When the first reports of vaping-related lung injury surfaced this past summer, the most disconcerting part of the outbreak were all the unknowns. Was it caused by e-cigarettes or cannabis products? Are the regulated vape cartridges safe, or just as dangerous as the carts bought off the street? How could one tell what was safe to vape and what was not?
Several months and over two thousand cases later, we’re just beginning to understand the root of the disease that has claimed 39 lives across the nation. We know the outbreak stems mostly from cannabis vaping products, specifically those sourced from “informal” or unknown sources. We also know that Vitamin E Acetate (VEA), an additive used to dilute cannabis vaping oil, was the only toxin found in the lung fluid of 29 patients diagnosed with the disease, making it the most likely culprit.
So while these discoveries have shed some light on the cause of the vape crisis, the question remains: how can we discern which vape products are safe to use?
In September, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker instituted a four-month blanket ban on all cannabis and nicotine vaping products. Many were critical of the ban, claiming it would push consumers to the unregulated market where they would be in even more danger of contracting e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury, or EVALI.
So far, it seems these critics were in the right. When the CDC first announced they were investigating VEA as a possible cause, MCR Labs’ Director of Scientific Operations Scott Churchill set out to develop a method to test for the additive. Within a month we had a validated screen that could detect and quantify the presence of VEA.
We began offering this test for free at a limited quantity to all clients. Since then, we have tested 105 samples from both licensed producers and curious consumers. Nine came back positive for the additive, some of which were greater than 50% VEA by weight. But none of the positive screens had come from samples submitted by a producer licensed by the CCC. All had been acquired from those “informal” or unknown sources.
While there have been some anecdotal reports from other states linking the lung injury disease to both regulated cannabis and nicotine products, so far most of the evidence points to the unregulated cannabis market as a major source of the outbreak. Furthermore, the outbreak is a clear example of the harm prohibition can cause and the benefits of cannabis legalization.
The best way to ascertain if a product is safe to use is to look at its source. We encourage everyone to only purchase vape products from tested & trusted producers.