If you enjoy vaping, you’ve probably heard the phrase “vape pen lung injury” floating around and wondered if it’s real or just a scare tactic. After all, many people want to shut down vaping altogether.
Unfortunately, it’s not a sham, and vape pen lung injury is a real problem. Also called EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping Product Use-Associated Lung Injury), vape pen lung injury is exactly what it sounds like – people come down with specific symptoms tied to their use of vaping products. Since most people who vape are under 40 years old, the vast majority of people who get sick are relatively young and healthy.
What are the symptoms?
According to the CDC website, “Patients…have reported symptoms such as:
- Respiratory symptoms, including cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, or diarrhea
- Nonspecific constitutional symptoms, like fever, chills, or weight loss
Some patients have reported that their symptoms developed over a few days, while others have reported that their symptoms developed over several weeks.”
Several thousand cases have been reported across the United States since the disease started popping up, and many have required hospitalization. There have even been over 50 deaths, and most affected are young, otherwise healthy people.
The CDC began actively monitoring the distressing symptoms in 2019 and started passively monitoring new cases early in 2020 once they figured out that vaping was causing the respiratory disease. Since early 2020, the number of cases has gone down (but not completely away).
How do you get it?
Researchers aren’t exactly sure what part of vaping causes EVALI because there isn’t one indicator that shows up consistently in cases. According to the FDA, the vast majority of people who have EVALI use vaping products that contain THC, but the wrench is that some people with the disease have only used nicotine vaping products. So it’s not just THC, though it occurs much more often in people who vape cannabis juice.
Scientists also found that a majority of the people with EVALI used cartridges with vitamin E acetate. Ingested on its own or used topically, vitamin E acetate isn’t harmful to humans, but for some reason, when it’s inhaled, it can cause an inflammatory reaction in some people. Some flavoring products also seem to have a negative impact on the lungs.
The problem that scientists are running into is that by the time the illness starts, many people have used up or thrown away the cartridges that could have made them sick. Testing, then, is inconsistent and occasionally non-existent, making it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause. Additionally, not all people with EVALI are willing to admit or report that they use vaping products – cannabis or otherwise – so the data is incomplete.
Are all vaping cartridges dangerous?
What researchers do know is that most of the cartridges that they’ve tested were bought off the street or on the black market. When consumers purchase vaping products through these illicit sources, there is even less regulation, and some producers include dangerous chemicals into the solution.
Some tested samples showed that the vape juice was thinned out using one agent (presumably to stretch the cannabis or nicotine further) and then thickened to make the juice look authentic using another agent. Remember, vaping is taken in through the lungs, and the more chemicals you inhale, the higher the likelihood of an adverse reaction.
Is there a difference between vaping dry herb versus an e-cartridge?
While no form of vaping is completely risk-free, if you have to choose between a cartridge and dry herb, you should choose the latter. Dry herb vaporizers let you control what you are using, and you can monitor the quality and quantity of your herb. With dry herb, what you see is what you get. Sure, there aren’t as many fun flavor combinations as vape juice, but if that’s what you’re vaping for, you probably shouldn’t be vaping at all.
E-juice vaporizers, on the other hand, require you to take the manufacturer’s word for it. Many of the black market vaporizers that make people sick have been contaminated so that the manufacturer can make a few extra bucks. All of those additives aren’t necessary, and they can cause a lot of damage if you’re not careful where you purchase your juice. Additionally, vaporizers you buy off the street are often unregulated and can run hot, which can actually combust the fluid and release even more harmful chemicals into your lungs.
Vaping cannabis has a lot of health benefits, but if you’re going to vape, do so responsibly. Use a trusted dispensary, and keep a record of the products you use. Throw away any cartridges you may have purchased off the black market, and switch to a dry herb vaporizer if possible. These precautions can keep you safe as you enjoy your green.