Oct 9, 2019

How marijuana laws may be contributing to vaping illnesses

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A mysterious vaping-related lung illness has now afflicted more than 1,000 people and killed at least 21 — and America's patchwork approach to marijuana law is probably part of the problem.

The big picture: Most of these lung illness cases involve people who vaped THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and many of those pods are believed to have come from the black market. A more cohesive regulatory scheme could help consumers know what to trust.

Health officials don't know yet whether the culprit is the liquids being vaped, their interaction with the vape pen materials, or a combination of the two. But legal, regulated products used as directed don't seem to be the primary cause.

  • Juul, for example, neither makes THC vape pods nor intends them to be used in their devices.

Where it stands: THC is a Schedule 1 drug under federal law., severely restricting scientists' and regulators' ability to study its effects.

  • But THC is legal in more than a dozen states, thanks to marijuana legalization efforts.
  • Few of those states, though, require stringent oversight of THC-specific products such as vape pods.
  • "State laws that have loosened access to cannabinoids have come at a public health cost," said former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

"Ultimately, a federal regime could make it easier to access cannabis for conducting proper studies ... At the same time, a federal regime should tighten permissive state practices that have made it far too easy for recreational marijuana to gain acceptance and for these compounds to get into the hands of kids," he added.

Yes, but: At least a few patients afflicted by the lung illness claim to have only vaped nicotine.

  • And research this week from New York University found that vaping nicotine caused lung cancer in mice, per CNBC. The researchers said vaping is likely “very harmful” to humans as well.

The bottom line: Traditional vaping gets people hooked on nicotine, and kids and teens have proven particularly vulnerable. It deserves political attention.

  • But so does an inconsistent regulatory framework that is contributing to serious, immediate dangers.

Go deeper: Special report: Weed, Inc.

Go deeper

CDC confirms 2,758 hospital cases of lung injury linked to vaping

Photo: Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images

There are 2,758 confirmed hospital cases of lung injury associated with vaping in all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and two U.S. territories, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports as of Feb 4.

The big picture: Nationally, most vaping-related patients with data on how they sourced products reported obtaining THC-containing products from "informal sources," per the CDC. The agency now recommends users should consider no longer vaping THC products, rather than its original claim to refrain from e-cigarettes.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 11, 2020 - Health

64 reported dead from vaping-related lung illness

Photo: Richard Baker / In Pictures via Getty Images

64 people have died from a lung injury associated with e-cigarette use in 28 states and the District of Columbia, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports as of Feb. 4.

What's new: Nationally, most vaping-related patients with data on how they sourced products reported obtaining THC-containing products from "informal sources," per the CDC. The agency recommends users should consider no longer vaping THC products, rather than its original claim to refrain from e-cigarettes.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 11, 2020 - Health

"Significant increase" in teens vaping menthol or mint flavored e-cigarettes

Juul flavors, mango, mint and fruit medley. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Middle school and high school students are vaping mint or menthol flavors almost as much as fruit-flavored e-cigarette products, a new investigation by JAMA shows.

Reality check: The Trump administration is expected to announce this week a finalized ban on almost all flavored vaping products, but it won't include tobacco and menthol flavors.

Go deeperArrowNov 5, 2019