While numbers of vaping-related lung illnesses continue to recede, new data bring clarity to the outbreak, and answers are slowly rolling in.
A total of 8% of vape-related lung illness patients reported sourcing THC-containing vape products from “recreational dispensaries,” and 3% said they sourced these products from “medical dispensaries,” according to a new report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday.
When Cannabis Wire pressed the CDC on whether these “dispensaries” are defined by the agency as state-legal, regulated shops, CDC spokesperson LaKia Bryant told Cannabis Wire:
“For the purposes of this analysis, the term ‘commercial’ was used to define the following access sources selected by patients during interview: recreational dispensaries, medical dispensaries, or both; vape or smoke shops; stores; and pop-up shops. This is self-reported information from the individual patients during interviews, and it is not possible for us to verify from these data whether the source was licensed or not.”
In addition, the data highlighted that of those individuals with e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury, or EVALI, those sourcing THC-only vapes did so from “informal” sources more often than those sourcing nicotine products, who primarily went to formal sources.
The agency also updated the number of reports of injuries and deaths associated with the widespread outbreak of EVALI. While reports of these lung illnesses started trickling to the surface since 2017, there was a “sharp rise” in June 2019, according to emergency room data. These cases appear to have started tapering off in September 2019. As of January 7, a total of 2,602 people reported being hospitalized with EVALI, and 57 associated deaths have been confirmed. People have been sickened in all 50 states.
It’s important to note that the new CDC data also backs up previous data that “most” of the patients report sourcing THC vaping products from “informal” sources, like a friend, family member, or dealer, which “play a major role in the outbreak.” Of the patients who had this type of data available, 78% said they got these products from an informal source, most often a family member or friend, 16% “who reported acquiring products from only commercial sources,” and 6% said they procured from both sources, according to the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
This is noteworthy, the CDC said, because “vitamin E acetate has been detected in products obtained from these sources and has been associated with EVALI.”
The report also emphasizes the confusion that some cannabis consumers might face while trying to buy regulated products.
“Even in states where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use by adults, it might be difficult to determine whether a source is licensed through the state,” the CDC said in their report, using the example that California regulators seized almost 10,000 unregulated vape pens from unlicensed shops in December.
EVALI patients were also heavy consumers. Of those who had data available, 74% said they used these THC vapes every day, and 14% said a “few” times a week.
The CDC also reiterated data that show that some groups of patients are more likely to experience more serious illness, or even death, than others. Specifically, those who have chronic issues, like cardiac or pulmonary diseases or diabetes, might be more at risk. Older patients appeared to fare worse, too.
Age is also a factor in the sourcing of vape products, the data suggest. “Younger age was significantly associated with acquiring THC-containing and nicotine-containing products through informal sources,” the CDC highlighted in their report.
Among EVALI patients who used some kind of THC vape, 94% of those between the ages of 13–17 “acquired products through only informal sources.” Comparatively, 62% of those between the ages of 45–77 years obtained products in a similar manner.