USA health officials announced a breakthrough Friday into the cause of a mysterious outbreak of vaping illnesses, reporting they have a "very strong culprit".
An anonymous vaping habits survey released by IL health officials indicated those with lung damage used black-market THC vaping products. "For the first time we have identified a potential toxin of concern, in biologic samples".
CDC officials found vitamin E acetate, an oil derived from the vitamin, in all 29 samples of lung fluid collected from patients who had fallen ill or died from lung injuries. "While it appears that vitamin E acetate is associated with EVALI, evidence is not yet sufficient to rule out contribution of other chemicals of concern with EVALI", it says in the statement. The substance recently became a go-to substitute for vape juice producers looking to cut corners, especially in black market THC cartridges where there's no oversight or regulation.
Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, said tests have been conducted for a wide variety of substances, including plant oils and petroleum distillates.
While vitamin E acetate is used in supplements and skin creams and does not seem to cause harm when swallowed or used topically, previous research suggests that inhaling vitamin E acetate might impair people's lung function. The CDC said the lack of THC in five of those samples does not definitively indicate the patients didn't use the drug, because THC can be hard to detect in samples taken from lungs. Previously, researchers had found vitamin E acetate in product samples tested. Lab testing found THC, the ingredient that gives marijuana users a high, in 23 of 28 patient samples - including those from three patients who said they hadn't vaped THC products.
Almost 85 percent of lung injury patients in the nationwide outbreak have reported using products containing THC. The CDC has said that in a small percentage of confirmed illnesses, patients had reported using nicotine-only products.
The findings are being published in Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. "While no definitive cause has been found, as I've said from the very beginning: if you don't know what you are smoking, don't smoke it". A subset of 66 people who suffered lung damage indicated they were nine times more likely to have used illicit products and to have indulged more often. Of these samples, the officials found that 82-percent also tested positive for THC and 62-percent tested positive for nicotine.
State health officials in NY had first identified vitamin E acetate from several samples collected in August that were analyzed by the Wadsworth Center lab.