Last week, we took a dive into the still developing story of lung diseases popping up suddenly around the country. Well, it's been a very busy news week. We have quite a few updates for you. The CDC is officially on the case after several deaths, an earthquake of an announcement out of Michigan, and FDA officials identifying a common link in the nation's lung disease outbreak.
First deaths reported
Illinois released slim details last week about a person dying "after vaping," but, in the middle of the article, did mention a link to THC cartridges. The Illinois Department of Public Health did not release the person's name, age, sex or where they lived, according to CBS Chicago. Investigators at the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Division said on Thursday that they received reports that an individual who died in July had recently used "an e-cigarette or vaping device" containing cannabis purchased from a cannabis dispensary. During the noon conference call on Friday, CDC officials noted a 3rd confirmed death, and one other under investigation.
Friday afternoon, Minnesota's Department of Health identified the 4th official death as a 65 year old with "a history of underlying lung disease and was hospitalized with a severe lung injury that progressed to include other conditions." They were hospitalized in August. Investigators said the lung injury was associated with vaping illicit THC products. MDH officials say that none of the over 25 cases in the state involved THC vapes purchased through the state's medical marijuana system.
The CDC gets involved
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that they were investigating as many 450 cases of severe pulmonary disease across 33 states and 1 US territory. Their announcement still pins the blame on e-cigarettes and vaping, though. During Friday's conference call, most speakers noted the involvement of THC vaping products but the CDC reiterated several times that they caution the public to "avoid all use of vaping and e-cigarettes" until more research is done.
Vitamin E Acetate now a focus
Mid-Thursday afternoon, The Washington Post reported that FDA and State agencies found Vitamin E acetate to be a link between patients.
"The chemical is an oil derived from vitamin E." WaPo wrote "Investigators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found the oil in cannabis products in samples collected from patients who fell ill across the United States."
The FDA also told state officials Thursday that its lab tests found nothing unusual in nicotine products that had been collected from sick patients.
Media coverage starting to catch up
As recently as last week, the only sources putting adulterated THC carts front and center were numerous marijuana magazines and the California Department of Public Health. Most major outlets said vaping was to blame, only mentioning the THC cart link by burying the lead in the middle of their coverage, or not mentioning them at all.
In the past week, you could see headlines starting to come around, placing THC carts in the headline or at least mentioning their involvement more clearly.
A quick search for "vape" on Gizmodo looks like this:
Notice the difference in headlines? It would appear that as the story develops, publications are either finally starting to connect the dots, or they can no longer ignore the almost obvious link between the rise in popularity of THC carts and this mysterious and sudden severe illness.
The story is also being picked up by larger publications, like this article from Rolling Stone. The media coverage appears to be coming around, at least for the time being. Rolling Stone went on to publish a guide to identifying fake carts, as well.
Even Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former FDA commissioner, noted on twitter that the vapor industry has been under tight regulation since 2017. "FDA has conducted thousands of inspections of manufacturers and vape stores, published manufacturing guidance, sought product removals etc." noted the doctor, "These tragedies point to illegal vapes and THC."
With the recent revelation about Vitamin E acetate, one would hope that the media can now report accurately on the story. But you can expect plenty of coverage that doesn't bother to distinguish between vaping nicotine eliquid and vaping THC cartridges.
Damage Report: Michigan Strikes First
The media awakening may be too little, too late. Wednesday morning, Michigan's governor announced her administration was drafting an administrative rule banning the sale of all flavored eliquids. The ban will be imposed by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) through direction from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and prohibits online and retail sales of flavored nicotine vaping products.
This is not an executive order, however. Michigan's administrative rules process allows state agencies to create regulations or policies that, once authorized, act as laws. Once filed the rule will take effect immediately, giving retailers 30 days to comply. The rule will need to be reauthorized after 6 months, and can be challenged in court, according to Michigan law.
Michigan legalized recreational marijuana at the end of 2018. 6 cases of the sudden lung disease outbreak were identified in the state. This flavor ban applies only to eliquid and vaping; including mint and menthol eliquids. This move makes the state the first to enact a statewide flavor ban. Earlier this year several cities in California instituted flavor bans of their own.
It's easy to see how banning flavors will create an underground market of Do-It-Yourselfers making and selling their home brews on the street and under the table. The same prohibition and demand is responsible for the black market THC carts causing the very outbreak that Gov. Whitmer and her colleagues in Michigan seek to rout.
CASAA has created a call to action for Michigan residents.
This story is developing rapidly, and we will continue to track it.