Scientists may finally know what’s behind vaping lung illnesses that have sickened more than 2,000 in the US: a combination THC and an oil derived from vitamin E, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday.
Since vaping was discovered to be a common thread in the spate of lung illnesses that have killed 40 people in the US, scientists have been scrambling to discover the cause.
Now, principal deputy director of the CDC, Dr Ann Schuchat says that the combination is a ‘strong culprit’ for the illnesses, according to KTLA.
The agency’s analysis of 29 samples from the e-cigarettes used by people with the mysterious lung illness revealed that they all contained vitamin E acetate.
Twenty-three out of 28 samples contained THC.
Dr Schuchat said that other ingredients have not been ruled out and multiple causes are possible, but the ‘sticky’ nature of the acetate and commonality of THC are ‘noteworthy,’ according to CDC’s Dr James Pirkle.
All 29 samples of vaping products used by EVALI patients contained vitamin E acetate, a sticky, oily derivative of the nutrient that CDC officials now think may be the outbreaks’ culprit
Doctors still don’t know how to treat the illness that has been dubbed ‘EVAL’ (short for ‘e-cigarette or vaping product use associated lung injury) beyond supportive therapy like putting patients on respirators and, perhaps, steroid treatment.
Nonetheless, Dr Schuchat said: ‘These findings are significant,’ in the Friday press briefing.
Vitamin E acetate was an early suspect as a cause of vaping-related illnesses after scientists in a New York lab discovered its presence in many samples of products used by sickened vapers.
Dr James Pirkle described it as ‘enormously sticky.’
The oily substance had previously been linked to lung illnesses and is used in the making of many e-cigarette liquids.
Scientists theorized that the oil might be coating the lungs, triggering inflammation and damage.
But the investigation moved away from the acetate as it became clear that the vast majority – 82 percent – of illness-linked samples contained THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.
Then, a Mayo Clinic team of researchers reported that biopsies of lung tissue taken from EVALI patients were similar to those taken from chemically burned lungs exposed to high concentrations of noxious fumes.
E-cigarettes have been responsible for the deaths of 40 Americans in 24 states (red). Illnesses have been reported in every state except for Alaska
Now, the investigation has come full circle as the CDC reports the common presence of vitamin E acetate in the samples of THC e-cigarette products they’ve tested.
Vitamin E is safe to use in skin creams and to take in supplements, but the CDC warned that there is a ‘big difference’ between ingesting or using it on the skin and inhaling its sticky oil form.
Many of the vaping products linked to illnesses and deaths were purchased from bootleggers or other non-authorized dealers.
The CDC has not changed its warning against using these illegitimate products and continues to urge Americans who don’t use e-cigarettes not to start.
Although the agency says that smokers who have switched to vaping should not return to using combustible cigarettes, the CDC also advises vaping products should ‘never be used by youths, young adults or women who are pregnant.’