Do we really have a vaping crisis?
Up in Vapor

Do we really have a vaping crisis?

As a pharmacist, it is my duty – and the duty of any healthcare professional – to disseminate truth in relation to health and wellness. Unfortunately, with the current “vaping crisis,” this hasn’t been the case.

First things…

While I’m frustrated with the spin around this “vaping crisis,” it’s important to state and acknowledge that it is very likely that the long term effects of vaping e-cigs in their current state are not good for your health. Nicotine spikes heart rate and blood pressure which can cause heart-related issues. Worse than nicotine, however, is the host of other products used in e-cigs that deliver nicotine to the lungs. Many of these are toxins or carcinogens that pose a significant health risk, especially with long term use. Although vaping might be safer than smoking nicotine (the studies regarding long-term use are still out) that does not mean that vaping is safe. 

One death is one death too many. We need to get to the bottom of what’s causing these illnesses and related deaths to prevent further harm. 

The Facts:

  1. Smoking cigarettes is bad… mmmmkay?
  2. Smoking cannabis… has risks but less long-term than cigarettes
  3. Recent vaping related illness has affected just over 1000 people*
  4. Recent vaping related deaths has reached 19 people*
  5. Little is known about the long-term health effects of vaping (e-cigs or e-cannabis)
  6. Nicotine and cannabis vapes are not the same

*As of October 4th 2019

Is this an epidemic?

An epidemic is defined as the appearance of a particular disease in a very large number of people during the same period of time. Examples from U.S. history include smallpox, polio, the Spanish flu, and HIV/AIDS. Though the number affected continues to rise (in part due to retrospective identification of cases) the stats on the recent vaping related illness are incredibly low:

  • Total US population: 327 Million
  • American adults that vape: 40-50 Million (15%)
  • Americans with the recent vaping-related illness: 1080 (0.00002% of adult vapers)
  • Deaths from the recent vaping-related illness: 19 (0.0000002% of adult vapers)

According to a 2017 analysis of deaths in the United States, you have a greater chance of death by lightning strike. We have to do something about this! WHY ISN’T THE GOVERNMENT INSTALLING MORE LIGHTNING RODS!!???

The spin coming out of this crisis is simply captured in one of my favorite movie scenes from Kindergarten Cop

We’re smarter than kindergartners. Let’s call it what it is: something to be concerned and remain vigilant about. But, it is NOT an epidemic. This is affecting a very small percent of the population that has reported using black-market vaping products. This is not a “vaping crisis.” It is an outbreak of illness related to black-market vaping products primarily marketed and sold as legitimate cannabis products.

Stop the spin.

My frustration around this topic relates to how quickly the spin over an issue like this kicks up. Early on, cases of these types of illnesses were identified as being related mostly to cannabis vapes, yet advocates against nicotine vaping hijacked the issue in order to push their agenda to eliminate flavored vaping products. This is problematic because it creates a lack of trust and misleads the public on the true cause of the problem…it won’t stop teen vaping, either (I’ll explain why later). This kind of fear-mongering affects patients who count on cannabis vaping for legitimate medical issues.

Black-market entrepreneurs often called “juicers” illegally fill empty vape cartridges with cannabis oil in a non-regulated and non-controlled environment using fillers to make the cartridges appear like quality products. This also happens on occasion with nicotine vape pods; cannabis “juice” is sometimes added. States that are banning vaping are only contributing to the need and desire for black-market products and fueling the fire for more deaths and illnesses.

Have you ever played fetch with a dog, faked the throw, and kept the ball in your hand? Like Fido, we’re being fooled with misdirection. Let’s stop this reactionary nonsense.

Eliminating flavored products won’t help… and could potentiate things

Why? Because teenagers do teenager things.

Have you ever told a teenager they can’t do something? Like not vape? Yeah, it won’t work. They’ll find a way. Sadly, as a parent of teenagers, I’ve heard the stories. Empty pods refilled and resold. Cannabis added to nicotine pods. Do we really think taking the flavor out is going to keep them from flavoring them with their own additives? Then we haven’t made any progress and we’re right back in this risky black market situation. We have to educate our children and do our best to guide them but at the end of the day any attempts to control them will fall short.

A vape is a vape is a vape… right?

Wrong. Cannabis vapes can be made in a similar manner to nicotine vapes, but cannabis vapes can also be produced by methods that do not utilize the additives and products that cause concern. Cannabis vapes can be made by “clean” methods that do not utilize dangerous solvents or cutting agents. Additionally, cannabis vaporizing devices are becoming increasingly complex. Take for instance Gofire’s device that, as they describe, “physically extrudes the medicine from the cartridge through a thermal barrier and into a separate convection oven for vaporization. This eliminates the common industry practice of re-heating the oil with each inhale, which causes degradation of the medicine and can allow harmful compounds to contaminate the oil.”

Caution should be taken, however, when utilizing cannabis vapes that add terpenes (the compounds that give cannabis its smell…think essential oils) back into the mixture in a combination or concentration not contained in the plant itself. The therapeutic benefits of terpenes are well documented but we do not have a good understanding of what happens when we inhale them in much higher concentrations or in different variations than what the original plant contains.

What to do?

  1. Only buy through legal distributors. Whether nicotine or cannabis, if you aren’t buying from a licensed dealer, you’re rolling the dice. The Center for Disease Control has confirmed that nearly all products involved in the current “crisis” are black market vapes.
  2. Know your products. There are so many products on the market and regulations vary from state to state so it’s important to research the product you want in order to confirm that the manufacturer is adhering to proper standards.
  3. Use alternative products. There are a number of non-inhaled products available for nicotine and cannabis. If you want to quit nicotine, in addition to smokeless products there are also a handful of prescription medications and supplements that can also help. On the cannabis side, there are plenty of methods other than vaping to medicate.
  4. Set up a lightning rod.

Need more help? Contact me here and let me help you with your vaping or other cannabis, CBD or medication concerns.

And if you think vaping is bad, we should talk about generic drug recalls….

But that’s a story for another day.

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