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New Research on Vape Illness Highlights More Potential Vaping Risks

Francis Cassidy
vape illness hinted at by girl staring unsurely at one vaping

Initially there was a theory that exogenous lipoid pneumonia was causing the vape illness. Now, evidence points to consumers inhaling toxic substances.

Not long ago there was a different view of vaping. Many saw it as a healthier alternative to smoking. But in recent times, it has come under fire after hundreds have landed in hospital with a vape illness of varying degrees.

Things moved fast after President Trump called for a ban on vaping. But the outbreak has since spread to forty six states in the U.S..

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reported a case count of around 1,888 as of October 29, 2019. So far, there’s been an acknowledgement of thirty seven deaths across twenty four states and all are currently under investigation.

The Latest Data On Vape Illness

A study published by the Mayo Clinic on October 2, 2019 shed more light on the potential dangers around vaping. The study from the New England Journal of Medicine involved reviewing lung biopsies of seventeen patients who all had a history of vaping. All were clinically suspected of having a vape illness, and incidentally, seventy one percent of those in the study admitted to vaping with either cannabis flower or cannabis oil.

Eleven of those in the study met the criteria for a lung-related vape illness, while six more met the criteria for a probable designation.

Of those afflicted with a vape illness, researchers reported that “histopathological findings showed patterns of acute lung injury, including acute fibrinous pneumonitis, diffuse alveolar damage, or organizing pneumonia, usually bronchiolocentric and accompanied by bronchiolitis.”

girl vaping

Changing Direction in Our Understanding of Vape Illness

Prior to this study, the understanding of many medical professionals was that vape illness noted was likely due to exogenous lipoid pneumonia. In a study carried out by the Mayo Clinic however, none of the patients showed evidence of exogenous lipoid pneumonia. However, they still qualified as having ‘vape illness.’

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic stated that they “believe that the histologic changes instead suggest that vaping-associated lung injury represents a form of airway-centered chemical pneumonitis from one or more inhaled toxic substances rather than exogenous lipoid pneumonia.”

The Symptoms of Vape Illness

Advice from the CDC is to refrain from using e-cigarettes and all vaping products, particularly those containing THC.

Common early symptoms include coughing, fatigue, chest pains, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Anyone with such symptoms should see a healthcare provider immediately, says the CDC.

Vape Illness is Still a Mystery

Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the CDC has been vocal about the ongoing difficulties with regard to vape illness. In a press briefing, organized by the CDC, she stated that, “We are concerned that risky product is still available and that’s one of the reasons that we have intensified our recommendations or warnings.”

Schuchat was also vocal on the consumption of products containing THC. She stated, “It is pretty much impossible for you to know what is in the e-cigarette or vaping product that you’re getting, particularly THC-containing products bought off the street or bought from social sources.”

With more and more cases of vape illness surfacing each week, Schuchat’s analysis of the situation is concerning. She says “the data we are getting does not suggest this has peaked.” For now, it seems the authorities and health care practitioners are playing a game of catchup.

The Longterm Prognosis of Vape Illness

Of the increasing number of people that have experienced some form of vape illness, the associated consequences have been serious. While scientific studies on the longterm risks associated with vaping have been inconclusive thus far, Anne Schuchat from the CDC has sounded a more alarming message in her analysis of those afflicted.

After reviewing the data of patients, she noted that, “These are really serious injuries in the lung, and we don’t know how well people will recover from them, and whether lung damage may be permanent.”

vape illness hinted at by girl wrapped in blanket

Is Secondhand Vape an Issue?

A 2019 Dutch study, carried out at Holland’s National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, investigated the risks that electronic cigarettes pose to bystanders. The study concluded that while the health risks most certainly do exist, these were mild.

The main findings from the study noted that “bystanders may experience irritation of the respiratory tract as a result of exposure to propylene glycol and glycerol.” — the synthetic liquids that form the solutions in many vape cartridges.

In addition, the study also concluded that “If nicotine-containing e-liquid is used, systemic effects of nicotine can occur, including palpitations and an increase of the systolic blood pressure.” They went on to say that “due to the presence of TSNAs in some liquids, an increased risk of tumors cannot be excluded.”

Reference was also made in the study to the lack of toxicological data currently available regarding many common flavor ingredients. The researchers in the study noted that, “While acute health effects experienced by e-cigarette users have been observed, this might be attributable to specific flavor ingredients, long-term effects will only become apparent after several years.”

The Future of Vaping

While the evidence toward vaping seems more damning with each passing week, the message from the CDC is clear. And that’s to avoid vaping unless the only alternative is returning to cigarette use. Thankfully however, for those medicating with cannabis, there are other ways to consume that don’t involve combustion. Whether edibles, tinctures, oils, or patches, there are an abundance of healthier ways to medicate without the unintended consequences of lung damage.

Francis Cassidy

Francis Cassidy is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of topics. With a particular focus on the cannabis industry, he aims to help ensure the smooth reintegration of cannabis back into global culture. When not writing, he's to be found exploring his new base in British Columbia, Canada. You can follow his other works including his photography on his blog

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