In a new report released on Mon day, CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) health officials affirmed that the vaping-linked lung illnesses that swept the United States, claiming several lives and critically injuring many, has a main miscreant: Vape products containing THC that are sold in the black market.
Much to the chagrin of some researchers, CDC is still urging consumers to avoid using vaping products or e-cigarette even if the drug content of the device is legit and bought from a reputable brand. The CDC, along with FDA, and state health agencies, has been investigating the condition, now officially entitled EVALI (e-cigarette, or vaping, product use associated lung injury).
The report indicates that 1,604 cases of EVALI have surfaced in 49 states as of mid-October, as per the CDC report. Thirty-four people have lost their lives due to this mysterious vaping related lung illness across 24 states. EVALI patients who were rushed to the hospitals complain about experiencing a range of severe gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms such as vomiting, and difficulty in breathing.
Researchers and health officials have not been able to come up with a concrete diagnostic test for EVALI. People having a recent history of using vape products have been diagnosed with EVALI. The median age of victims is 24, while the median age of those who lost their lives due to the illness is 45.
Right from the beginning of the investigation when cases were first reported in Wisconsin earlier this year, officials suspected a direct connection between vape products containing THC and EVALI. Health officials in some states have openly admitted the possibility of a probable link between the THC products available on the black market and all of their cases. Meanwhile, CDC officials haven’t yet dauntlessly admitted the connection between THC products and the illness.
A recently surfaced research confirms that the role played by the THC product is indeed big. Out of the 867 cases, wherein the product information was available, 86 percent of the patients admitted that the used THC products at least three months before their symptoms surfaced. This comprises 34 percent of victims who only used THC products. Contrary to that, 11 percent of EVALI cases have been associated with the use of nicotine products, which has claimed three lives.
The researchers hint at a connection between EVALI and illicit THC products, stating that the victims seem to have “typically obtained their THC-containing e-cigarette, or vaping, products through informal sources, such as friends or illicit in-person and online dealers.” Nevertheless, they still urge consumers to refrain from using vape products or e-cigarettes.
“[B]ecause the specific compound or ingredient causing lung injury is not yet known, and while the investigation continues, persons should consider refraining from the use of all e-cigarette, or vaping, products,” the authors wrote.
A psychiatrist from Wisconsin, Angela Janis who has interacted with patients using medical cannabis is one of the outside experts that aren’t quite pleased by how the federal government is handling EVALI, including the CDC.
“I’ve had an issue with their use of the terms vaping and e-cigarettes. The nomenclature they use seems to be intentionally confusing,” she told Gizmodo. “Generally, vaping is a delivery method, and e-cigarettes are colloquially known to be those vaping devices used for delivering nicotine, a sub-set of vaping rather than a synonym. The use of the terms synonymously purposefully conflates the two, but I think this leads to more confusion.”
While we cannot deny the fact that experts have still not been able to figure out the root of the lung illness that’s associated with vaping, it looks like THC itself is not the real culprit. Previously surfaced reports imply EVALI may be caused due to the Vitamin E oil which is usually used in illicit THC products, given that several victims showed signs of pneumonia which is known to be caused due to inhaling the oil. It is worth noting that every victim’s lungs have been damaged in different ways and Vitamin E was not detected all of the suspected products.
This provides enough shreds of evidence to conclude that illicit THC products are behind most of these cases. There is a possibility that a lot of people, particularly Americans are unlikely to openly admit using these products, given that cannabis is still illegal in the country, which means there could be a higher percentage of cases linked to it. People who use legally purchased THC products, on the other hand, are still unclear about the kind of danger they are in.
“I understand they want to make the guidance as far-reaching as possible with the current unknowns, but providing clearer data on this can help to guide some of these difficult conversations on risks vs benefits, especially in the populations of those using THC containing vapes for medical purposes,” Janis said.
Some drug policy experts have strongly opposed the federal and state governments’ approaches to dealing with EVALI. Multiple states including New York and Utah have suggested passing bans on stores that sell flavored nicotine products, but as expected, those are facing legal challenges as the federal government is evaluating its own version.
Until January 2020, Massachusetts has implemented a ban on the sale of all vaping products. Vaping garnered huge popularity among teens through flavored products. This has triggered people asking questions like whether the entire e-cigarette industry should have been regulated in a better way well before 2019. It is worth mentioning here that there are no concrete pieces of evidence that show a direct connection between EVALI and these controversy-plagued products. On the downside, the ban is likely to encourage some users to buy vape products from the black market.
While talking to Gizmodo, Matt Sutton of the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance said: “What we are seeing play out right now is a real-life drama of how various substances are criminalized without justified reasoning and reliable research to do so.”
“Given that all evidence points to the substances in question being purchased off the street and not from legitimately licensed retailers, any bans that are put in place will only negatively impact the safest sources. Unfortunately, many lawmakers have purported the facts and taken advantage of these deaths to run a propaganda campaign aimed at banning vaping, given growing concerns around youth vaping,” she added.
Janis points out that the public isn’t getting the right information, even whether if a small percentage of EVALI cases do end up being caused by e-cigarettes.
“I have not heard of any of these cases connected to large e-cig manufacturers like Juul. If they are implicated, that needs to be shared with all consumers. However, if not, that should also be shared, as many people are using e-cigs as a harm reduction tool,” she said. “I have been continually disappointed by the lack of acknowledgment of this in their vape messaging.”
The CDC has recently urged consumers not to go back to smoking traditional cigarettes in the wake of vape product bans implemented by the government. Moreover, vapers are more likely to now stick to smoking due to reports of EVALI, a vaping related illness has been causing several deaths and sickening numerous vapers. The officials must be clear about what’s going on out there so that people may pay heed to their warnings.
Side Effects of Vaping
It is no secret that vapes (e-cigarettes) are not medical devices and are likely to cause side effects for users. These side effects aren’t universal but are more situational given that there are several variables of devices and e-liquid available on the market. Moreover, the methods of vaping, as well as differences in frequency aren’t the same for different users. Here are some of the potential side effects of vaping.
- Dry mouth
This is the most common side effect of vaping. The dry mouth is usually associated with PG and VG (propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin), which are the base components of the e-liquid. A higher percentage of PG has been linked to a more drying effect on the mouth; it is not unusual for 100 percent VG vapers to experience it.
Counterintuitive can be held responsible for this. Note that PG and VG are both humectants, which explains why they are used consumable products to keep things moist. However, these components are hygroscopic as well. In other words, they absorb water.
- Sore throat
There are multiple factors including nicotine, propylene glycol, flavorings, or even the coil used in the atomizer that may cause a sore or scratchy throat. Some coils that are used in vaping are made using nickel, a component that many have an allergy to. The internet is brimming with reports that suggest a sore throat could also be caused due to high nicotine levels, particularly when combined with high levels of propylene glycol i.e. 50 percent or more.
Despite being ex-smokers or current smokers, beginners are more likely to complain about coughing while vaping. Coughing usually occurs when the user incorrectly vapes or inhales. For instance, the result of a high level of nicotine being used while directly inhaling the vapor to the lungs, or trying the pull the vape device like a cigarette with a lot of airflows.
Headaches are mostly experienced by those who quit smoking as part of the initial withdrawal symptoms. While nicotine can also be used in vapes, it is not the only alkaloid found in tobacco. Since alkaloid has a physiological effect on the smoker, quitting smoking leads to headaches.
Accounting to nearly 95 percent of the alkaloid content, nicotine is the main alkaloid in tobacco; however, tobacco smoke comprises several tobacco minor alkaloids that are not present in the e-liquid used in electronic cigarettes. The aforesaid tobacco minor alkaloids combine with nicotine and believed to increase potential dependency.
- Headrush or Dizziness
This is the same feeling that you get when you smoke a cigarette for the first time. Vaping causes dizziness and lightheadedness. Just like smoking, you will stop feeling dizzy as you start consuming more cigarettes or vaping in this case. This feeling comes from vaping nicotine, especially a higher level of nicotine.
- Weight Loss or Gain
Vaping will either aid in weight loss or cause weight gain, even if you use nicotine. There’s hearsay that nicotine suppresses hunger, thus leading to weight loss; however, there aren’t enough pieces of evidence that show it can help you lose a few extra pounds. Just like other stimulants (like caffeine), nicotine is linked to fat burning as it increases metabolic rate. It is worth noting though; weight loss and fat burning aren’t the same things.
Other side effects of vaping include nausea, tiredness and fatigue, and chest pain. Most of the above-mentioned side effects caused by vaping are side effects of nicotine usage. Although touted as an effective cessation tool, vape products or e-cigs aren’t a healthier alternative to smoking traditional cigarettes.