Vaping-Related Deaths Often Linked to Products With THC, a Cannabinoid

Main psychoactive agent in cannabis may be related to vaping deaths and lung injuries, says CDC
By Alan McDonnell
Alan McDonnell
Alan McDonnell
October 29, 2019 Updated: October 29, 2019

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said the current spate of deaths and serious lung injuries related to vaping is likely related to products containing Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the primary psychoactive agent in cannabis.

Of the 19 deaths for which the CDC could obtain data on what substances were used, some 84 percent reported using THC-containing products, with 63 percent reporting that the victim had used THC-containing products exclusively.

With 34 deaths from e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) and 1,604 EVALI cases reported to the CDC to date, the explosion in the number of fatalities and patients experiencing vaping-related medical issues has proved to be a puzzle for researchers.

However, a new report by the CDC indicates that THC, a cannabinoid, might well be responsible.

Although most EVALI cases occur in younger men, the report stated that “patients with EVALI who died were older than the overall population of EVALI patients.”

Most patients with EVALI are young white males, the report states.

“Among patients with available data, 79 percent were under age 35, 78 percent were non-Hispanic white, and 70 percent were males. Additionally, about half of the cases, and two deaths, occurred in patients under age 25 years,” the report states.

The Trump administration has already proposed a ban on flavored e-cigarettes. As public awareness about the scale of the problem grows, support for such a ban could help curb the increase in vaping and e-cigarette use among teens and young people.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said: “It is evident from today’s report that these lung injuries are disproportionately affecting young people. As CDC receives additional data, a more defined picture of those impacted is taking shape. These new insights can help bring us a step closer to identifying the cause or causes of this outbreak.”

Mitch Zeller, director of the Center for Tobacco Products at the FDA, pointed out that data on THC use may not be completely reliable, as it relies on self-reporting.

“Remember that these are self-reports,” Zeller told reporters in a briefing on Oct. 25. “It’s the person saying, ‘I only used the nicotine-containing products.'”

Zeller said teens or persons living in a state where the use of THC-containing compounds is illegal may be reluctant to report using such products.

“The data do continue to point towards THC-containing products,” said CDC Deputy Director Anne Schuchat at the briefing.

She also pointed to the role that online purchasing of vaping and e-cigarette products may have in harming young people.

“A report in the MMWR [Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report] from Utah’s investigation found that most patients there had gotten THC-containing vaping products from informal sources or online, rather than from brick and mortar stores or dispensaries,” she said.

“The only way to assure that you are not at risk,” the CDC stated, “is to consider refraining from use of all e-cigarette and vaping products. Adults addicted to nicotine using e-cigarettes should weigh all risks and benefits, and consider utilizing FDA approved nicotine replacement therapies. They should not turn to or resume using combustible tobacco.”

“There is no safe tobacco product.”

Alan McDonnell
Alan McDonnell