The CDC has finally admitted that black market THC vape carts are a major culprit in the respiratory disease outbreak that has affected 805 people and resulted in 13 deaths. Instead of continuing to emphasize that "no single product" is linked to all the cases, the CDC clearly stated yesterday that "THC is the most prominent link across patients" and the agency changed its warning to specifically mention THC: "While this investigation is ongoing, CDC recommends that persons consider refraining from using e-cigarette, or vaping, products, particularly those containing THC."
Because of the CDC's long overdue acknowledgment of the primary role of illicit THC vape carts, newspaper headlines are finally telling the story like it should be told. For example, the headline of an article in the Regina Leader-Post reads: "CDC recommends against using vapes with THC due to lung illnesses." An article by NASDAQ is entitled: "U.S. CDC recommends against using vapes with marijuana ingredient." And the headline of a New York Times article reads: "Dank Vapes, TKO and Other THC Vaping Brands Are Linked to Illnesses, C.D.C. Says."
These are the kinds of clear, specific messages that we should have seen in newspapers two months ago.
In an emergency MMWR publication, the CDC reported that of cases in which there was information on the products used, 84% of patients admitted to vaping THC. But in contrast to previous publications, instead of immediately undermining this important finding by emphasizing that "no single product" can be linked to all the cases, the CDC instead emphasized that there are multiple reasons why many patients might not report using THC even if they did: "patients might not always know what substances they use or might be
hesitant to reveal use of substances that are not legal in their state."
In a separate article covering patients from Illinois and Wisconsin, the CDC revealed that: "Use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing e-cigarette products, the
majority of which were prefilled cartridges obtained from informal
sources, was reported by 87% of patients during the 3 months preceding
illness." Importantly, CDC finally admitted that: "the predominant use of prefilled THC-containing cartridges among
patients with lung injury associated with e-cigarette use suggests that
they play an important role."
The CDC also reported that: "In Wisconsin, eight patients initially denied using THC-containing
products in interviews, but five (63%) were later found to have used THC
through review of medical charts, reinterview, or cross-referencing
with friends who were also interviewed as patients."
Finally, the CDC finally provided very specific information about the black market THC vape carts that were used: "Although no single brand name was reported by all patients, a prefilled
THC cartridge sold under the brand name Dank Vapes was reported by 57
In Wisconsin, two groups of friends (two patients in one group and
three in the second group) who became ill after using THC-containing
cartridges specifically reported sharing Dank Vapes cartridges. Dank
Vapes was the only e-cigarette product reported by one of the patients."
The Rest of the Story
I checked my blog and Twitter feed to determine when I first issued an explicit warning for people to avoid vaping black market THC vape cartridges. I issued such a warning on my blog on August 25th and on Twitter the same day. On August 28th, I tweeted the following: "The CDC isn't warning the public, so I'll do it myself: PLEASE do not vape THC oils that were purchased from any unlicensed seller. And spread the word to youth who might be at risk. Hiding the truth is not an effective public health strategy."
It took five weeks (35 days) after my warning before the CDC finally announced the major role of THC vape carts in the outbreak. During those 35 days, how many young people continued to use THC vape carts who might have stopped if the CDC had announced this connection 35 days earlier? How many people developed respiratory illness because of this failure?
Now that it is clear that the outbreak is not being caused by store-bought electronic cigarettes, but by THC vaping cartridges and perhaps other counterfeit black market products, it is critical that the five states which have banned e-cigarettes or flavored e-cigarettes (Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Michigan, New York, and Washington) rescind these bans and focus on limiting the illegal distribution of THC vaping products.