CDC Officials Find Vaping Lung Injury Associated With Synthetic Vitamin E

A new study examines the recent outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use–associated lung injury (EVALI) and urges the public to stop buying products from unverified sources.

A new report links counterfeit THC products and vape-related lung injuries. Dr. Anne Schuchat, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s principal deputy director, released a statement Friday confirming the center had detected a potential toxin behind the recent outbreak of vape-related lung injury cases.

“For the first time, we have detected a potential toxin of concern: vitamin E acetate,” Schuchat told reporters.

Officials from the CDC reported the breakthrough after investigators tested samples of fluid taken from the lungs of 29 patients with vaping illness in 10 different states. According to health news reports, the samples revealed that in all 29 samples vitamin E acetate, a synthetic form of vitamin E, was present.

Vitamin E acetate in an oil that can be safely ingested, but causes serious lung damage if inhaled.

In September, the New York State Department of Health began to focus on vitamin E acetate as a potential cause of vaping-associated pulmonary illnesses. In nearly all cannabis-containing samples gathered by the NY Health Department, high levels of vitamin E acetate were present.

Last week, the CDC confirmed 2,051 cases of the vaping-related lung illnesses and 39 deaths. CDC investigators reported that they will continue to look at other possible toxins, including vaping aerosols, that may be causing the illnesses.

What’s in The Vape?

In a separate report released on Nov. 8, the CDC published its findings from an Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) report examining the outbreak of e-cigarette, or vaping, product use–associated lung injury (EVALI) cases in Illinois.

As a result of the study, the CDC is recommending, “not using THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products, or any e-cigarette, or vaping, products obtained from informal sources.”

The data gathered shows those using THC vapes or e-cigarettes from unverified sources are at higher risk.

“Specifically, patients with EVALI had higher odds of reporting exclusive use of THC-containing products, as well as reporting frequent use of these products, obtaining them through informal sources, and using a counterfeit THC-containing product marketed as Dank Vapes,” the study’s authors wrote.

Dr. Jennifer Layden, Illinois’ chief medical officer, told reporters that patients who reported feeling ill were, “roughly nine times more likely to obtain the THC-containing products from informal sources, such as a dealer, off the street or from a friend, compared to survey respondents.”

According to the CDC report, 85 percent of adult EVALI patients reported the use of THC-containing e-cigarette or vaping products. The IDPH conducted an online survey from September to October targeting Illinois residents 18 and over who use vapes or e-cigarettes.

Among 4,631 survey respondents, “94% reported using any nicotine-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products in the past 3 months; 21% used any THC-containing products; and 11% used both THC-containing products and nicotine-containing products.”

Researchers compared the results to EVALI adult patients in the state. According to the report, rates of THC-containing product use was highest among the 18-24 age group of survey respondents (36 percent) and decreased as respondents’ ages increased.

The study’s authors did mention several limitations within the report. Those restrictions include age and location. Respondents were self-reporting and 18 years of age or over, while 15 percent of the EVALI patients in Illinois were 18 or under.

Find the full CDC report, here.

Stronger Push for Legalization

For cannabis advocates, the CDC study strengthens the case for marijuana legalization. Prohibition causes many cannabis consumers to buy their products from the illegal market, where safety and testing regulations don’t exist.

Consumers who buy cannabis vape cartridges from legal outlets in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal don’t have to worry as much whether dangerous additives like vitamin E acetate are used. Legitimate manufacturers of vaping liquids are held accountable for the safety of the products.

Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, leaving it up to states that have legalized marijuana to regulate their own markets. Cannabis advocates believe legalizing cannabis federally would ensure a more uniform and clear set of rules.

On Wednesday, a top official with the CDC told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that federal prohibition has delayed the federal response to the vaping crisis. She explained that the transfer of samples for testing is slowed by marijuana’s Schedule I status.

More on Cannabis

Want to know more about what’s happening in cannabis policy, business, or scientific research? Visit our news page for the latest reports on cannabis news.