Two deaths and 361 confirmed or suspected cases of lung illnesses in the U.S. that are linked to vaping e-cigarettes or illegal THC oil has sparked Health Canada to issue a second warning to Canadians.
The federal agency is asking Canadian who use vaporizers to monitor themselves for symptoms associated with the mysterious vaping pulmonary illness that’s becoming an epidemic in the U.S. The symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
A second reported death linked to vaping came Tuesday from Oregon health officials. The officials said the person died in July and recently had used a vape device containing THC bought from an Oregon recreational pot store. But lead investigator Dr. Ann Thomas told The New York Times it is unclear if the unnamed person was vaping cannabis from a regulated and tested source, or if they tampered with the device or added other ingredients.
Oregon officials said the person who died shared the same symptoms with those of 215 cases across 25 states that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is currently investigating. The first death was recorded in Illinois on Aug. 23, and U.S. state health departments have now reported 361 cases of the puzzling lung illness, according to NBC News.
Health Canada said it “has not seen any evidence of similar pulmonary illnesses occurring in Canada,” but the federal government is investigating and working close with the CDC and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The CDC began its investigation June 28 and since then has issued an official health advisory against vaping and has warned Americans not to buy vape products from the underground market.
North of the border, Health Canada provided a similar warning.
“Canadians are reminded that the purchase of vaping products outside the legal market may create additional risk as these products are unregulated and potentially unsafe, and thereby pose a risk to health and safety,” Health Canada said.
State authorities have echoed the CDC in saying that many cases involve products containing THC. But so far officials haven’t been able to determine the exact cause for the spate in illnesses.
“To date, the investigation has not identified any single substance or e-cigarette product that has been consistently associated with illness,” the CDC reported late August.
Twenty-one-year-old Ricky D’Ambrosio is currently in a California hospital with respiratory failure tied to vaping. His family posted his story on social media to warn others.
Vitamin E acetate in cannabis vape products linked to lung illnesses
New York officials have reported 34 cases of severe pulmonary disorders among patients who all used cannabis-containing vape products — and lab tests showed nearly all of those contained extremely high levels of vitamin E acetate.
The compound is an oil that is derived from vitamin E, which is a common nutritional supplement and not harmful if ingested or applied topically, the New York State Department of Health said. But when vitamin E acetate is heated and inhaled, it has a molecular structure that can be hazardous, officials said.
Vitamin E acetate is not an approved additive for authorized vape products under New York state’s medical marijuana program and it was not found in the nicotine-based products that were tested, the health department said. This signals the vape products were bought from the black market.
The FDA is now testing over 100 samples for vitamin E acetate in various states. But the agency has not ruled out other substances that might be causing the illnesses, including nicotine, THC and other cannabinoids, pesticides, cutting agents, poisons, toxins, diluents and other additives.
Legal cannabis oil will be tightly regulated in Canada
As vape-related illnesses continue to escalate, an online community is growing to inform one another which illicit cannabis vape products contain dangerous contaminants.
Mark Hoashi, founder of The Doja App, exposed how some products from the illegal brand Dank Vapes tested positive for fenhexamid, a synthetic fungicide that causes severe damage to the respiratory and central nervous systems.
The Dank Vapes brand was also among the cannabis vape products that New York health authorities found contain vitamin E acetate.
Cannabis oil concentrate for vape products will be legal and available for sale in Canada by the end of the year.
But the legal cannabis market in Canada is highly regulated and next-generation products like weed concentrate will be required to undergo thorough testing, according to Health Canada.
“With legal concentrate, it’s the purest way to consume cannabis,” said Laura Lepore, vice president of investor relations & communications with MediPharm Labs, in an earlier interview with Mugglehead.
“When you go through each step of the extraction process, we’re removing all of the impurities and what you’re left with is pure CBD or pure THC.”
MediPharm Labs (TSX:LABS) is a cannabis extraction company that expects to produce cannabis oil in millions of vape products for a number of licensed producers in Canada.
“People say the black market is really great, but it’s very hard to grow cannabis indoors without using pesticides – period,” Lepore adds. “So what comes from the black market, you don’t know what you’re putting into your body.”