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A Look Back at the Vitamin E Crisis


2019’s vape “crisis” procured an outcry against vaping and vape technology companies that had not been seen in the brief history of vape technology. There have always been naysayers who claimed e-cigarettes, THC and CBD vapes, and the like could not possibly provide a safer alternative to nicotine or cannabinoid ingestion, but there had never been any substantial evidence. In 2019, though, we saw this change drastically.


As we find ourselves over a year removed from this crisis, and with hospitalizations and tensions down, let’s take a look back at the crisis, as well as delving into the root causes and statistical figures associated with the crisis.


The Center for Disease Control (CDC) launched an investigation in the late spring of 2019 as to the effects of vaping and vape related illnesses after a number of hospitalizations occurred in April and May. Having conducted biopsies and interviewing patients admitted to hospitals, initially in Illinois and Wisconsin in April 2019, CDC investigators identified direct exposure to chemicals present in vaping products as responsible for the outbreak.


Most specifically, the CDC identified Vitamin E acetate as the overwhelming most likely culprit, and root cause, of the spike in hospitalizations. Although the CDC did not rule out other potentially harmful chemicals and substances, fluid samples taken from the lungs of those hospitalized for vape related pulmonary injury contained direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury in all 29 lung fluid samples tested (Transcript of CDC Telebriefing: Update on Lung Injury Associated with E-Cigarette Use, or Vaping).


Vitamin E acetate is a synthetic form of Vitamin E that, when ingested through the use of vape products, induces carcinogenic alkenes and benzenes and a harmful ketene gas that interferes with pulmonary function. In laymen’s terms, it creates harmful reactions that can be extremely dangerous to the lungs and one’s ability to breath.


Vitamin E acetate was used by illicit (black market THC vape brands) as a “filler”, or cutting agent, in vape cartridges due to its similar consistency to distillate and live resin (common THC extracts used to fill vape cartridges). Essentially, this means black market brands were using Vitamin E acetate to disguise their cartridges as having a higher THC potency when, in reality, such brands were actually “watering down” their cartridges to save money and conserve extract. However, due to the extremely high THC concentration in cannabis extract, the consumer would be none the wiser if a cartridge were watered down, as the effects of the high would still be more than potent. Considering that black market brands operate illegally, and are obviously not required to test their products like licensed, legal brands, this was rather simple for black market brands to get away with.


Considering that the vast majority of patients interviewed (more than 86%) admitted to using THC vaporizers, and taking into account that illicit, black-market THC vapes are the only vaporizer products to have utilized Vitamin E acetate in their production, it is beyond evident that Vitamin E acetate used in illegally distributed vape cartridges was the root cause of the Vape crisis. Additionally, a substantial portion of those hospitalized were in states where cannabis products were illegal at the time; thus, leading one to ascertain an extremely high likelihood that the vape products these patients used were purchased illegally.

Some of the black market vape brands those hospitalized claimed to have used include:


Dank Vapes- over 55% of those hospitalized used these


TKO- over 10%


Off White and Moon Rocks- about 10%


Chronic Carts, Smart Carts, Kingpen, and Dabwoods- all between 5-10%



To date, there is no sufficient evidence that vaping, whether through the use of E-cigarettes or THC/CBD vapes (when properly filled without Vitamin E acetate and other harmful chemicals) has any negative health effects. Even if one were to completely disregard the information above and assume that all vapes, not just those tainted by Vitamin E acetate, are potential health concerns: of approximately 16,410,000 vape users in the United States only 2,711 have been hospitalized, a staggeringly low 0.0166%. Granted, vaping has not been an option for long enough to have compiled years of research and study, but for the sake of comparison, currently 10-15% of cigarette smokers will develop lung cancer (in addition to heart disease and other medical side effects).



Here are some links to some other interesting articles:


https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/vaping-honey-cut-mystery-thickener-vitamin-e-acetate-vapes-881896/


https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/potential-culprits-in-mystery-lung-illnesses-black-market-vaping-products/2019/09/24/cb5b708e-d98d-11e9-ac63-3016711543fe_story.html


https://mjbizdaily.com/cannabis-industry-insiders-brace-for-potential-fallout-as-health-officials-report-new-vaping-deaths-issue-warnings/


https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/severe-lung-disease.html

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