The cannabis industry is experiencing a massive health scare because of contaminated vape cartridges that have more than likely led to 530 hospitalizations and seven deaths. At the moment, lawmakers and researchers remain dumbfounded by the mysterious vaping illness characterized by cough, shortness of breath, and vomiting.
While the vaping illness cases pale in comparison to other more insidious substances, it’s important to understand the context of these cases and steer clear of tainted vape cartridges. All cannabis users can benefit from heeding warnings released by health experts.
Vape Cartridge Health Scare
On September 6, 2019, a press briefing from representatives of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned the public about an increase of vape-related conditions that have led to emergency room visits and deaths.
Dr. Dana Meany Delman, Incident Manager for the CDC, said during the briefing that “no specific e-cigarette device or substance has been linked to all cases, and e-cigarettes include a variety of chemicals and additives; consumers may not know what these products contain. Particularly, [with] products obtained from social sources or off the street, it is difficult to know what is contained in these e-cigarette products.”
Meany Delman went on to say that “based on the clinical laboratory evidence to date, we believe that a chemical exposure is likely associated with the illnesses….We are aware that some laboratories have identified vitamin E acetate in product samples, and we have connected those laboratories with the FDA forensic laboratories to compare results.” For now, however, there’s no specific product or compound that’s been linked to all the cases.
Vape Cartridge Cutting Agents and Contaminants
Black market cartridges that replicate popular vape brands are hard to distinguish from the original product. Consumers who seek lower cannabis prices or don’t realize a dispensary is unlicensed may end up purchasing contaminant-laced vape oils. Because unlicensed operations don’t undergo third-party lab testing, they can use pesticides and other harmful contaminants to increase the yield of their crop. In concentrates, the pesticides are concentrated, and inhalation may cause negative health effects.
Some cannabis companies, especially illegal marijuana extraction companies, may introduce cutting agents to improve the consistency and experience of the vape oil. For instance, polyethylene glycol (PEG) is a cutting agent used to keep the contents in the vape cartridge evenly mixed. Propylene glycol (PE) is another cutting agent used to improve the consistency of the vape oil and its ability to be vaporized.
PE and PEG have been deemed safe for human ingestion, but the jury’s still out on their effects when inhaled. One 2010 study found that inhaling PG could worsen asthma and allergy-related symptoms. Other studies have found that PG and PEG can produce formaldehyde and acetaldehyde when heated. These are known carcinogens.
Vitamin E acetate, the newly nefarious additive, has been used as a cutting agent. While Vitamin E acetate is considered safe for food or topical application, the agent can cause respiratory illnesses when inhaled. Doctors from the University of Utah published their findings on six cases of the vaping-related respiratory syndrome. They found that immune cells called macrophages contained oily residue, which could lead to vaping-related lung injuries.
Vape-Related Injury Symptoms
A wide range of the most popular cannabis brands are suffering from counterfeit products stealing their market share. According to health experts, regular use of fake cannabis vape cartridges may lead to cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, and fatigue. In some cases, these symptoms were severe enough to warrant life-support assistance with oxygen, ventilator masks, and antibiotics.
How to Protect Yourself from Vaping-Related Injuries
Vaping, in general, is considered a slightly better alternative to smoking due to a lack of combustion of plant material. The long-term effects of vaping, however, are still not clear. If you’re a regular or first-time concentrate cartridge user, there are a few key ways you can reduce your risk of developing a vaping-related illness.
If you live in a state with medical or recreational marijuana laws, the best way to avoid harmful vape oils is to purchase products from licensed retail locations and delivery services. Most of the vaping injuries have been linked to the illegal cannabis market. Consumers can turn to popular dispensary directories for verified products. However, this can be misleading, since some platforms advertise illegal dispensaries. Additionally, consumers can search for vape cartridge companies that don’t use any cutting agents.
You can also compare prices for the same product across multiple dispensaries. If one of the dispensaries lists the product way below the market rate, that could be a sign of a counterfeit product. Fake vape cartridges are sold using nearly identical packaging as top-selling cannabis brands. Check out the brand’s website or social media to find tips and tricks on distinguishing their product from a fake.
The vaping-related health crisis is relatively small compared to other national epidemics, but nevertheless, consumers should do their best to avoid contaminant-laced products. Vape cartridges aren’t the only products counterfeited. Edibles, topicals, and other cannabis-infused products are at risk of being reproduced by the black market. As long as you do your research and ask for third-party lab data, you can rest easy knowing that you are vaping as safe as you can. Enroll in Cannabis Training University to learn more about health concerns around cannabis medicinal products.