Yesterday we learned that a seventh person has died from the growing epidemic of "vaping-associated respiratory illness" that is sweeping the country. In the six previous deaths, authorities released information about the products used in three of them, each of which involved vaping marijuana, not electronic cigarettes.
Although authorities did not release information about what caused this seventh death, family members apparently attribute it to the use of an illicit THC vape cart. It's not clear, however, whether the brand used - a Lucky Charms CUREpen - was real or whether it was a counterfeit product that was packaged in the same packaging. Cannabis insiders have been warning us since last January about the dangers of counterfeit THC vape carts that started to go into wide distribution around that time. How prescient they were!
All in all, marijuana vaping has been associated with approximately 90% of the cases. Although about 10% of cases reported using only nicotine-based e-liquids, we know that there is significant under-reporting of THC use by youth. In addition, many youth may actually not know what is in their cartridges. Moreover, we know that there are many counterfeit cartridges on the market. Finally, the CDC has not recommended that case patients be tested for THC so its use cannot be ruled out. In fact, unless THC testing was conducted, the use of THC oils cannot be ruled out in any of the cases.
Given these facts, you would think that health authorities would issue very clear warnings to youth to avoid vaping marijuana, especially illicit THC vape carts that are purchased off the street.
The Rest of the Story
Instead, here is what one physician is telling the public in an article published by The Mighty:
"The Mighty spoke to Meghan Cirulis, M.D.,
a physician and researcher at the University of Utah. She has led a
number of studies on lung diseases and was recently involved in research
for the New England Journal of Medicine
identifying markers physicians could use to diagnose vaping-induced
lung injury. Is there a safe way to vape? “At
this stage, I would say no,” Dr. Cirulis said. “Until we figure this
out, I think vaping puts people at immediate risk of health consequences
that can be severe, even fatal.”
"She added that while some vape
products may seem safer than others, we can’t make reliable risk
assessments until these products are studied more. Cirulis said that
while a “higher proportion of cases” have been linked to e-cigarettes
containing CBD and THC, she “wouldn’t consider any product higher or
lower risk” until more information is available. “We have definitely
seen cases in patients only using nicotine products,” she noted. A
lot of discussion has centered on legal versus illegal e-cigarettes,
but Cirulis said that at the moment, it’s not clear commercial vapes are
safer than “street” vapes. “Some of the cases have reported use of only
commercial e-liquids — so I wouldn’t say any product is ‘safe’
currently,” she told us."
"This is in part because even legally sold
vape products are subject to very little government oversight. “I have
found it interesting that we still don’t really know exactly what is
causing the issue,” said Cirulis. “I think [it] speaks to how poorly
regulated the e-cigarette market really is — we have no idea what is in
even the commercially sold e-liquids.”"
So the main points this physician is making are:
1. The vaping of any e-liquid, even if it is a product that has been on the market for ten years and has caused no problems, is dangerous and could be fatal.
2. No e-liquids are any safer than any others. They are all equally risky. Vaping illicit THC carts purchased off the black market is no more dangerous than vaping a nicotine-containing e-cigarette purchased from a reputable retailer and made by a reputable company.
3. It is no riskier to buy a vaping cartridge off the street where you have no idea what is in the e-liquid than to purchase an e-cigarette from a retail store made by a reputable manufacturer where you know exactly what is in the e-liquid.
This is just crazy. And irresponsible.
There is no way I would give the public advice that buying a THC vape cart from some drug dealer on the street is just as safe as buying an electronic cigarette from a reputable retailer. Or for that matter, that buying a THC vape cart from some drug dealer on the street is just as safe as buying a THC vaping liquid sold at a licensed dispensary.
As inaccurate, uninformed, and irresponsible is this advice, I don't completely blame the physician. I think that physicians are relying on the CDC to do its job and they listen to what the CDC has to say. And so far, the CDC has essentially been saying the same thing. They have lumped all vaping together and have not clearly stated that using THC vape carts is more risky than using traditional e-cigarettes.
I have never seen such a dismissal of the idea that there are gradations in risk. Apparently, I missed the memo that told us that from now on, everything is either dangerous or not. There is no middle ground and everything gets lumped together.
Unfortunately, whoever sent that memo is endangering the lives of our nation's youth.