New York health officials have zeroed in on a substance found in cannabis vaping products called vitamin E acetate they worry could be contributing to an outbreak of severe, vape-related illnesses that has left hundreds sick and at least two people dead in recent weeks.
Lab results show “very high” levels of vitamin E acetate in almost all of the samples analyzed in New York that contain cannabis, state officials said Thursday. While the compound is commonly available as a dietary supplement or as a topical application, investigators are investigating vitamin E acetate to determine “its health effects when inhaled because its oil-like properties could be associated with the observed symptoms.”
At least 34 people in the state have reported severe pulmonary illnesses after using cannabis-containing vape products. Vitamin E acetate was not found in any nicotine-based products that were tested.
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The state’s health commissioner urged individuals to take caution when using vaping products amid the findings, although he told NPR he wasn’t yet convinced other substances weren’t to blame.
“The cases of pulmonary illnesses associated with vaping are continuing to rise across New York State and the country,” the health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, said in a statement. “We urge the public to be vigilant about any vaping products that they or any family members may be using and to immediately contact their health care provider if they develop any unusual symptoms. In general, vaping of unknown substances is dangerous, and we continue to explore all options to combat this public health issue.”
The Food and Drug Administration said that it continued to test samples of vaping products, but cautioned that it had not yet found a single cause to the unexplained illnesses.
“No one substance, including Vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all of the samples tested,” FDA spokesman Michael Felberbaum told The Washington Post on Thursday. “Importantly, identifying any compounds that are present in the samples will be one piece of the puzzle but will not necessarily answer questions about causality.”
The findings come amid a mysterious outbreak of severe respiratory diseases linked to vape pens and e-cigarettes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month it had found at least 215 cases in 25 states linked to the products, in which otherwise healthy people came down with severe illnesses. Two deaths have been linked to vaping.
The CDC also warned consumers not to buy any e-cigarette products “off the street” or modify any substances they obtain.