As if the vaping and legal marijuana industries haven’t been under enough scrutiny over the past several years, the recent news of the link between vitamin E and a mysterious lung illness may have thrown the nation in the grips of moral panic about these industries. What may be even more upsetting is that this news may benefit Big Tobacco companies in a big way.
What role does vitamin E acetate play in these vaping-related lung illnesses?
While vitamin E itself is naturally found in certain foods (olive oil, almonds, etc.), it’s not known to cause harm when ingested. On a similar note, vitamin E acetate, which is derived from vitamin E, is often used as a nutritional supplement or as a topical treatment on the skin.
However, when vitamin E acetate is heated at a high enough temperature, its molecular structure changes and officials are saying that the vitamin’s oil-like properties could be associated with respiratory symptoms many patients have reported. Inhaling oils like vitamin E can cause lipoid pneumonitis, a rare condition that results from fat particles being absorbed through the lungs, which can cause symptoms like chest pain, difficulty breathing, and coughing.
It leads many to wonder why there would even be vitamin E in THC cartridges in the first place. What’s even more surprising is that vitamin E acetate has not been banned as an ingredient in THC cartridges, but this may be changing fairly soon considering vitamin E is not an FDA-approved additive for nicotine-based products in many states.
What Do the Tests Say?
At least one vape product containing vitamin E acetate has been linked to each patient who submitted a product for testing. Of the 100 samples that FDA was able to procure for testing, they tested 18 viable THC samples and 12 viable nicotine samples. Of these samples, significant amounts of vitamin E acetate were found in 10 of the THC samples and absolutely no trace was found in the nicotine samples. This is why vitamin E acetate and vaping THC has become the key focus in investigations thus far.
When considering the statistics, a study in 2014 showed that 3.7% of American adults used electronic cigarettes or vapor products regularly. And that number only increases each year. As of now, the only thing these patients have in common is that they used a vaping device at one point or another, not just THC cartridges. While vitamin E acetate may be a possible lead the FDA has to explain what may be causing these symptoms, it’s a long way from pinpointing what exactly is making so many people sick all of a sudden.
How Do We Know What’s Safe?
While the majority of patients reported to be suffering from this “mysterious lung illness” have claimed to have used a vaping device, it isn’t enough to blame vaping altogether. And this in no way means that all vaping juices or cartridges contain vitamin E. In fact, many patients have told officials and clinicians that they purchased their nicotine and cannabis products from non-FDA approved sources (AKA: from the street). When you buy weed online through an established and legal source, it’s highly likely that you won’t need to worry about vitamin E or other harmful chemicals.
However, as more and more similar cases of pulmonary illnesses pop up around the country, law enforcement has continued to crack down on black market dealers. In early September 2019, at least 5 men were arrested after police recovered thousands of vape THC-branded cartridges that had appeared to be homemade and intended for resale on the streets.
While no specific brands or product names have been reported, the majority of the products causing symptoms related to vitamin E acetate inhalation may be tied to bootleg THC cartridges from black market companies like Dank Vapes.
Even though these black market products could be playing a role in the pulmonary illness outbreak in recent months, it has still left many unanswered questions about the exact cause.
Is This the End of Vaping?
No! Not by a long shot. But…
While there is still much to learn about the long-term effects of vaping THC, it’s still incredibly important to know where your products come from to ensure that what you’re consuming is safe for both your mind and body. As cannabis and marijuana delivery continues to gain support throughout the country, new products are bound to emerge. So whether you’re getting weed delivery or stopping by your local dispensary, don’t be afraid to ask about ingredients or how these products are produced.
You are what you vape!