As the epidemic of a vamping disease that has affected more than 2,000 people nationwide and killed at least 39 has dragged on for weeks, THC vape products play a major role.
But what is unclear is which particular product or ingredient may be at fault. Finally, on Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared a "breakthrough" in the agency's investigation.
Vitamin E acetate, an oily chemical added to some THC vaping fluids to thicken or dilute them, is emerging as "a very strong culprit for anxiety," says Ann Shuchat, chief deputy director of the Centers for Control and Prevention diseases, press briefing.
The CDC also emphasized that their investigation had not been completed: Officials could not yet say with certainty that vitamin E acetate was the source of harm in all cases. "Identifying a collection of information that points to Vitamin E acetate as a problem for lung pathology does not mean that there are no other components that cause damage to the lungs," Schuhat added.
But now the chemical is emerging as a likely culprit. The new finding adds to evidence from federal and state investigations showing that vitamin E acetate appears to be a common link in vaping-related illness cases. Of the 419 THC products tested by the FDA, as of November 8, 50% contained the sticky substance. Recent Utah data found the chemical in 89 percent of the THC cartridges tested there. New York State – the first to report concerns about Vitamin E acetate – has found Vitamin E acetate in many of the THC vaping cartridges used by patients suffering from respiratory diseases.
Black market vendors are known to use Vitamin E acetate – but legal suppliers may also use the chemical
State and federal investigations have also found that many of THC's products that people report are cartridges THC purchased through informal or black market sources. And vitamin E acetate is used as a cheap cutting agent by illicit cannabis suppliers.
But even in countries where cannabis vaping products are legally sourced, regulators did not necessarily check for vitamin E acetate.
Cannabis is the subject of patches of state-level health regulations where it is legal or decriminalized. And as I recently reported, these provisions are generally weak and inadequate, revealing a problem in the way cannabis is regulated in this country.
Thus, in the state of Washington, for example, the liquor and cannabis board regulates the market for recreational cannabis, and the products have been tested for "potency, moisture, foreign matter, microbiological, mycotoxins (fungi) and residual solvents," according to a spokesman there. But only medical products are tested for pesticides and heavy metals. The test list also does not include a check for chemicals such as Vitamin E acetate, which have become a health threat. "Until recently, with the outbreak of a steam crisis causing lung damage, no one had doubts about additional safety tests," a council spokesman said.
Therefore, with increasing mortality, some experts call for stricter surveillance.
"How confident [are state regulators] is that some of the ingredients used in vape oil are safe?", Said David Hammond, a public health researcher at the University of Waterloo in Ontario who studies electronic cigarette and THC vape in Canada and the United States. "I don't know if anyone knows this. The manufacturer's job is to ensure that the products do not include harmful chemicals. But the whole concept of fluid leakage is relatively new and we have little confidence. “