There is a recent outbreak of lung injuries across the U.S., and it’s been linked to vaping THC.
As of October 8, 2019, 1,299 cases of lung injury have been associated with e-cigarette or vaping products. Most of these patients are under 25 years old, and most have reported a history of vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
Vaping has been on the rise in recent years, particularly among adolescents and young adults. In fact, according to the latest Monitoring the Future survey, a record-number of teenagers used vaping devices in 2018. All the while, little has been known or revealed about the long-term effects of vaping.
However, new data from the Center of Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have both reported that vaping THC is a key contributor to the ongoing outbreak of lung injury and disease. Specifically, THC products obtained from informal sources (such as friends or family members) or off-the-street (from illicit dealers) are the greatest cause for concern.
Tetrahydrocannabinol, more commonly known as THC, is the psychoactive component of cannabis that produces its “high” or mind-altering effects – such as heightened senses and feelings of euphoria. However, because of this, THC is also the addictive component of drugs like marijuana and K2.
In our article, “Is Vaping Marijuana Bad for You?” we outlined some of the known risks of vaping THC substances like marijuana. These included a greater vulnerability of:
- Developing an addiction. Despite popular belief, marijuana is highly addictive. In fact, national statistics reveal that teens who start using marijuana before age 18 are up to seven times more likely to develop an addiction than adults.
- Using products with unknown substances. Vape pen manufacturers are not required to report their ingredients, so users don’t always know what’s in them. In addition, illicit drugs off the street can also be laced with other, unknown chemicals that may be harmful to ingest.
- Succumbing to other effects of marijuana, such as mental health issues, drops in academic performance and IQ, and less satisfaction and motivation in life.
On top of these risks, it seems we can now add lung disease to the list. Here is what the CDC knows, and has revealed to us so far, about vaping THC:
- Among the 573 patients the CDC has reports on so far, about 76% reported vaping THC products in the three-months prior to symptom onset. About 32% reported using THC exclusively during this same timeframe.
- Meanwhile, these percentages were much smaller for those vaping nicotine and nicotine-only products.
- To date, the data suggests that products containing THC, particularly those obtained off the street or from other informal sources (i.e. not a doctor or dispensary), are linked to the majority of lung injuries and deaths.
- Over 1,000 cases of lung injury have been reported, along with 21 deaths relating to vaping THC. These counts continue to increase and new cases are being reported, which has made this investigation ongoing and more complex.
The CDC and FDA are each working to further investigate the causes of these lung injuries as quickly as possible. However, right now, all fingers point to vaping THC. While the investigation continues, these government sources each advise families, health care professionals, and consumers:
- Do not use vaping products containing THC
- Do not using vaping products obtained off the street or from other illegal sources (especially those containing THC)
- Do not modify any vaping substances, such as THC or other oils, into vaping products – including those bought through retail stores
- Do not use any vaping product if you are an adolescent, young adult, and/or pregnant, regardless of which substance is in there. Youth are at the greatest vulnerability for addiction.
- If you have a marijuana use disorder, seek out evidence-based treatment with your healthcare provider. Several health effects have been associated with prolonged and heavy THC use.
Remember that no vaping product has been approved by the FDA for therapeutic use or for marketing. The FDA has not approved THC-containing substances for medical use, either. This indicates to us that there are still unknown effects of the drug and these devices, and that right now, the potential harm far outweighs the seeming “benefits.”
If your young one is using marijuana or a vaping device, it’s important to be aware of the prospective risks. It’s important to also know the signs of marijuana addiction, and to pay attention to any symptoms of lung injury, such as cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
As the appeal of vaping grows among younger demographics, and as access to these devices (and drugs) gets easier, it’s important that we – as clinicians, parents, educators, and concerned loved ones – take action, increase awareness, and prevent these long-term side effects of vaping in our youth.
To learn more about the growing outbreak of lung injury relating to vaporizing, please don’t hesitate to visit the FDA or CDC websites. And as suggested by the Center for Disease Control, if you suspect your loved one is addicted to marijuana, or are concerned about any vaping habits, please do not hesitate to seek out professional help. Turnbridge’s clinical and support staff are available at 877-581-1793.