This past summer, over 215 patients were hospitalized with mysterious respiratory problems. The majority were young and healthy despite having difficulty breathing, severe nausea, and fevers. A handful of these patients ended up in the ICU, in comas, or on ventilators. In Illinois, a young woman died after experiencing similar problems.
All of these cases are tied to vaping.
The term “vaping,” comes from the misconception that the vapor produced from the e-cigarettes, vape pens, or JUULs, is water vapor or steam. In reality, each device heats an e-liquid that produces an aerosol that the user inhales and exhales.
The e-liquid often contains some kind of solvent like vegetable glycerin, nicotine, flavoring (which gives JUULs their trademark sweetness), and other chemicals. So the aerosol produced, that sweet-smelling mist, still contains toxic chemicals that could be linked to cancer and other respiratory diseases. THC, the active component in marijuana, can also be found in vaping products.
Notice how I slipped “nicotine” in there? If we’re talking about JUULs, which take up 72% of the market share of e-cigarette-like products, one pod or flavor cartridge has the same amount of nicotine as one pack of cigarettes. Nicotine, of course, is found in cigarettes and while it doesn’t necessarily cause cancer nor is excessively dangerous on its own, it’s highly addictive.
In fact, it’s as hard to give up as heroin. That’s why people who start vaping eventually to vape.
What’s crazy is that JUULing, or vaping, was originally invented to help cigarette-smokers quench their nicotine addiction without using cancer-causing cigarettes. Unfortunately, the market didn’t realize that while JUULs could help people come down from their cigarette addiction, they would introduce a younger generation to a new kind of beast.
Yes, vaping is safer than smoking cigarettes. But, what makes vaping dangerous is the heating process. Sometimes, when the e-liquid is heated, there are oil (remember the vegetable glycerin I mentioned?) droplets left in the device that can get into the lungs. The body then treats the oil as a foreign object and launches an immune attack that creates inflammation and fluid build-up. That can lead to pneumonia and the other symptoms the patients have been seeing. At least, that’s what we think we’ve figured out.
Seizures, heart attacks, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular problems are all also linked to vaping. These could be caused by the metal particles present in e-liquid, nicotine, really anything. The fact is, because vaping has been getting so popular so fast, science can’t keep up.
If vaping has been on the rise since 2012, why are we only seeing problems now? The FDA thinks that illegal manufacturers may have introduced something new into the e-liquid that’s causing these reactions. Makes sense, right?
The CDC even issued a warning to young people to not use illegal vaping products — problem solved, crisis averted.
But the problem is that even people who are legally purchasing reputable, well as reputable as it gets, vaping products are experiencing problems. This challenges the idea that the problems are being caused by illicit products that have been tampered with or DIYed.
According to Wisconsin public health officials, 89% of the individuals they spoke to experienced problems used vaping devices to inhale THC. This may be a lead, but again, some exceptions complicate the situation.
Because the industry is so unregulated, we know next to nothing about what’s actually in the devices and e-liquid. The ingredient labels, of course, leave out a lot. With so little knowledge, it’s very difficult to understand and treat the root cause of these respiratory problems caused by vaping. Right now, steroids and other treatments have been working in patients by reducing inflammation. But that’s treating the symptom, not the source of the illness.
In response to the growing number of vaping related hospitalizations, the FDA is now analyzing various e-liquid samples in an attempt to find the culprit chemical. Until we know more, it’s probably best to lay off the vape.
Originally published at http://qol.home.blog on September 5, 2019.