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Contaminant Found In Marijuana Vaping Products Could Be Responsible For Recent Lung Illnesses

Vaping poses health risks, according to the FDA
Vaping poses health risks, according to the FDA
Mauro Grigollo/Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Federal Drug Administration and New York state public health researchers have found evidence connecting a chemical contaminant to recent vaping illnesses.

According to The Washington Post, the chemical is an oil derived from vitamin E, which can be found naturally in almonds or used as a nutritional supplement. But when vitamin E acetate is inhaled, research suggests it's far from healthy. Those suffering from the vaping-related illness have reported shortness of breath, chest pain, and a cough, which is consistent with reactions to the chemical. So far, two Americans have died from the vaping-related sickness, but it’s not confirmed if vitamin E was associated with those cases.

The new study compared chemical samples of the liquid inside vapes used by victims of the illness. Vitamin E was found in nearly all samples with cannabis, but the FDA didn’t find anything unusual in tests of nicotine vaping products, according to a New York state official. What questions do you have about this study? 


“We continue to work closely with the CDC and state and local public health partners to investigate these incidents as quickly as possible. More information is needed to better understand whether there’s a relationship between any specific products or substances and the reported illnesses. We are committed to taking appropriate actions as the facts emerge. We are looking into potential leads regarding any particular constituent or compound that may be at issue. The FDA has been and will continue to provide laboratory assistance to state public health officials. The number of samples we have received continues to increase and we now have over 100 samples for testing. The FDA is analyzing samples submitted by the states for the presence of a broad range of chemicals, including nicotine, THC and other cannabinoids along with cutting agents/diluents and other additives, pesticides, opioids, poisons and toxins. No one substance, including Vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested. Importantly, identifying any compounds that are present in the samples will be one piece of the puzzle but will not necessarily answer questions about causality. The results from the FDA’s laboratory analysis will be shared with the respective states to aid in their investigations and will help further inform the federal response.”


Matt Richtel, San Francisco based reporter for the New York Times who’s been covering this, he’s the author of “An Elegant Defense: The Extraordinary New Science of the Immune System” (William Morrow 2019); he tweets @mrichtel

Laura Crotty Alexander, MD, University of San Diego associate professor of health sciences; researches lung inflammation and e-cigarettes; physician at the Veterans Affairs of San Deigo

Gregory Conley, founder and president of the American Vaping Association, an industry group that advocates for sensible regulation of vapor products; he tweets @GregTHR