Vape-related Illnesses Point to THC

Marijuana ingredient is suspected in lung maladies.

October 01, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Products containing THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, are the most prominent link to hundreds of lung illnesses and a dozen deaths tied to vaping and e-cigarettes, according to U.S. News.

“The outbreak currently is pointing to a greater concern around THC-containing products. However, we do not know whether it’s the only risky substance for lung injury,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If you're concerned about this very serious disease, consider refraining from vaping or using e-cigarette products, especially those containing THC.”

Two recently released reports, the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, outline common characteristics of vape-related lung problems that have been reported around the county. The number of lung illness cases has passed 800 in 46 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Twelve deaths connected to illnesses have been confirmed in 10 states.

The latest national report found that in 514 cases, most patients (76.9%) vaped products containing THC either exclusively or in combination with nicotine, though some patients (16%) said they only vaped nicotine.

Data from 771 of the reported cases showed more than two-thirds of patients (69%) are male, are between the ages of 18 and 34 (62%) and were hospitalized (91%). Among the 12 deaths, the national report said seven occurred in men, and the median age was 50 years, though these results don't eliminate “the risk of death from this condition” among young people, the CDC reported.

While all patients said they either used e-cigarettes or vaped, federal officials have not yet identified a specific brand, product or single substance responsible for these injuries, Schuchat said.

The second report released Friday focused on analysis of 86 patient interviews in Wisconsin and Illinois. Of those, 75 interviewees (87%) reported using e-cigarette products containing THC, whether exclusively or with nicotine-containing products, in the three months before the onset of their illnesses, while 11 (13%) reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.

The 86 patients interviewed identified 234 unique e-cigarette or vaping products labeled with 87 different brand names, and nearly all THC-containing products reported were packaged and pre-filled before use, with no patients reportedly adding substances to the devices. No single brand name was reported by all patients; however, a pre-filled THC cartridge sold under the brand Dank Vapes was reported by 57 (66%).

“Individual patients used numerous products and brands before becoming ill,” with some reportedly using up to seven different THC-containing products, said Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health. “The majority of patients used products at least daily and often numerous times throughout the day."

Among the 112 THC-containing products reported, 100 (89%) were informally acquired, “such as on the street, from friends or from a dealer,” Layden said. But officials don’t yet know if the products linked with lung disease in Illinois and Wisconsin are also linked to cases in other parts of the country.

The surge in cases has propelled both state and federal regulatory action. Massachusetts has banned the sale of all e-cigarette products for four months, while New York, Michigan and Rhode Island have moved to ban most flavored vaping products.

“CDC recommends people consider refraining from use of e-cigarette or vaping products, particularly those containing THC,” Schuchat said. “We don't want to see any more vaping-related illnesses.”

Data collection on e-cigarette use nationwide has been inconsistent, reports U.S. News, but 2017 figures indicate that a median of 4.6% of U.S. adults were considered current users of e-cigarettes or similar devices, compared with 10.8% of those ages 18 to 24 and an average of 13.2% of high school students. Below is a 2017 list of states with the highest shares of adults using e-cigarettes or a similar vaping device:

1. Oklahoma
2. Kentucky
3. Indiana
4. Tennessee
5. Wyoming
6. West Virginia
7. Arkansas
8. Nevada
9 (tie). Colorado
9 (tie). Ohio