New York State health authorities have announced that they have found "a very high concentration of vitamin E acetate in almost all samples containing cannabis" and given by the patients who presented themselves. Acetate is the chemical name of the molecule.
Vitamin E is a normally harmless supplement that can be bought as a capsule to swallow, or oil to apply to the skin.
"But do not heat it and inhale it, because it's an oil, and the lungs do not like heated oils and react badly," says Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at the hospital Lenox Hill of New York.
The substance was found in liquid refills sold in very colorful packaging under the name Dank Vapes, a "brand" that apparently does not correspond to any legitimate business but is distributed on the street and on the internet with some success.
Since the beginning of the summer, the American health authorities frantically sought out the cause of the serious pulmonary diseases observed at 215 people at this stage: cough, chest pains, nausea, vomiting … Two people died, in August in the Illinois and in July in Oregon.
In most cases, patients admitted to having vapoted refills of cannabis electronic cigarettes instead of nicotine. In the case of the death of Oregon, he had bought his product at a licensed cannabis clinic.
But liquids contain many ingredients other than THC, the psychoactive molecule of cannabis. There are also additives, diluents, aromas … Their effect on health when they are sprayed is still poorly studied.
As the industry is poorly regulated because the use of cannabis is illegal in some states and at the federal level, but allowed in others, manufacturers act with relative impunity, especially on the internet.
– Juul under pressure –
Federal authorities are more cautious and have not yet concluded which ingredients in e-cigarettes are related to diseases. Their recommendation remains not to use street-bought products and, for young people and pregnant women, not to vapot at all.
"More information is needed to better understand the relationship between certain products or substances and diseases," said Michael Felberbaum, a spokesman for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
FDA laboratories are in possession of more than 100 samples involved.
Lung diseases add to the headache of legal manufacturers of electronic cigarettes, like Juul, the market leader, who are accused by the health authorities of actively promoting their products to young people as a healthy and cool alternative to the cigarette.
While the number of tobacco smokers has tended to decline for several years in American colleges and high schools, this decline was counteracted by the rapid rise in the number of vapers, likely to get used to nicotine.
Authorities – and manufacturers under pressure – have therefore launched a campaign to enforce the ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes to minors, 18 or 21 years depending on the state. And many states have explicitly banned their sale to under-21s.