Friday, September 27, 2019

NBC News Investigation Finds Vitamin E, Pesticides in Illicit Vape Cartridges

Posted By on Fri, Sep 27, 2019 at 2:35 PM

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An investigative report published by NBC News this morning seems to underscore the dangers of vaping cannabis products purchased on the illicit market, as reports of serious vaping-related lung disease continue to increase nationwide.

The news outlet purchased 18 THC vape pen cartridges — three from licensed dispensaries and 15 on the unregulated, illicit market — and reports the “findings were deeply troubling.”

While the three purchased at legal dispensaries tested clean for heavy metals, pesticides or residual solvents like Vitamin E, 13 of the 15 illicit market samples tested positive for Vitamin E, which some health officials believe is a potential cause of the rash of lung illnesses being being reported throughout the country, which now include a dozen deaths.

Further, the NBC News reported that it tested 10 of the unregulated vape cartridges for pesticides and all 10 came back dirty, with all containing varying amounts of the fungicide myclobutanil, which can transform into hydrogen cyanide when it is heated.

Here’s a description from our Dec. 21, 2017, story “High Stakes,” which looked at the local cannabis industry’s concerns about coming into compliance with the state’s recreational cannabis testing program that was set to come online in the beginning of 2018:

The biggest pesticide offender was myclobutanil — the active ingredient in fungicides like Eagle 20 and Nova 40 that are used to treat black rot and powdery mildew — which was responsible for the majority of failed tests. A systemic pesticide, myclobutanil, if sprayed on a plant, will actually be absorbed into the plant's tissue and remain there, so a plant sprayed when just a tiny start will have concentrations of it in its tissue when it comes to maturity months later. In fact, the pesticide is so strong it has been shown to turn up in subsequent generations of plants that have been treated with it.

And myclobutanil isn't something you want to be smoking. The fungicide is widely considered harmless even in large concentrations when used on wine grapes or produce, which are ingested orally and filtered through the liver prior to entering the bloodstream. But when the fungicide is put to heat — like, say, when smoked — it begins to produce hydrogen cyanide, or prussic acid, a systemic chemical asphyxiant that can be poisonous. Now it's important to note that nobody has studied repeated exposure to small amounts of hydrogen cyanide through marijuana smoking, so it's really hard to say just how harmful it may be, but it's generally agreed it's not a good idea.

In the months leading up to that story, people throughout the industry were gravely concerned about Humboldt County farmers’ ability to meet the state’s strict testing standards, as local labs were reporting that more than 40 percent of samples were failing tests, with myclobutinal being the most common pesticide found. At the time, some farmers were frantic — saying they grew all organic but were nonetheless failing tests, which caused them to reanalyze and test every aspect of their operation, from their soil and water to the clones they were purchasing.

By the end of 2017, however, local labs were reporting that fail rates had dropped close to 20 percent. It’s important to remember that those fail rates were for farmers working to come into compliance and proactively testing ahead of state requirements. It’s safe to assume that illicit market cannabis fail rates would have been — and likely remain — much higher if unregulated farmers were to test their crops.

Earlier this week, the California Department of Public Health issued an advisory warning people to stop vaping, no matter the substance or source, until its current investigations are complete. In a press release, the department reported that it has received 90 reports of people with a history of vaping who have been hospitalized for “severe breathing problems and lung damage,” including two deaths, statewide.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have launched parallel investigations hoped to definitively find the cause of the rash of illnesses, which have affected users of both nicotine and cannabis vaping.
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Thadeus Greenson

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Thadeus Greenson is the news editor of the North Coast Journal.

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