Representatives with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have for the first time identified a specific contaminant as a “very strong culprit of concern” in EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury) — the e-liquid vaping illness that is associated with over 2,000 cases nationwide and 39 fatalities.
Agency representatives last week highlighted the likely role of vitamin E acetate (oil) as a primary contributor to the lung illness. To those following the EVALI outbreak closely, the CDC’s focus on the contaminant hardly comes as a surprise.
In early September, health officials in New York State publicly acknowledged finding high levels of vitamin E oil in several unregulated cannabis-vape products, all of which were suspected to be linked to the illness.
Weeks earlier, reporters affiliated with the online publication Leafly.com also speculated that vitamin E contamination was likely to blame for the EVALI phenomenon.
According to their reporting, beginning in late 2018, some clandestine manufacturers of unregulated and counterfeit THC vapor cartridges began to use the oil as an additive in an effort to thicken the consistency of their cannabis e-liquids and to mask dilution.
Bolstering this theory is the reality that the overwhelming percentage of products associated with the illness have been linked to those obtained informally on the underground market. “The data so far point to a much greater risk associated with THC-containing products from informal sources than licensed dispensaries,” affirmed Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC’s latest advisory similarly acknowledges, “The latest national and state findings suggest products containing THC, particularly from informal sources like friends, or family, or in-person or online dealers, are linked to most of the cases and play a major role in the outbreak.”
Of course, it remains possible that other factors may also be at least partially responsible as well. Some have suggested that the abundance of heavy metals present in cheaply manufactured vape pens may be a contributing factor.
Others have pointed to the presence of illegal synthetic cannabinoids, which have been identified in some unregulated THC and CBD vape products. The ingestion of such compounds, which are more typically identified with illicit substances like “Spice” and “K2,” can be especially dangerous to health.
As is the case in virtually any unregulated market, the unscrupulous manufacturers responsible for these contaminated and adulterated products are largely unknown. Yet, for too long these predatory players have tacitly operated on the fringes of the commercial cannabis