If you follow cannabis news at all, you’ve probably seen or heard reports about the serious illnesses—and over a dozen deaths—associated with vaping. Some people are calling it “legal weed’s first crisis.” For the families of those affected, it’s a tragedy, and we’re deeply saddened by the possibility that a product we at The Higher Path regard as beneficial could be connected with sickness and even death.
That said, like all crises, this one has been characterized by a good deal of misinformation, misunderstandings, and not a little opportunism by those opposed to legal cannabis. We’ll help you sort fact from fiction, and share what we know so far about the crisis surrounding vape cartridges.
Vape Cartridges: What Are the Facts?
Currently, several state and federal agencies are investigating illnesses and deaths linked to vape cartridges. As of early October 2019, vape-related respiratory illnesses have been reported in some 46 states. Deaths have occurred in Illinois, Oregon, California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, and Missouri.
The illnesses present much like pneumonia: A fast-moving lung disease that leaves victims with greatly diminished lung capacity. Some patients have required weeks of treatment on ventilators, and it’s still not clear if they will regain complete lung function.
What’s especially frustrating to investigators is that thus far, no one ingredient, chemical or additive links all the products implicated. Most—but not all—of the victims reported that they had used vape cartridges containing THC, the predominant cannaabinoid in cannabis and the one responsible for the psychoactive “high.”
But there is one very important common factor thus far:
Nearly all those affected reported that they had bought counterfeit vape cartridges from informal sources. Although as of early October, five people in Oregon had become ill after using products bought at licensed dispensaries.
This highlights the importance of purchasing all cannabis products—especially vape cartridges—only from licensed dispensaries. For instance, in the wake of the vape cartridge crisis, a study commissioned by NBC in California compared vape cartridges purchased from unlicensed dealers and those bought at legal dispensaries. Of the 10 illicit vape cartridges, all 10 tested positive for pesticides, including the fungicide myclobutanil, which can turn into the deadly chemical cyanide when burned.
Vape Cartridges: Moving Forward
While the Oregon instances suggest that perhaps black-market cartridges ended up in legitimate packaging, the numbers support our belief that in the vast majority of cases, the safeguards and best practices put in place by dispensaries—such as The Higher Path—to ensure your safety are working.
It’s important to note that thus far, no licensed manufacturer of cannabis products has been implicated in any of the illnesses or deaths. Nor does it appear that law enforcement is looking to exploit the crisis. In a conversation with reporters on Thursday, Sep. 19, Mitch Zeller, director of the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, emphasized that the agency is investigating the vape cartridge supply chain, not people who use vapes.
Until investigators uncover the root cause of this public-health crisis, should you change your practices around cannabis? That depends. Obviously, if you currently own and use vape cartridges and are in good health, you needn’t worry. If you’re leery of purchasing new products—even from licensed dispensaries—we understand and support whatever decision you come to.
We’ll keep you updated as to developments in this important story. And just keep in mind: There are still plenty of other cannabis products to try besides vapes!