Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Pieces of the Mysterious Lung Disease Puzzle Starting to Come Together, But CDC Continues to Endanger Health by Hiding the Critical Pieces

The pieces of the puzzle of what is causing the "mysterious" outbreak of acute, severe lung disease among more than 450 people--mostly youth and young adults--are starting to come together. Yesterday, new cases of this illness were reported in at least three states. They were said to be associated with "vaping." However, if you read the fine print, it turns out that all of these cases were associated with the use of black market THC vaping cartridges.

Georgia Public Radio announced two new cases of "vaping-related illness" in the state of Georgia. If you read down further in the article, you'll find out that "Both cases have a history of vaping, including THC."

The Lake County News-Sun announced a new case of respiratory illness in Illinois caused by the use of "electric cigarettes." If you read further down, you'll find out that the patient admitted that last year, he "began smoking sold-on-the-street 'dab sticks,' THC-filled devices made for e-cigs."

WSB-TV in Atlanta reported a new case of "vaping-related" respiratory illness in Georgia. If you read a little further down in the article, you'll find out that "he had recently vaped a liquid cannabis product."

The more cases that are closely examined, the more clear it becomes that this outbreak is primarily, if not entirely, explained by the vaping of illicit, black market THC cartridges.  

Importantly today, another piece of the puzzle came together. One of the inconsistent pieces of the puzzle was that although most of the cases appeared to be associated with black market THC cartridges, there was one death in Oregon that was reportedly associated with a THC vaping product purchased from a licensed dispensary. How could that have happened?

Well today that mystery may have been solved. A leading Oregon cannabis extraction company revealed that just this spring, it began selling THC cartridges that had been cut with vitamin E acetate oil. The product was apparently approved by the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) for use in legal recreational marijuana products sold at licensed dispensaries in the state.

Furthermore, the owner of this company explained that recently, there was a "revolutionary" change: the widespread introduction of a new diluent thickening agent (a vitamin E acetate oil) that was soon adopted "everywhere."

As explained in Willamette Week: "Jones is a leading figure in one of the most lucrative segments of the cannabis industry: butane hash oil, the honeylike distilled essence of cannabis plants. That extract can be used in vaporizer pens. He claimed in 2017 that he was making millions of dollars from the machine, called "Mr. Extractor," used to extract the hash oil. ... Jones writes that a Los Angeles-based company called HoneyCut first revolutionized diluent thickeners. He writes that these products have become hugely popular. "Through our research and testing we have found that almost every terpene and flavor manufacturer in the country is selling their version of Tocopheryl Acetate," Jones writes. Jones writes that when he met with the OLCC in the spring, he expressed to them that these additives would be "everywhere" within the next six months. ... Jones also writes that many of these diluent thickening products are now available through wholesale retailers online."

In light of the recent outbreak, Jones' company has discontinued the use of its vitamin E acetate product and apparently all other diluents. 

The Rest of the Story

Although the cause of this outbreak is becoming clearer and clearer, the CDC's messages to the public are becoming vaguer and vaguer. Instead of honing in on the importance of youth immediately stopping the use of black market THC vape cartridges, the CDC is instead continuing to put the blame on vaping in general, including electronic cigarettes manufactured by legally by reputable companies. 

The CDC is deviating from standard protocol used in disease outbreak investigations and health emergencies, and I believe this is because they have such a bias against electronic cigarettes that they refuse to let this opportunity to further demonize e-cigarettes go by, even though the evidence points in a completely different direction.

Not only is this putting the lives of our nation's youth at risk because the CDC is not warning them about the risks of using THC vape cartridges, but it is leading to irresponsible and irrational public policy. Within the past few days, the governor of Michigan implemented a ban on all flavored e-cigarettes, and politicians in the states of New York and Delaware announced that they will introduce similar legislation in those states.

These proposed flavored e-cigarette bans would be a public health disaster. They would result in thousands of ex-smokers returning to smoking as the products that are keeping them smoke-free are taken off the shelves. It would also create a new black market for e-cigarette products where one does not currently exist. And the most ironic result would be that in May 2020, when e-cigarettes in all of the other states fall under the jurisdiction of the FDA, these states' vaping products would be the only ones in the country that are unregulated. If this outbreak has taught us anything, it is the dangers posed by the black market. Who knows what kind of public health disasters lie ahead in Michigan and other states that ban e-cigarettes and then are hit with a huge black market for vaping products that are in extremely high demand by smokers and ex-smokers who want to protect their health.

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