Photo credits: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images At least six deaths and 380 hospital admissions were reported due to the use of vape products such as e-cigarettes and vape-pens. The disease affected 36 states and one US territory, but the deaths came from West Coast and Midwest states: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, California, and Oregon.
"The patients came with various lung problems caused by irritation in the lungs associated with [vapes]," Dr. MuChun Tsai, Pulmonologist at Wexner Medical Center, Ohio State University. Although there were no deaths associated with vapors in Ohio, according to Tsai, community hospitals report a significant increase in hospital stays related to vapors. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
The cause of the illness and death is still under investigation and a single vape or e-cigarette product has not been identified as being responsible. According to the CDC, the commonality of all patients is the use of vape products in the past, and the majority of hospital-based individuals have used THC oil ̵
1; the marijuana ingredient – in their vape pens. Tsai reports that the sick she saw in Ohio used THC or a combination of THC and nicotine in her vapes. Since physicians have "found no consistent evidence of an infectious disease", the suspected cause of pulmonary irritation is a chemical burden.
What's behind the recent hospitalizations?
Vape products have been on the American market for over a decade. They use cartridges filled with oil and other additives. These oils are aerosolized and become steam that the user inhales. Some vape products, such as e-cigarettes, contain nicotine, so users can quench their cravings without the toxic chemicals that come from flammable tobacco. Others use cartridges with THC oil.
It's clear that e-cigarettes produce less toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes. However, according to experts, they are anything but healthy: the chemicals contained in steam liquids contain toxins such as formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and diacetyl (the same chemical that produces the butter flavor of your microwave popcorn). These chemicals can irritate the delicate lining of the lung and cause inflammation and a variety of other serious symptoms if the inflammation worsens.
The ingredients of THC products are often less known, and that's worrying, says Tsai. Because THC products are illegal in many states (including their state of Ohio), consumers could purchase unregulated oils or cartridges from the street or even produce the oil themselves. Unregulated or "bootleg" cartridges may contain a high level of toxic additives, which increases the risk of lung injury, according to the CDC. Experts are also concerned about a compound called vitamin E acetate, which is used as a thickener in vape products. New York health officials said they were investigating the substance earlier this month as "very high levels" were found in several samples of cannabis-based vapour fluids used by people living in New York.
"Due to the number of hospitalized individuals and possible deaths, it is probably safer to avoid vapors, especially with THC oils," says Tsai. "If you want to buy THC, buy it from a reputable supplier or a friend on the street and do not try to make it yourself."
When People Own Illegal Vape Cartridges or Buy Their Vape Products From an Illegal Seller is advised to throw it away.
For people who use Vape smoking cessation or pain relief products, Tsai recommends talking about risks or looking for safer alternatives before continuing with a family doctor.