Vaping illness continues to spread, as the industry reckons with risks
The AP has released a new report about the vaping illness that’s been going around the United States, and the numbers have gotten even worse. The total number of cases has gone up to 805 (up by 52% from a few weeks ago), and the number of deaths has risen to 13 so far. There’s still no clear cause identified — the deaths have taken place in both states where cannabis is legal and states where it isn’t. Most of the victims have said that they were using THC carts, but it’s not clear whether they were purchased from a licensed dispensary or not, and some victims say that they were only using nicotine. The CDC has told the entire country to stop vaping completely until the investigation finds a specific cause.
The cannabis industry, meanwhile, has had to reckon with its possible role in these issues. Already, people have been arrested for putting together illegal vape cartridges, but now, even legal manufacturers are stepping back from the products. A dispensary chain called Medicine Man has announced it’s ending sales of all vape cartridges containing vitamin E acetate, after the substance was rumored at one point to be the problem causing the illness. Vitamin E acetate is a widely used product, however — even a lot of legal THC cart manufacturers still use the additive in their cartridges.
Leafly has posted a long investigative report about the illness, and they suggest that the issue could be caused by a number of different substances entering the supply chain that starts in China and leads to illicit dealers in the US. Leafly says that the cause of the illness could be anything that enters illicit carts — lead, pesticides, butane (also used as a solvent), or the vitamin E acetate or a variant of it. Leafly says that this market for illicit carts (which includes not just illegal THC carts, but also counterfeit JUUL nicotine carts and tainted CBD carts) could be as large as 50 million products moving around the US. These carts are manufactured in China, sold in LA, filled in regional “factories” (sometimes just a dorm room or a house), and then sold in illicit dispensaries and by street dealers.
Leafly says that since the illness started, vape cart sales are down 15% in legal dispensaries, and Oregon specifically had vape pen sales drop by 65%. These issues are definitely affecting the current legal market, and the issue will probably get worse until all of the tainted carts are off of the streets.
The industry is also dealing with the problem on a more personal level as well. The Gentleman Toker is a website out of Washington, DC (that reviews and covers cannabis — very similar to us here at The Elegant Stoner, in fact), and its founder, Joe Tierney, says he’s calling it quits. He says that the vape crisis has convinced him that cannabis is unsafe (and he himself has stopped dabbing after he began coughing up blood). “I don’t feel good about the industry any longer,” he told the Washingtonian.
And finally, the government is responding to the issue, but not always in the best ways. The Governor of Massachusetts has called for a ban on all vaping products across the state, and Michigan is also working on a ban on flavored vapes (similar to the one that the President suggested recently).
This vaping issue is definitely becoming a problem for legal cannabis, and cannabis in general in the US. Hopefully, the CDC and its partners can keep working to figure out a clear cause, and law enforcement can find what it needs to shut down sales of the cartridges causing these problems. A few months ago, vaping seemed like one of the easier, cheaper, and healthier ways to consume legal cannabis, but with more and more people getting injured and even dying after using vapes, the industry will either need to come up with a way to make its products reliable and safe, or, like the owners of Medicine Man, abandon that part of the market entirely.