By Angela Underwood
Fact: As of Oct. 15, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported 1,479 vaping lung injury cases in 49 states, with 33 confirmed deaths in 24 states.
While the number of vaping deaths and injury cannot be refuted, hearsay regarding THC-infused cartridges as the sole cause can, which is why the New York Daily Weed Report reached out to Dr. Debra Kimless, a leading expert on medical cannabis, and Michael Klein, cannabisMD website CEO, for answers.
“We saw that some of the people who suffered with this vaping lung issue, which is acute respiratory distress syndrome, didn’t vape cartridges that contained cannabis, it was a nicotine derived iteration,” Dr. Kimless, who is featured in the movie The CBD Story, said.
The problem, Dr. Kimless says, is not knowing exactly what was in each deadly cartridge “because the nicotine and the flavors are very different chemicals than the cannabinoids themselves.”
“I still think this type of characterization needs to be studied in depth before we can really put our finger on what the cause is,” she said.
According to Klein, who recently attended an investor’s conference regarding vaping, executives there researched fully integrated medical cannabis dispensaries in Florida to see just how the vape crisis is affecting small business.
“Patients are moving away from vaping because of the fear, which was forcing them into flower or edibles for delivery,” Klein said.
Dr. Kimless said any time the lung is used as a method of delivery for any product, there is always a concern about unintended side effects, especially where the illicit market is concerned.
“Is it (lung injury) from the illicit market and the fact that adulterating is being done to the cartridges people are using, or is it from the nature of the products of vaporization or heating the cannabinoids themselves?” she asked. “Until we figure it out it doesn’t make sense to vape if you don’t have to.”
Both the doctor and the CEO there is more to the vaping crisis and agree the answer lies in federal and state regulation of medical cannabis and vaping.
“It’s getting very complicated and it needs to be unpacked, and clearly regulation is the answer,” Klein said. “Creating a framework that keeps consumers safe is the bottom-line.”
But even regulation is complicated, according to Dr. Kimless.
“The beauty of having states’ rights and legalized state programs allows for a lot of innovation and flexibility,” she said, adding that people using medical cannabis varies across a state, nevertheless across the country.
“What may work for one population of people may not necessarily be the truth for other populations of people, so the federal irregularities on this substance called cannabis has really put a damper on understanding the benefits and maybe the risks,” she said.
And it gets even more complicated, according to Klein, who said there may be a number of consumers who are not coming forward because of the concern that they have consumed THC and the stigma that surrounds it.
“There is this mass ban of cartridges across the board, which have revealed concerns around to THC and the size of the illicit market,” he said.
According to Dr. Kimless, the vaping crisis is only heightened by the illicit market and that while not vaping altogether is preferred, it’s not always practical.
“I think we can agree that sometimes ‘just say no’ is a lot easier to say than do, so if you have to vape, or feel the need to vape, whatever you do get your cannabis product from a legitimate source,” she said, adding “we tell our kids don’t take candy from strangers, but why do we think medicine from a gas station is ok?”
Research is key, according to Klein, who said the cannabisMD platform was launched for that very reason, since nobody was speaking to the cannabis-curious consumer with an authoritative voice.
“We don’t have a bias toward use,” Klein said. “Our goal is to show all the positive research in a first-person account, and all the not-so positive research in first-person accounts, with the goal of empowering consumers to make choices right for their lifestyle.”
Yet again, it’s complicated, he added.
“There is this focus on the THC piece of it, which goes to the complicated argument that one person’s medicine is another person’s recreational drug,” Klein said.
The website recently began the CBD Shop initiative in collaboration with Think20 Labs, which is putting specific products through a rigorous screening process to determine the purity and potency of the drug.
“Now we can safely say the data is doing the talking, here are products that say what is in the bottle is true,” Klein said.
Like Dr. Kimless, Klein has a few words of advice until more answers are revealed in America’s vaping crisis.
“Do not participate in the illicit market, only go to a regulated dispensary, and do your homework on the product as far as lab testing,” he said.