This “vaping crisis,” as it’s been dubbed, is growing into a really a big story. I’m sure you’ve at least casually stumbled into it on the nightly news or Facebook.
From a public health perspective, it’s truly concerning. I have a lot of empathy for the patients and their families, who are living through the nightmare of a life-threatening health scare, or worse in the case of fatalities.
The “good news,” I guess, is that it seems to be an epidemic of our own doing. We aren’t under attack by some new virus or bacterium, where the cure is yet to be discovered and elusive. Instead, we manufactured a product — “vapes” — for consumption, and now we’re learning that some of them are not safe for consumption.
Therefore, the simplest solution to stopping the vaping crisis is to stop vaping. All vaping. At least for now, until we get to the bottom of what precisely is the root cause of these illnesses.
It’s Not the Plant
I’m willing to bet just about anything that the organic compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) will not ultimately be fingered as the root cause of these vaping-related lung illnesses.
I’m confident that the organic compound cannabidiol (CBD) will also not be found guilty of the crime.
And that’s the first thing I think you should realize as you digest this convoluted story and try to understand its potential implications for the cannabis industry’s future as a whole.
THC, CBD, and nicotine are organic compounds that have existed naturally in plants for thousands of years.
We know that nicotine isn’t particularly good for you, since chronic use can cause cardiac issues. But nicotine has never been shown to cause acute lung illnesses like the ones we’re seeing in these vaping cases now.
THC and CBD, consumed in forms other than vapes, have also generally proven to be safe. To my knowledge, no one has eaten a CBD gummy, or even smoked a joint, then fallen victim to the acute lung illnesses that are making news.
So, if it isn’t THC, CBD, or nicotine causing this epidemic — which I’m confident is the eventual, inevitable conclusion — then what is it?
It’s a Contaminant
A number of potential contaminants have already been considered.
Myclobutanil, a fungicide that breaks down into hydrogen cyanide gas when heated above 400 degrees (as is done in some vapes), was found in high concentrations of one batch of black-market vapes that were recently seized and tested in California.
Some unregulated vape products have even been found to have dangerous heavy metals, including mercury, arsenic, and lead!
Those are particularly egregious contaminants. But the fact is, we don’t even know for sure that the problem is not a less-obvious culprit, such as the vitamin E oil, or vegetable glycerin that’s intended to innocuously carry the vape’s core compounds (i.e. nicotine or THC).
As I see it, that could potentially be a more formidable hurdle for the vape industry than an egregious contaminant like mercury. But we still don’t know much about these illnesses, so it’s really just too early to say.
I’m a firm believer that the industry will figure this out. And whether it proves to be an easy fix or not, I’m willing to bet that the top-quality operators will emerge from this crisis with a renewed commitment to producing the safest product possible, and will be able to grab market share from those who don’t.
As is often the case, as the market matures it will be separated into the “high-quality” producers and everyone else. And if vape consumers are smart, they’ll be willing to pay a higher price for product from a reputable, high-quality manufacturer.