Newly revealed evidence points away from vitamin E acetate as the cause in Oregon of last year’s lung-injury outbreak associated with vaping cannabis products.
Oregon Health Authority officials, presenting at a cannabis regulatory rules meeting Friday morning, said Centers for Disease Control testing of seven cannabis products — all from licensed, regulated producers — believed to have been used by Oregon victims detected no vitamin E acetate.
That runs contrary to what the CDC uncovered nationally about the cutting agent — it says “vitamin E acetate has been found in product samples tested by FDA and state laboratories and in patient lung fluid samples tested by CDC from geographically diverse states.”
While the Oregon products didn’t have vitamin E acetate, they all did contain squalene, a little-discussed diluent obtained from shark liver oil and vegetable oils.
Dr. Tom Jeanne, the deputy state epidemiologist, called the squalene “potentially concerning,” although he added that with other compounds also turning up in the testing, the evidence together showed “no clear culprit, no single substance or contaminant linked to all cases.”
Oregon had 23 cases of what became known as vaping product use-associated lung injury, or “EVALI.” Two people died. OHA and the Oregon Liquor Control Commission tracked down seven of the products that investigators believe were used by the victims. They emphasized that many of the victims used other products that weren’t obtained and tested.
Jeanne revealed the findings at an OLCC advisory committee meeting on proposed rules that would ban non-cannabis-derived additives from the vape products the agency regulates.
OHA and other experts who appeared Friday said that while many of the additives found in cannabis vape products are proven safe for some uses — in topicals or ingested — there was virtually no evidence that they were safe to inhale in the vaporized form, while there was evidence that vaping many of them was risky.
Instead, a compound called squalene has raised concerns.
Beyond that, they said a lack of transparency about the actual contents of flavor formulations and diluents that producers buy from vendors heightened the risk. Even what are billed as virtually pure botanically derived terpenes were found to have a host of other potentially troubling compounds, one private lab said.
“This started raising some alarms for us,” Douglas Duncan, lab director at CannaSafe, said of testing done on what was marketed as virtually pure myrcene, a commonly used terpene.
By Pete Danko for Portland Business Journal