While a handful of politicians mix up black market THC products and regulated nicotine vapor products, at least the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) are zeroing in on the products which are actually sickening and killing consumers.
From 860 of the approximately 1,604 individuals who have fallen prey to acute lipoid pneumonia, 85 percent have reported using black market THC products. 10 percent claim to have used regulated nicotine vapor products only; the latter claim, however, makes little sense. If only 10 percent of those 1,604 cases insist they have used only legal products, we should expect the incidence of sickness from legal products to be much higher than a mere 160 consumers out of an approximate ~41 million people known to vape in 2018, according to the BBC. If we engage in a touch of conjecture for a moment, we might suspect that the more likely explanation here is that 10 percent of respondents simply feared the legal or familial repercussions of confessing to THC use which may be illegal in their state of residence.
According to Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
“The data do continue to point towards THC-containing products as the source of individuals’ injury.”
The CDC states that it hasn’t yet determined the precise constituent compound within these black market vapes which is triggering illness in consumers, “but we’re seeing THC as a marker for products that are risky.” Schuchat points out.
Long suspected as the culprit is Vitamin E oil, otherwise known as Vitamin E acetate. Although Vitamin E oil is considered safe to consume by mouth or applied to the skin, health officials warn that, when inhaled, it could cause symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and chest pain — precisely the symptoms presented by patients who have vaped black market THC.
According to the Bend Bulletin, the FDA is currently testing 900 samples of these black market THC vapes, as well as engaged in running down the supply chain delivering them to consumers. This effort includes working with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Postal Service at international mail facilities in order to determine how — and from where — these products are entering the United States.
While the most recent reports indicate that the emergence of new cases has plateaued or may even now be in decline, Schuchat warns that this apparent slowdown in new cases may be due to logistical factors which impact reporting, rather than an actual decline in incidents themselves.
However, she does allow that, “It’s also possible that warnings about THC are having an effect.”
We certainly hope that that’s the case. Public health is best served by timely and accurate information.