The mysterious lung illness that’s afflicted more than 1,600 vape users and claimed 34 lives (as of Oct. 22) has now been shown to disproportionate affect THC users.
That was one of the key takeaways after a Friday briefing from the Centers for Disease Control. Dr. Anne Schuchat, the agency’s principle deputy director, further confirmed that THC vapes obtained outside of legal supply lines – including those on the black market and those obtained from friends or family – seem to be the biggest offender.
“The vast majority of patients with EVALI” – that’s the acronym the CDC is using for this illness – “including those who died from their lung injury, had a history of use of e-cigarette, or vaping, products that contained THC,” Schuchat said.
In strictly numerical terms: of the 860 patients the CDC has data on, 85 percent have a history of THC vape use. Meanwhile, only 10 percent “reported exclusive use of nicotine containing products.”
Schuchat also cited a Tuesday report which focused specifically on cases in Utah. The report found that “most” of those afflicted had obtained their THC vapes “from informal sources or online,” rather than through legal dispensaries. This finding falls in line with data already gathered in other states, she said.
“The Utah data are fairly consistent with the pattern of product use described in the Illinois and Wisconsin investigations where about 89 percent of patients reported getting THC-containing products from friends, family, illicit dealers, or off the street,” Schuchat said.
For all the work that’s been done, however, some big questions remain. The CDC hasn’t yet identified a single specific “compound, substance, product, or brand” as the cause of these injuries. As a result, the agency’s recommendations regarding e-cigarette use is unchanged: “[T]he only way to be sure that you are not at risk is to consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products while our investigation continues.”
Still, the new findings paint a clearer picture of what may be going on here. There’s been a lot of fearful talk around vapes as reports of lung injuries have spiked, which isn’t great news for a young tech product that helps curb the use of more harmful cigarettes. In fact, cigarette use is reportedly on the rise again. It’s also been a setback for the still-young industry around legal cannabis use.
The latest findings don’t definitively confirm that black market THC vapes are the primary cause of these lung injuries, but it’s clear the data is beginning to point in that direction.