Just a year ago, a new lung disease made headline news. Linked to vaping, this terrifying condition fast became obsession nationally. With near everyone searching “immediate CBD delivery services near me” for cartridges, it was not long before the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, issued warnings about pulmonary injuries and sudden deaths caused by inhaling dangerous vaporizers.
By February this year, it had killed at least sixty-eight folks across the country, including both the elderly and young teenagers. It sent a further 3,000 to hospital with issues ranging from coughing blood to severe nausea and shortness of breath. The culprit? Vitamin E acetate. A thickening agent commonly added to unlicensed CBD oil online. It causes respiratory failure. It associates directly with vaping.
However, the CDC no longer gives any attention to vaping-related complaints. COVID-19 is all the rage. Everybody is focusing so on the highly infectious coronavirus; nobody is monitoring other diseases anymore. At least, not until pandemics end. COVID-19 also damages the lungs, and it does so in ways very similar to the symptoms associated with this mysterious vaping disease.
Both EVALI, the CDC-given acronym for vaping-related lung injuries, and COVID-19 involve triggering acute respiratory distress by a malfunctioning immune system. They share symptoms, and they share a lethal mechanism. In the medical world, and in medicalese, scientists and doctors call this oft-fatal immune response a “cytokine storm.” It injures. Severely. It kills too. In droves.
We know coronaviruses, aggressive ones, induce cytokine storms, but how does that mimic the effects of vitamin E acetate in lab-tested CBD oil products, most notably in vaporizers, including e-pens and cartridges. How does this substance affect respiratory function? How does it affect long-term lung health? Just how fatal is it? In quoting the CDC itself:
“Vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the EVALI outbreak. Vitamin E acetate has been found in vape product samples tested by FDA and state laboratories and in patient lung fluid samples tested by CDC from geographically diverse states.”
Patients with EVALI also test positive for a rare inflammatory disorder called lipid pneumonia. It occurs when oil or fat enters the lung’s alveoli. It causes similar symptoms to other forms of pneumonia, the majority of which typically triggers by viral, fungal, or bacterial infections. A recent mouse study found vitamin E acetate replicating the lipid-linked lung damage typical of EVALI, supporting the CDC’s claims.
Further, investigative reporters everywhere found vitamin E acetate among a horde of other dangerous toxins in illicit vaping products, including the popular skincare ingredient squalene, a deadly inhalant. However, Mayo Clinic doctors dispute this vitamin E acetate theory, noting the disease “is poorly understood,” and that “few reports of vaping-associated lung injury include histopathological findings.”
Histopathological diagnoses occur by microscopic examination of diseased cells or tissues. Upon analysis, some of these injuries resemble chemical burns, as opposed to suffocation by lipids. This suggests other potential culprits responsible, besides just vitamin E acetate. As such, some doctors expressly advised that lipid-rich immune cells in the lungs might mark exposure instead of toxicity, recommending caution when labeling it cause of death.
The dangers of vaping oils are no secret. Already much evidence exists to prove its many hazards. Polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, and all manner of other additives, even FDA-approved staples of the food processing industry, exist aplenty in them. Even worse, many of these FDA-declared “safe” substances, such as texturizing agents and flavoring, turn poisonous under heat, under flame.
A study published in Frontiers in Physiology found exposure to common flavoring agents in vaping oils highly poisonous to white blood cells. Diacetyl is among the worst, an additive for simulating vanilla-like, buttery, and creamy flavors. It causes “popcorn lung” when inhaled. This is a debilitating, oftentimes fatal respiratory disease. There is no cure for it. No treatment even.
Then, a Yale University report in the U.S. National Library of Medicine shows the elevated dangers of combining flavoring agents, as opposed to single additive exposure. The addition of thickening and thinning agents, like vitamin E acetate, makes it notably worse. The extent of their harm remains under study, and with scarce comment from the CDC, it is unclear just how much their contribution to it is.
Then, there are synthetic cannabinoids to consider too. They are especially nasty, as well. These hard-to-detect and deadly laboratory-turned-street compounds disrupt the endocannabinoid system. They rupture blood vessels, deprive lungs of oxygen, fill lungs with fluids, and even cause ground glass-like opacities. Case reports show these symptoms consistent and aligned with pulmonary disease criterion.
According to a study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine, synthetic cannabinoid adulterants exist abundantly in illicit vaping products. Most contain less than half the purported quantity of cannabinoids advertised, and almost all contained harmful synthetic cannabinoids. Over-labeling misrepresents the product. It also indicates fraudulent and illegal business practices.
It is worrying how often CBD oil online comes with synthetic cannabinoids. These substances pose serious risk for adverse health effects. Toxicological consequences can be, and likely will be, devastating. With a sprawling vape market largely unregulated, the prevalence of synthetic cannabinoids is likely understated. They warrant investigation, particularly into their role in vape-related pulmonary injuries.
If part of the EVALI mystery does indeed involve synthetic cannabinoids, then it is important to address the fact that vitamin E acetate keeps carrying blame as a “marker of exposure rather than a marker of toxicity.” Propylene glycol and other nasty thinning agents are cheap and easy to add to vaping oil. Unscrupulous folk add a drop of synthetic cannabinoid, then another of vitamin E acetate to thicken.
Vaping is a popular method of cannabis consumption. Fast acting, easy to dose, discreet, convenient, and available in more options than folks can count, it is safe and effective. However, not all products meet safety standards. The problem worsens in states that only allow CBD products, which still ban whole plant cannabis, and therefore real oil extract. As such, they remain rare in regulated markets.
Because of this lack of regulation, vitamin E acetate and synthetic cannabinoids proliferate everywhere in poor quality products. What is more, many of these vape cartridges include isolates dissolved in harmful carrier oils, often MCT, propylene glycol, or glycerin. These are unsafe to heat. They turn even more toxic and are dangerous to inhale. They are widely available, with no accountability whatsoever.
Folks have been using cannabis safely for centuries, without the symptoms associated with exposure to toxic vaporizers. It is clear the problem is not cannabis, but rather the additives in vaping oil. Vaping-related lung disease is not as widespread as it is in states that have yet to legalize cannabis. States with the most cases have little to no access to regulated, lab-tested CBD oil products by trusted suppliers.