Health scares make sensational news. The latest health panic making the rounds in the media is a string of vaping-related illnesses.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the current vape scare. Is it cannabis vapes, or nicotine vapes, or both? Have legal, regulated cannabis vape cartridges caused any issues, or is it just those sold illegally? 

With an abundance of fear and a lack of answers surrounding the issue, consumers are understandably on high alert.

Part of the problem is the mainstream media and health professional’s misunderstanding of cannabis products. The term e-cigarette is used as a catch-all term for all vapes. This terminology is confusing for cannabis users, who just call them vapes. When health officials refer to e-cigarettes, they mean both those that deliver nicotine and cannabis.

The Issue at Hand

So what is the panic about? According to the CDC:

“As of September 6, 2019, over 450 possible cases of lung illness associated with the use of e-cigarette products have been reported to CDC.”

There have been 33 states with reports, and five confirmed deaths in California, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, and Oregon.

Washington state is not on that list, but local cannabis processors who sell vaporizer cartridges are getting ahead of the issue and releasing statements.

“In recent days, there have been media reports regarding additives and the dangers of vaping,” Leafwerx said in a statement. “This creates an opportune time for brands that hold cleanliness, quality and most importantly consumer safety as the highest regard to provide insight into their respective processes and products.  Instances that question health concerns and the quality of any cannabis product reflect poorly on the entire industry.”

Leafwerx doesn’t use additives or cutting agents. Additives and cutting agents are hypothesized to be the cause of the issues.

Many of these statements blame Vitamin E acetate for this string of vaping-related lung illness. Vitamin E is an additive commonly used in vape cartridges. 

In a statement titled “The Vitamin E Epidemic,” Bodhi High explained the risks of cannabis products containing the additive.

“When inhaled, Vitamin E acetate can have adverse effects on lung function. Cases across the country have indicated using Vitamin E oil as an additive in marijuana vape products could be one of the causes behind vape-related illnesses. High levels of Vitamin E acetate was found in nearly half of all cannabis- containing samples tested by FDA investigators.”

Is Vitamin E the additive solely responsible for these health issues? Experts aren’t sure.

Identifying the Cause

Experts agree Vitamin E acetate is dangerous when inhaled. But Vitamin E acetate is far from the only risky component to vaping.

Health official seem to have a more nuanced understanding of the many potential risks of vaping.

“We do not know the exact cause of the lung injury,” Health Officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County, Jeffrey S. Duchin, MD told The Sesh. “Vape smoke contains a number of potential toxins that can act alone and in combination to cause adverse health effects depending on the type of device and additives used.” 

No one ingredient in vapes has been identified as the problem. Certain products do appear to be more dangerous than others, however.

 “There is more suspicion among some investigators, based on incomplete data, of increased risk from illicit THC- or CBD-containing products,” Duchin explained. “Especially products purchased ‘on the street,’ [or that have] manipulated vaping devices and additives, compared with products obtained through authorized dealers and used according to manufacturers’ recommendations, however that is not known with certainty at this time.”

Duchin goes on to recommend that youth, young adults, and pregnant women not vape. He also urges anyone who has vaped ‘in the last 90 days and develops shortness of breath to see their health care provider.’

Cannabis Vaping Death in Oregon

There has been one death linked to legally purchased cannabis vape cartridges in Oregon.

After a death in July, OHA Public Health division investigators received reports that the individual who died had recently bought legal cannabis oil from a dispensary and consumed it with a vaporizer before their death. 

According to OHA officials, the individual’s symptoms followed the same pattern as the current outbreak of vaping illnesses.

“We don’t yet know the exact cause of these illnesses — whether they’re caused by contaminants, ingredients in the liquid or something else, such as the device itself,” said Ann Thomas, M.D., public health physician at OHA’s Public Health Division.

The name of the company that produced the cannabis vape cartridge linked to the death, and the name of the dispensary that sold the product, haven’t been released to the public.

Keeping Cannabis Consumers Safe

Health professionals are scrambling to find answers. Cannabis processors and producers are seeking to prove their products are safe. This leaves cannabis consumers caught in the middle. It stands to reason that the more transparent cannabis processors are about their test results and ingredients, the safer their products are. 

The science of vaping is still new. Because of this, it will take time before health professionals and cannabis processors can provide the answers everyone is seeking.