Vaping was once touted as a healthier way to consume nicotine and marijuana. But as more and more people are hospitalized with vaping-related illness and injury (EVALI), do the risks outweigh any potential benefits?
More than 2,600 vaping users were sent to the hospital as of January 7, 2020. Studies of their ailments as well as the products those patients used revealed two main themes: 1. most were consuming THC-containing products and 2. Vitamin E acetate was prevalent throughout.
What's even more concerning is that 1 in 6 patients who developed lung injuries from vaping marijuana obtained the product from legal dispensaries, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent (CDC). Even though the products are being sourced from legal outlets, users still don't know if a distributor is actually licensed by the state; marijuana is illegal at the federal level though different laws exist state-to-state.
For example, approximately 10,000 illegal vape pens were seized from unlicensed retailers in California in December 2019.
Vitamin E acetate, a sticky oil version of the common, typically good for you vitamin, has been used as an additive in many THC-based vaping products. Vitamin E acetate can stick to lung tissue resulting in illness or injury.
Just as it was initially thought vaping nicotine was safer and healthier for you than smoking cigarettes, vaping marijuana was also thought to be better than smoking it through a joint, bong, pipe or other apparatus. No option is completely free of potentially harmful consequences. No matter the source—legal or illegal—users who vape marijuana don't truly know what ingredients are in their cartridges.
Many companies utilize fruit or mint flavors to entice younger users to vape as well. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in early January 2020 a ban on fruit- and mint-flavors products, though vape shops will still be permitted to sell flavors via tank-based systems.
Vaping can lead to addiction, first to nicotine and then to more potent and harmful substances, says Dr. Indra Cidambi, who is board certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine (ABAM). Data shows that 25% of vaping users will progress to vaping marijuana compared to 12.5% who don't vape.
This creation of an addiction and dependency coupled with the pleasantries of flavoring can send users down a very slippery slope.
"This is of concern as drug cartels will make every attempt to leverage the vaping infrastructure to deliver much more potent substances as vape-able cartridges," says Dr. Cidambi. "It is not a question of if, it is just a question of when, as substances such as heroin are not vape-able in their current form."