In August of 2019, a mysterious lung illness spread throughout the country. With over 2,600 cases confirmed and 57 deaths, what lead to this outbreak?
The CDC scrambled to get to the bottom of the illness as quick as possible, finding one correlating factor: most of the patients had consumed illegal black-market THC filled cartridges. Upon running screens of patients lungs, it appeared as though there was a liquid build up on the lining of the lungs. They quickly attempted to gather samples of the exact products that had been consumed by those affected. One common ingredient was found in the majority of those samples, Vitamin E Acetate. This common ingredient can be found in daily skin care products and dietary supplements, but is far from safe to inhale.
When vaporized, Vitamin E can create an aerosol, but upon entering the lungs it does not dissipate like normal water-soluble vaping ingredients. This collection of lipid oil is then able to regather in pockets within the lungs of the patient, causing difficulty breathing and many other side effects.
But why was there Vitamin E in the THC cartridges being used? Vitamin E Acetate has a very thick consistency and honey-like appearance. Most cannabis cartridges with a high purity THC oil are thick, and any air bubbles are slow moving. When purchasing a THC cartridge on the black market, users may test the thickness of the oil for purity by simply flipping the cartridge upside down. When someone producing these illegal cartridges is attempting to "cut" or dilute the product to increase profit margins, they look for a substance that resembles the expensive THC oil. When mixed properly, it is nearly impossible to tell if the cartridge purchased off the street has been "cut" with Vitamin E.
As these lung illnesses start to taper off, the CDC has issued a warning against purchasing any THC vape cartridge not purchased through a trusted dispensary that tests for potency as well as any other unwanted contaminants.
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