In 2019, reports began to surface of a mysterious lung illness relating to vaping. The illness caused fever, chest pains and shortness of breath. Some people who contracted the illness lost the ability to breathe on their own and had to be given corticosteroids or placed on ventilators. Hundreds of people have been sickened, and eight people have died from the illness. There is obviously a cause for major concern here, and the mainstream media has taken the story and run with it. Media outlets across the country have dutifully reported that hundreds of people have gotten sick from vaping. Even President Trump spoke about it during a recent press conference in which he announced his intention to ban almost all flavored e-liquids. Along the way, however, almost no one has paused to explain that the word “vaping” means two different things.
- One type of vaping is making people sick.
- The other type of vaping is not.
- Flavored e-liquids have nothing to do with the problem.
The vaping website ECigarette Empire has released a comprehensive article that explains exactly what’s going on, and we’ll summarize the website’s findings here.
What Does the Term “Vaping” Actually Mean?
Vaping is the act of heating a substance without burning it. Heating turns the active compounds in the substance to an aerosol that the user can inhale to absorb those compounds through the lungs. The two most common forms of vaping are:
- Vaping nicotine, usually by heating a nicotine-infused liquid called e-liquid. E-liquid generally contains propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and flavors.
- Vaping cannabis, either by heating ground plant material or by heating a liquid containing an extract of THC and/or CBD.
THC and CBD aren’t water soluble; they’re oil soluble. They also don’t emulsify easily into a water-based solution. It’s important to remember that fact because it plays a role in the current lung illness outbreak. When President Trump proposed a ban on flavored e-liquids, he was referring to the nicotine form of vaping. However, medical professionals have not connected any nicotine e-liquid to the lung illness.
What Do We Know About the Vaping Lung Illness?
Here are some of the key facts that we know about the vaping lung illness so far.
- Most of the people who have contracted the illness have admitted to using THC vaping products.
- The majority of those THC products appear to have been illicit products purchased on the black market.
- A few people have claimed that they only used nicotine e-liquids and did not vape THC. However, researchers have not identified a substance in any of the nicotine e-liquid samples submitted that would have caused the illness.
What Is the Substance Causing the Lung Illness?
Researchers have pinpointed one likely cause of the vaping lung illness. The cause is Vitamin E acetate, a substance used as a cutting agent, diluent and preservative in THC vaping oils. While oral and topical use of Vitamin E are common, little is known about the effects of inhaling the substance. Current research suggests that inhaling Vitamin E acetate causes exactly the type of lung damage that victims of the vaping lung illness have experienced.
Vitamin E acetate hasn’t been confirmed as the only cause of the lung illness. However, there is already enough information to suggest that it would be very wise to avoid inhaling any vaping product containing Vitamin E.
What Vaping Products Contain Vitamin E Acetate and Why?
THC vaping cartridges – particularly those produced illicitly for sale on the black market – contain Vitamin E acetate and are the primary cause of the lung illness. How have THC vaping cartridges with Vitamin E reached and sickened so many people? Here’s why.
- Raw THC oil is an extremely thick substance that’s more like a wax or tar than a free-flowing liquid.
- As it is, THC oil doesn’t work in a small vaping cartridge because it doesn’t flow freely through the cartridge’s wick. THC cartridge producers must dilute the oil with another substance. THC is not water soluble, so the substance needs to be an oil.
- A few brands have popped up around the country specifically to produce cutting agents for THC oil. It appears that all of those brands use Vitamin E acetate as the cutting agent.
- THC vaping cartridges are in high demand. They’re small and easy to distribute and conceal. They also don’t have the powerful smell of cannabis plant material.
- Vitamin E acetate can dilute raw THC oil without making the product appear weak or watered down. It creates a THC vape oil that looks potent and has strong eye appeal.
- Illicit THC cartridge manufacturers don’t have unlimited supplies of raw THC oil. They dilute the oil as much as possible to make their operations more profitable. Some illicit THC cartridges contain more than 50 percent Vitamin E acetate.
Do Any Nicotine E-Liquids Contain Vitamin E Acetate?
Researchers have not identified any nicotine e-liquid product containing Vitamin E acetate. That’s because there is no reason to use Vitamin E in a nicotine e-liquid. Propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin are already used to dilute the nicotine in e-liquid. Those substances work well with the cotton wicks that nicotine vaping equipment uses. They’re also inexpensive and readily available. Vitamin E is oily and would work poorly with a cotton wick. A tank or cartridge for oil vaping normally has a ceramic wick. THC vape oil and nicotine e-liquids, in other words, are virtually incompatible with one another and require different vaping equipment.
How Can I Avoid Getting Sick From Vaping?
The best way to ensure that you won’t get sick from vaping is to avoid using any oil-based THC vaping cartridge. If you are a cannabis user, the safest way to consume cannabis is by buying whole flowers from a licensed dispensary if possible. If you are a nicotine e-liquid user, ensure that you’re always buying your e-liquid from a reliable and trusted seller. Although no nicotine e-liquid has been implicated in the recent outbreak of lung illnesses, there is some possibility that counterfeit vaping products – such as knockoff JUUL pods – could contain dangerous contaminants.