In early August, Wisconsin health officials urged people in the Badger State to refrain from using vape products. A mysterious illness had stricken 11 teens and young adults who were hospitalized with severe lung disease.
At the time, Wisconsin’s health department had little information about why these young people were experiencing “unexplained breathing problems.” Less than a week later, reports of new illnesses popped up in neighboring Illinois and Minnesota and as far away as California, according to an Aug. 14 New York Times article.
During the next two months, health officials attributed hundreds of new cases, including dozens of deaths, to e-cigarette use and vape products containing THC. As of press time, Oct. 28, that number had ballooned to 1,604 lung injury cases and 34 deaths across 49 states (all except Alaska); Washington, D.C.; and one U.S. territory, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
While many theories exist about why people are getting sick, no single cause has been verified by government agencies. Meanwhile, licensed manufacturers of cannabis products and state-legal retailers are grappling with a host of supply chain, quality and safety issues on a scale not previously experienced in the nascent industry.
The Cannabis Business Times staff has covered the issue closely since it was first considered a public health threat. Here, we recap some of this coverage, including the impact on the industry, how it’s responded to the crisis and what cannabis growers, producers and retailers can expect in the future.
What Do We Know So Far?
The earliest theories on the cause of vape illnesses focused on the use of vitamin E acetate in illicit-market products. Vitamin E acetate is a preservative often found in nutritional supplements or beauty products. The New York State Health Department cited the chemical when calling out the flood of unregulated cannabis products that have hit streets around the Northeast, Midwest and beyond.
While most major news media outlets have picked up the department’s advisory on vitamin E acetate (including Cannabis Business Times), the actual public understanding of oil vaporization and degradation is a bit murkier.
Dr. Arup Sen, CEO of Infusion Biosciences, a biotech company focused on discovering and commercializing cannabis technologies, said in a September interview with CBT that legally manufactured vape products could contain substances that may pose risks, as well.
“Given the shockingly low bioactivities reported for THC and CBD preparations of the