Vaping's Popularity Made Room For Dangerous Decisions

By Kelly Burch 09/24/19

"The end result of what could happen is not worth any high in the world,” said one man who fell ill after vaping. 

Image: 
man vaping
ID 112960522 © Oleksandr Suhak | Dreamstime.com

A few years ago, e-cigarettes were a novelty product, but today they’re incredibly common among everyone from high schoolers to middle aged adults.

The explosive growth of the vaping market, combined with the legalization of cannabis in many states, created a regulatory vacuum and a thriving black market that has left hundreds of people sick and nine people dead from vape-related lung illness.  

"The end result of what could happen is not worth any high in the world,” Ricky D’Ambrosio told USA Today. D’Ambrosio, 21, was hospitalized for 10 days earlier this month for a vape-related lung condition. 

D’Ambrosio had vaped cannabis for years. He said that his illness started when he went to a dispensary that "felt legitimate, but wasn't in the best part of town” to buy a vape cartridge. A week later he was in the hospital, violently vomiting and placed in a medically-induced coma for four days. 

Vaping-Related Illnesses

The vape-related illnesses and deaths that have grabbed headlines this summer were the product of a perfect storm, according to USA Today. Vapes were already super popular. They were increasingly being paired with cannabis cartridges, as marijuana became more widely legal.

Then, the 2018 Farm Bill, signed in December, legalized hemp and made it easier and less risky to produce vape cartridges that contain THC. Teens aren’t legally allowed to buy vape products, so they often turn to the black market, which can increase their risk of exposure to contaminants. 

“Young people are pretty nondiscriminatory in what they’re vaping,” said pulmonologist Sean Jorgensen Callahan. 

Black Market Vape Cartridges

David Kurzfeld, who owns a lab that tests THC products and removes contaminants, said that some people on the black market are looking to increase their profit at any cost. 

"They're spraying all kinds of crazy substances on their plants, it’s going downstream and we're seeing all the effects all over the country,” he said. He regularly finds mercury, arsenic and lead in the vape products that he tests. 

Foster Winans, a senior editor at Marijuana Times, explains that vaping heats chemicals so that “myclobutanil breaks down and emits hydrogen cyanide,” the "the same cyanide in the gas used by the Nazis to exterminate millions of Jews and other minorities.”

While legit producers will pay to have their products tested and chemicals removed, black market growers are unlikely to make that investment, Kurzfeld said.

"People are greedy. They can't take the loss of an entire season's crop. Every bit of the dirty product is sold illegally.”

Taylor Fredette, who was hospitalized for a vape-related illness earlier this year, said that more people need to be aware of the risk of vaping, especially with black market products. 

"This whole situation opened my eyes," she said. "I was meant to be here and should not allow myself to put such toxins in my body."

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Kelly Burch Contrib.jpg

Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.