Sudden, serious lung illnesses that have struck people who used vaping devices have been tied in many cases to products that contain THC, the main active ingredient in marijuana, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
Health authorities have identified 450 cases of lung disease in people who used vaping products and have been racing to track down the cause. The CDC said in a statement that many of the people had used products containing THC, while others had used a combination of nicotine and THC. A smaller group reported using only nicotine products.
Health officials haven’t reached a final conclusions about the cause of the lung illnesses, which the CDC said was likely associated with some type of chemical exposure. But the agency said that people should consider not using e-cigarettes while they investigate, and watch for any symptoms of lung illness. They also warned against using any modified products or ones bought on the black market.
State health authorities in New York on Thursday said it may have been related to vitamin E acetate.
“We are committed to finding out what is making people sick,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield. “All available information is being carefully analyzed, and these initial findings are helping us narrow the focus of our investigation and get us closer to the answers needed to save lives.”
Three deaths have been reported, one each in Oregon, Illinois and Indiana. The death in Indiana was reported Friday. The state is investigating 30 cases of lung illnesses, eight of which have been confirmed, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.
A preliminary report of 53 patients with the lung illnesses in Illinois and Wisconsin found that 84% had used a product containing THC. The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Friday.
The rapid emergence of the mysterious lung illnesses has raised some concerns about the still-developing e-cigarette and legal marijuana industries. Investors have poured billions of dollars into numerous companies in both sectors, including the richly valued e-cigarette maker Juul Labs Inc., which has been criticized for its marketing practices.
Marijuana vaping products have become increasingly popular in recent years as a discreet way to take a quick puff of pot. The legal cannabis industry sees vaping as a way to draw in consumers beyond the experienced stoners who buy the bulk of traditional marijuana. In addition to being sold in the states that have legalized marijuana, THC vapes have become widely available on the black market.
In May, Curaleaf, the most valuable U.S. marijuana company, made a big bet on marijuana vapes, acquiring Cura Partners, the maker of the popular West Coast brand Select, in a stock deal valued at about $950 million.
The negatives headlines around vaping could have a short-term negative impact on the cannabis industry, but in the long run it will likely push consumers to credible brands sold in licensed stores, according to Aaron Riley, chief executive officer of CannaSafe, a Los Angeles-based cannabis testing lab. He doubts the popularity of weed vaping will decline in the long run.
“People will be more educated, but it’s not going to slow down,” he said.
New York Cases
New York’s health department on Thursday said it found 34 cases of severe lung illnesses in people who were using a cannabis-containing vape product, and that the products the department tested contained vitamin E acetate. Many of the people sickened had also used e-cigarette devices.
“Vitamin E acetate is now a key focus of the department’s investigation of potential causes of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses,” New York’s health department said in a statement Thursday.
Vitamin E acetate is often used in nutritional supplements or on the skin for its antioxidant effects. While thought to be harmless for those uses, it could carry risks when inhaled, said New York health officials.
The FDA is testing more than 100 samples of vaping products as part of its investigation for a broad range of chemicals, including nicotine, THC, pesticides, opioids, poisons and toxins.
“No one substance, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested,” Stephanie Caccomo, an agency spokeswoman, said in a statement Thursday.