Your friend texts you one night telling you that they cannot stop coughing and they are suffering from excruciating chest pain. You tell them to get help, but they are too afraid as to what their parents will say. They had purchased a THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol- the psychoactive component in marijuana) vape cartridge from a kid at school about a week ago and could not let their parents find out. The next day, you find out that they were hospitalized early in the morning with severe lung injury directly related to vaping. This situation has become a reality for about 1,500 people around the country. 34 people have lost their lives as of Oct. 22. Large nicotine vape companies, such as Juul, are receiving backlash for these incidents. “I hear about the deaths from vaping, but ‘vaping’ is a very general term,” says one student who requested to remain anonymous.
The confusion arises when media companies directly associate e-cigarettes with vaping. E-cigarettes involve the consumption of nicotine through vaping; however, not all vaping involves nicotine.
With the recent legalization of marijuana in many states and increased use of vaping products (nicotine and THC), vaping related lung injuries and deaths are becoming more of an epidemic. For nearly 100 years, the use of cannabis has been strongly frowned upon throughout the US. Recently, however, studies of the medical aspects of marijuana have increased significantly and have led to its legalization for medical uses in 34 states including Oklahoma. With this legalization, new products have been created to allow other ways of consuming cannabis.
A popular product that has been put on the market within the last 15 years is a “cart”, otherwise known as a cartridge, THC vape, or dab pen. These “carts” are often filled with THC distillate which is made through a process of distillation similar to that of moonshine. Some of the plant’s chemicals are separated with a solvent, boiled, condensed, and mixed into the final product. It comes directly from the cannabis plant itself and is consumed by vaping.
Vaping involves heating up the distillate to a specific temperature to which it becomes a vapor. It is after which inhaled. Some students are completely unaware of this product.
“I would have thought the deaths had to do with companies like Juul because its what I see the most,” stated one student who also requested anonymity.
The problem comes with the black market. The underground market for these vapes is expanding rapidly and becoming more popular with younger people due to its simplicity. Since it comes out of a distillate process, the extremely potent smell of marijuana is almost completely removed. This makes it very desirable for younger audiences because “carts” can be consumed in almost any place without reeking of smoke or cannabis itself.
These vapes in legal medical marijuana dispensaries often cost anywhere between $50 to upwards of $85 for a gram. However, on the street, they can be found for as cheap as $15 for a gram according to multiple medical cannabis online sources. This is how teens and adults are losing their lives. Street vape producers will use vitamin E oil that is advertised as “distillate thinner” to make these “carts” look full. They also use very cheap distillate filled with pesticides from the original plant that were not washed off in the distillation process. Consuming this very cheap distillate, unknown amounts of vitamin E oil and other chemicals such as hydrogen cyanide is causing teens to contract lung disease and lose their life within a matter of days. It is, however, filling the pockets of their friends or classmates that are selling them to people. In the legal market, though, the THC cartridges contain no traces of heavy metals, pesticides or residual solvents like Vitamin E according to a study conducted by NBC News in association with CannaSafe.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says there is not yet a pinpoint on what specific chemical is causing the injuries, but vitamin E acetate is prevalent in most cases. The number of people suffering from these vaping injuries continues to rise at an alarming rate, climbing to 1,604 total vaping cases since August 2019 according to the CDC.
“The thing is that teens will not stop using these vapes, but they should be aware of what they are putting into their bodies,” says another student who asked to remain anonymous. “The bottom line is that it shouldn’t be done in the first place.” Preventing teens from using these vapes is a difficult task. However, educating teens about what they are putting into their bodies can lead them to stay away from these extremely harmful products.