Is Vaping the Villain? – Voices of Monterey Bay

Vape smoke | Adobe Stock photo


By Marcella McClure

Cannabis flowers have been smoked for thousands of years with no reports of causing disease, unlike tobacco. But can the same be said for vaping cannabis?

There is no data on the long-term outcome of the vaping of high THC concentrates. Cannabis buds contain from 4 to 30 percent THC, while extracted oils are 60 to 90 percent THC. In the last year there have been reports of illness and death from using e-cigarettes and/or vaping cannabis. What is this disease and what causes it? Is vaping cannabis oil dangerous? Let’s take a look at what we know at this time.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control indicate that the number of cases has decreased significantly and only a few new cases continue to be reported since October 2019.

In August 2019 there was a significant increase in the number of people going to the ER after using an e-cigarette or vaping. As of mid-January 2020, 2,711 people have been diagnosed with E-cigarette, or Vaping product use-Associated Lung Injury, which is now called EVALI, and 66 have died.

What are the symptoms of EVALI ?

Although the exact cause of EVALI is not known, it primarily occurs in the lungs, according to the CDC. Some people also have digestive problems. Symptoms are fever, chills, cough, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, belly pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Symptoms can be seen a few days to a few weeks after using an e-cigarette or vaping cannabis.

Most of those diagnosed with EVALI are males over 18 years old — only 15 percent of those diagnosed were under 18 years old. About 50 percent of the patients vape both cannabis oil and use e-cigarettes, while only 33 percent vape THC exclusively and 13 percent use only tobacco oil. These data suggest that high concentration THC is not the culprit here because people who only use tobacco products also get EVALI.

What is the most likely cause of EVALI?

Data suggest that inhaled vitamin E acetate is the most likely culprit. It is used as an additive to dilute THC and nicotine products. Vitamin E acetate is harmless when ingested as a pill or rubbed on the skin, but it has been found in the lungs of the majority of people who had their bronchial fluid tested after being diagnosed with EVALI. In a small study, 48 of 51 people with EVALI had vitamin E acetate in their lungs. One person also had coconut oil in their lungs while another also had limonene. Coconut oil is also used to dilute cannabis oil and limonene is a naturally occurring terpene found in some cannabis strains. No cannabis oil, tobacco oil or other terpenes or toxins were found in the lungs of these patients.

Thousands of people use e-cigarettes and vape cannabis oil all over the United States. Why did this illness present now?

Vitamin E acetate is harmless when ingested as a pill or rubbed on the skin, but it has been found in the lungs of the majority of people diagnosed with EVALI.

Most of those EVALI patients who vaped cannabis oil reported obtaining it from dubious sources, black market dealers, online or friends. Only 16 percent purchased products from legal dispensaries exclusively. In contrast, most patients who use tobacco products obtain them from commercial sources, and only 17 percent obtained them illegally. Not surprisingly, 94 percent of patients under 18 obtained cannabis products from illegal sources, while 42 percent obtained tobacco products illegally.

The most logical conclusion: Obtaining cannabis or tobacco oils from illegal sources is the culprit here. These sources are totally unregulated. Furthermore, more cases of EVALI have occurred in states that have not yet legalized cannabis than in states that have medical or medical/recreational legal cannabis products.

But how did any bad cannabis product get into legal shops? This occurred even in California, which is the most highly regulated state in the cannabis industry. It appears that the blame can be laid with counterfeit cannabis cartridges.

This is a big problem in the cannabis industry. It is easy to buy packaging from overseas that is nearly identical to packaging used by well-known companies and it is easy to print fake information that is required by the state, like testing for mold, metals and other toxins. Even barcodes can be faked. Legal cannabis cartridge companies go to great lengths to secure their brand and packaging from counterfeiting. Dispensary buyers now have to spend time and effort determining the authenticity of the products they obtain.

One of the best ways to keep updated on counterfeiting is by following @theblacklistxyz on Instagram. This group posts counterfeit products as soon as they are discovered as well as much other information on both the legal and black-market cannabis industry.

Perhaps you’re wondering if I vape? Yes, I do but I have always been cautious regarding extracted cannabis products. As a scientist, I am intrigued by various extraction processes and I contact a company before I purchase their product. The best companies have well maintained, easy to use websites describing their products. I have had email correspondence with many companies regarding product details. I am delighted to report that the best companies have Ph.D scientists who are friendly and who eagerly share data and relevant publications whenever I ask for information.

I have tried many different cannabis vape cartridges. There is a lot of flux in the cannabis extract industry and some companies have completely disappeared with the onset of EVALI diagnoses. I mentioned in an earlier column that total plant extracts are the best for medicinal use.

One of the most robust cannabis extraction companies is Kurvana. This company has evolved its product line in tune with the scientific knowledge of the medical value of the cannabis plant. The original Kurvana product was a terpene-rich, full cannabis plant extract vape cartridge, delicious to smell and taste, with THC concentrations of 60-80 percent. The two new products are ASCND, the highest potency THC line and CBD, with a variety of CBD to THC ratios.

All Kurvana products are additive-free, containing only cannabis plant extract oils. They are rigorously tested. The Kurvana company goes a long way in maintaining the authenticity of their products. Last year the California Bureau of Cannabis Control discovered that a second party testing company was cheating on its test results. Kurvana had used this company and even though their product was not one of those found to be tested incorrectly, they recalled all lots, which were sent to that company for our safety. I applaud companies that go the extra mile for our safety.

I was a big fan of the original Kurvana terpene-rich line but now I prefer the ASCND products. I used the CBD line last summer when I broke my collar bone. I have tried most of the ASCND strains.

As I write this column, I am vaping Tangie Dream. I must confess that I have loved this strain for many years and even grew my own plants when I lived in Montana. I find this strain of Sativa to be great for getting work done and it really lets my creativity flow. I also like Key Lime, another Sativa, for daytime use and Purple Punch, an Indica, for late evening and bedtime.

Signing off: Save the holy weed from the damn greed. And peace out!

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