A: The legal cannabis industry continues to grapple with EVALI, the CDC’s working term for a raft of “e-cigarette or vaping, product use associated lung injuries” that have affected an identified 2,290 patients nationally and killed 47. With most cases involving illicit products in unregulated markets, both the CDC and the legal industry have strongly cautioned consumers against purchasing illicit cannabis products. The vape crisis has also cast a spotlight on the efficacy of the legal market’s standards and regulations to reduce public health risks like EVALI.
At a recent Revel event in New York City, a panel of industry leaders addressed some of the known causes of the vaping crisis, and suggested ways to identify and deploy safer vaping products for cannabis consumers.
As New Frontier Data’s Chief Knowledge Officer John Kagia noted while moderating a panel discussion about the role that vape products play in the overall cannabis market, their popularity has grown due to their portability and convenience. Vape sales were estimated to reach $4.9 billion in 2019, and account for roughly 29% of all legal cannabis sales.
Noting their rapid consumer adoption and the significant role that vape products play in the broader cannabis ecosystem, the panelists shared their insights regarding the causes of vape-related illnesses stemming from illicit THC cartridges, and suggestions for how to prioritize consumer safety.
Vitamin E acetate remains the leading presumed cause of EVALI.
While the specific cause or causes of EVALI remain undetermined and under investigation, the CDC has identified the presence of Vitamin E acetate in samples of lung fluids taken from individuals suffering from EVALI. Vitamin E acetate is a common additive in illicit and unregulated THC vape products.
Testing and certification of vape products is necessary to ensure that the cannabis being consumed is free of contaminants.
Mandatory testing of cannabis within regulated markets is designed to enforce safety standards. As such, consumers of legal products can be assured that those items that they are purchasing are safe for consumption and free of adulterants. A recent study by CannaSafe found that among 12 illicit vape samples, nine (9) contained Vitamin E acetate and all 12 contained pesticides. In contrast, none across 104 samples of licensed vape products contained Vitamin E acetate – and no pesticides were detected. Alarmingly, some of the illicit vapes comprised as much as 40% Vitamin E acetate, reflecting the illicit producers’ use of the oil to replicate the color and viscosity of high-quality cannabis oils.
Educational outreach – for consumers and policy makers alike – regarding the differences between the regulated and unregulated markets is necessary to reduce health risks.
Two key themes emerged from the evening’s discussion: education and advocacy. Consumers need to be educated both about the health risks associated with illicit vape products and the value-add of mandated product-testing. Recognizing risks from counterfeit products will help consumers to better appreciate the need for testing and certifying legal cannabis.
Likewise, industry stakeholders should continue to better engage with and inform policy makers about vital differences between legal and illicit products, and about the safeguards in place to protect consumers.
Ultimately, it remains incumbent upon industry participants to aggressively self-regulate through data-informed, scientifically sound processes to consistently develop safe products and deliver positive consumer experiences.