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Vaping exploded in popularity over the past few years, and it's easy to understand why. Vaping is a discreet way to enjoy all the benefits of hemp and cannabis without the odor that goes along with smoking flower. Some even tout vaping as a healthier alternative to smoking.
But that belief was questioned in 2019 when an outbreak of lung disease associated with vape additives occurred. Vitamin E was the main culprit.
While vaporizing can be a healthier alternative to smoking, vape cartridges can include thinning agents and additives that are dangerous when heated and inhaled. At high temperatures, some of these seemingly innocuous compounds break down into carcinogenic compounds.
In 2019, hundreds of mysterious lung disease cases started popping up, which were eventually linked to vaping. And by the end of 2019, the CDC reported more than 2,500 hospitalizations and 55 deaths due to lung injuries strongly correlated with vape cartridges found on the black market. The disease has since been referred to as "vaping product use-associated lung injury," or "EVALI."
Based on hospital admissions and laboratory data, the CDC released findings that indicate vitamin E acetate played a significant role in the EVALI outbreak. Vitamin E acetate was a common ingredient used to thicken or dilute THC oils. Referred to as a "cutting agent," vitamin E was used on the illicit market to increase profits and cut costs by thinning out the solution while deceptively making it appear "thicker" to consumers.
Most companies eliminated vitamin E from vape products after the EVALI outbreak, but another controversial vaping ingredient may be on the horizon: squalene (also known as squalane).
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC), which oversees cannabis in the state, recently issued a press release warning the public about squalene and squalene. The OLCC stated that cannabis vaping products containing these additives were linked to safety concerns similar to those we saw from vitamin E acetate.
Squalene and squalane are both terpenes derived from olives that work outstanding as nourishing compounds in anti-aging skin serums. But when manufactured and sold in cannabis vapes, burnt olive oil extracts can produce dangerous chemicals that cause severe lung injury. Inhaling squalene has been linked to lipoid pneumonia.
The OLCC says some of the diluted products in question are still on shelves but that they are working to find and remove them. While the majority of products exist in the illicit market, OLCC found confirmed cases in Oregon, as well as Michigan.
Since the vaping health crisis of 2019, state regulators have continued investigating the safety of additives in hemp and cannabis vape products. Oregon's ban is the latest reminder that the issue of adulterated products is far from over. The story goes way beyond vitamin E and squalene.
Regulators must look at various chemical cutting agents that can contaminate the product and harm the user who inhales it. The majority of tainted products appear in the illegal realm where there's no third-party quality testing, but the risk of contamination stretches into the regulated market as well.
At ACS, we're staying on top of the news surrounding squalene as well as other potentially dangerous vaping additives. We're working with clients to ensure their products are 100% compliant and safe to ingest through the latest methodologies in cannabis testing.
In states like Florida, Vitamin E Acetate is already a mandatory test that is part of the compliance panel for vapes. Will squalene follow the same path?