Vaping Deaths Caused by Vitamin E Acetate, CDC Says


Dec. 27 2019, Published 7:04 p.m. ET

Vaping concerns have affected the US widely this year. While marijuana is gaining support and popularity, vaping deaths have raised questions about its legalization. According to reports, vaping caused 54 deaths and 2,500 hospitalization cases this year. The CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) started investigating to find the cause, and it appears the agency has the answer. Let’s take a look.

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Vitamin E acetate found to be the reason for vaping deaths

When vaping-related health concerns increased, New York investigators discovered that vitamin E acetate found in the vaping cartridges could be related to the lung injury (or EVALI) outbreak. So, the CDC and FDA started investigating cases where admitted patients had used cartridges containing vitamin E acetate. This Fox News report discussed how various vaping devices use vitamin E acetate to thicken marijuana juice. Most illegal vape devices contain this substance.

Recently, an NPR report stated that the CDC confirmed that vitamin E acetate caused the vaping-related illnesses and deaths. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, confirmed that vitamin E acetate caused the increase in EVALI since June. The CDC’s investigation revealed that lung samples of patients with EVALI showed traces of vitamin E acetate, which is present in illegal vape devices. However, the CDC is still investigating how this substance affects the lungs.

It is interesting to note how the CDC came to this conclusion. Firstly, the agency used a health surveillance system that was initially designed after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The data showed that emergency room visits for vaping-related issues had increased since January 2017.

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Secondly, the CDC narrowed its search, targeting a particular age group. Finally, the results pointed to an increase in vaping illnesses since June 2019. Most of the reasons matched with the one first reported in Wisconsin, which showed vitamin E acetate as the case. The CDC analyzed 51 EVALI cases from 16 states. However, the CDC doesn’t completely rule out the effects of other chemicals from vaping.

Vaping gained popularity as an alternative to smoking

People interested in quitting smoking chose to vape as an alternative. Vaping creates vapor by heating nicotine, flavorings, or marijuana products. Note that vaping is less harmful than smoking, as tobacco cigarettes contain more toxic chemicals. However, vaping is not entirely a safe option.

Marijuana plants also include THC (or tetrahydrocannabinol), which could be harmful in higher doses. Additionally, the effects of marijuana can vary from person to person. Moreover, most vaping devices that caused these issues contained THC.

Research has shown medical cannabis has multiple health benefits. However, it can also cause harmful effects such as paranoia and delusions. Furthermore, marijuana can affect learning, memory, movement, and judgment.

So, the CDC has issued the following warnings:

  • People should not use THC-containing e-cigarettes or vaping products
  • One should avoid informal sources such as friends, family, or online dealers to obtain a vaping device.
  • People should not modify or add any substances to a vaping device, if not added by the manufacturer.
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Will vaping concerns affect the legalization decision?

Many states are gearing up to legalize cannabis, especially since Canadian cannabis companies are launching a variety of cannabis products. Also, surveys show that people are more inclined to try edibles than smoking or vaping cannabis.

In the US, Minnesota, Michigan, Illinois, and Maryland are taking steps to legalize marijuana. Many people feel legal marijuana would be able to diminish the black market, which could help address these concerns. So, there has been a push for legalization.

To stop the sale of illicit devices, the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration started Operation Vapor Lock. NPR reported that as part of this operation, these agencies have seized 44 websites advertising the sale of these illegal products.

The black marijuana market in California is a huge concern. A Wall Street Journal article noted that an audit this year confirmed the presence of 2,835 unlicensed dispensaries in California. Additionally, California has reported 120 cases of EVALI since June. The article also argues that the US should take a break in pushing for legalization and understand its effects better.

In my view, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of marijuana, and I agree that thorough research is needed. However, quality research requires significant funding, which might require federal government intervention.

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Cannabis companies ready to launch vape products amid concerns

Canada legalized vapes, concentrates, and edibles in October. Cannabis companies are prepared to launch vape products amid these concerns. However, these vaping concerns are mostly limited to the US. However, Health Canada has also taken precautions and issued warnings related to vaping. Take a look at Vaping Risks: Health Canada’s Warning, US Reports More Cases to know more.

Health Canada has also supported vaping over smoking. So, cannabis companies are more inclined to expand their vape and edibles offerings. Canopy Growth mentioned in its Q2 of fiscal 2020 earnings call that it has worked to launch the highest-quality and most differentiated vape and edibles products. Canopy has a deal with Greenlane Holdings to distribute its vaporizers in the US market.

Aurora Cannabis also stated in its first quarter of fiscal 2020 earnings call that its first wave of products for Cannabis 2.0 would include vapes, concentrates, gummies, chocolates, mints, and cookies. Aphria and Organigram (OGI) are also planning to launch vape products in 2020. Also, Aphria has a deal with PAX Labs to develop vapes and concentrate products.

Concluding thoughts

Because the marijuana black market is the root cause of these problems, Canada has encouraged the opening of more legal stores to tackle black market sales. Cannabis sales in Canada declined drastically this year, driven by higher black market sales. Please read Cannabis Sales Decline Across Canada—Why? to know more about this issue.

Ontario is working on lenient cannabis laws to increase retail sales. However, three of the largest provinces in Canada won’t see cannabis products until 2020. Manitoba could see cannabis edibles products this week.

Cannabis stocks that struggled this year expect a turnaround in 2020. Major Canadian players Aurora Cannabis (ACB), Canopy Growth (CGC) (WEED), Cronos (CRON), Hexo (HEXO), and Aphria (APHA) have lost 50.8%, 32.4%, 37.4%, 84.6%, and 18.2%, respectively, year-to-date.

Stay with us through 420 Investor Daily for ongoing cannabis news.


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