Vape illness may be connected to THC oil additives, some additive makers go dark
Authorities have been working all week to figure out what’s behind the mysterious illness that seems connected to THC vape carts. We heard earlier this week that a few people were experiencing lung and respiratory problems after using illicit vape cartridges, and the current totals are frightening: The disease has been blamed for up to five deaths and up to 450 illnesses across the country. The CDC has said it’s likely due to some kind of chemical exposure (likely from something added to the THC oil inside the vapes), and has told the public to stay away from any illicit or tampered vaping products entirely.
Though the actual cause hasn’t yet been found, New York officials have suggested that a vitamin E acetate may be the culprit (it’s also called tocopheryl acetate — you can see it in gel pill form in the image above). The FDA has said that there’s no clear cause yet (including vitamin E oil), but the acetate would make sense — if it was used as a cutter or as a dilution substance by vape cart manufacturers, it could have contaminated the cartridges. Those cartridges would then be sold out through illicit dispensaries and dealers, causing the illnesses seen around the country.
Which leads us to the next development in the story: As Leafly is reporting, a number of acetate and oil makers around the US have mysteriously gone dark recently. Honey Cut Laboratories’ website has gone down as of this writing — they’re a group that makes thickeners and additives for cannabis oils, and one of their most popular products is indeed a vitamin E acetate. Another terpene maker called Floraplex has reportedly pulled one of its products, and another company that makes oil thickeners called Mr. Extractor has even posted a response to Leafly’s story.
Mr. Extractor’s product, called Clear Cut, does include a vitamin E acetate, just as, it says, lots of similar products around the industry do (including Honey Cut’s substance). The company says that the vitamin E acetate is known to be healthy and even beneficial (and even links to the FDA’s website where it is “generally recognized as safe”), and that it’s found in “60-70% of the carts on the market today,” even used by legal manufacturers. Nevertheless, Mr. Extractor says that if “if Tocopheryl Acetate is indeed the culprit, this is an industry-wide problem with serious ramifications. “ The company has pulled all of its dilutant products from sale “out of a preponderance of caution.”
At this point, as the FDA says, there’s still no clear cause for this illness. If you have carts that have been purchased from the gray or black market, you should follow the CDC’s advice and not use them. And of course any cart you purchase, no matter how well-tested or up to standards it is, should be as clear as possible — if the oil inside the cart is dirty or cloudy, you obviously shouldn’t use it, and for the moment, it might be worth skipping carts entirely.
Hopefully, researchers will find a clear cause for the problem, and the structures in place to regulate the industry will be able to keep it from happening again. As it is, however, this issue does threaten the entire vaping industry, and could end up shaping regulations for years to come. Here’s hoping that authorities will figure out exactly what’s causing these illnesses, and the proper steps can be taken to ensure that no one else gets hurt.