stable form of vitamin E is commonly used as a skincare aid, it can be lethal when added to vaping or e-cigarette products. Moreover, additional substances should not be added to vape products sold in retail establishments. Unfortunately, it’s happening anyway, as vendors battle to undercut one another, on price, by diluting THC oil with alternative substances.
According to the CDC, THC-rich products obtained from “informal sources” – such as street dealers and online dealers – are the most high-risk. The agency believes that these products are mostly to blame for the vape-lung crisis. On the other hand, Agency officials have admitted that they cannot dismiss the potential of contaminated THC vape products having already infiltrated the legal market.
The CDC has alerted people who vape that they should be on the lookout for the following symptoms associated with vaping-related lung problems:
- Respiratory issues, such as chest pain, shortness of breath and persistent cough
- Gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea, stomach pain, nausea or vomiting
- Unexplained weight loss
- Temperature problems, such as chills or fever
While some patients claim that their symptoms surfaced within a couple of days, others say that they noticed their symptoms linger and worsen over a number of weeks.
Massachusetts THC Vape Product Ban Comes to an End
Legal recreational cannabis sales kicked off in Massachusetts in November 2018. The state is certainly feeling the effects of the vape-lung crisis, what with the sale of THC vaporizer products – not including dry herb vape products – recently being banned by the Cannabis Control Commission (CCC). However, the ban was lifted prematurely on December 11.
According to the CCC, data will now be analyzed to determine if there is, in fact, a direct connection between THC vape products and sickness.
“Immediately, the Commission will use this new data toward its ongoing investigation into whether marijuana products manufactured by Massachusetts licensees contain substances or contaminants of concern and thoroughly explore the origin of the products identified by DPH,” said a spokesperson for the Agency.
As of December 2019, 11 states have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes and 33 states have legalized medical use. Nonetheless, cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under federal law. Until restrictions are lifted and the plant is more tightly regulated, the illicit market will continue to thrive. Furthermore, federal legalization would establish a better set of rules for product testing, thus enhancing consumer safety overall.