Dissecting the Vaping Illness Mystery | WSJ


– [Narrator] This is an x-ray of the lungs of one of the teenagers
hospitalized after vaping THC. All of this white cloudiness means there’s a lot of
inflammation in his lungs, and that’s making it
hard for him to breathe. So, what’s making his
lungs go from this to this? This patient is one in
an exploding pattern of vaping-related lung illnesses. The exact cause of the
illnesses is still unknown. We asked Dr. Melodi Pirzada
at NYU Winthrop Hospital about treating patients affected
by this growing outbreak, including the patient
with the inflamed lungs. – [Melodi] This is a 18-year old. – [Narrator] At first, she didn’t connect his condition to vaping. Given the fact that this is so new, how were you able to figure it out? – We were lucky to have
the mom find the cartridge and bring it to us, and that’s how we correlated
vaping to his condition. – [Narrator] Many patients
have reported vaping THC oils, which come packaged in
cartridges like these. These were given to Dr. Pirzada
by her patient’s family. Do you know where the patients are getting the cartridges to begin with? – They all say that their friend gave me, or, “I was at a party and
I just got my hands on it.” We don’t know where they are getting. – [Narrator] This
cartridge tested positive for vitamin E acetate, a cutting agent some
health officials suspect is behind many of the
vaping-related lung illnesses. TKO Products, a legal manufacturer of
THC vapes in California, has learned that
counterfeits like this one exist all over the country. According to TKO, even the counterfeits are being
knocked off on Chinese sites and sold in the US. Someone buying a TKO fake won’t know if it was
made by the same people as the last one they bought. Our reporting shows that even in states where cannabis is fully legal, the black market is proving
more resilient than expected. Dr. Brian Strasnick’s lab tests thousands of cannabis-containing products, including vaping oils, for
substances like pesticides and bacteria before these can be sold legally in Massachusetts. Right now, there’s a lot
of interest in testing because of the current string of illnesses that have been related to vaping. Can you talk a little bit about
your tests in that context? – There’s no mandate for
testing once the material is already in the
cartridges, so we don’t know what’s in the cartridges, and I don’t think anybody really does. – [Narrator] Health officials
are warning consumers against buying products off the street. But according to our reporting,
there’s also a booming market for fakes online, on
Amazon, Facebook, Instagram, and even LinkedIn. Why would people wanna cut a
THC oil with vitamin E acetate? – I think one of the reasons
is that the consumers are under this impression
that the thicker it is, the more concentrated and the more potent, which is scientifically invalid. Vitamin E acetate or
propylene glycol is a thick, very viscous-type substance. The consumer looks at it and says, “It’s thick, there’s a bubble
there; it’s gotta be more potent.” That’s not the case. – [Narrator] Propylene
glycol and vitamin E acetate are common ingredients in
products like cosmetics, processed foods, lotions,
and dietary supplements. But when inhaled, these
substances may interfere with the way our lungs work,
even resulting in death. – If they are going to continue vaping, they should really stop THC vaping ASAP. – I think it’s irrational to think that people are gonna stop vaping. My suggestion to people
would be if you can stop, do stop. If you haven’t started, don’t start. – [Narrator] In the wake of
the reported deaths, large retailers like Walmart have
announced that they will stop selling all E-cigarettes, and
policymakers like Governor Charlie Baker in Massachusetts
have similarly responded by ordering a temporary ban on
all vaping products in the most sweeping prohibition on
E-cigarettes in the US. – I have a 20-year-old daughter. She said, “Of course,
Mom, everybody is vaping.” When I said, “Why do you think that is,” her answer was, “Because
teenagers think they are invincible it’s not
going to happen to them. It just happened to
another another person, but not to them.”

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