Should I Throw Out My Weed Vape Pen?

Many people hospitalized from vape-related illnesses reported using THC oil. Here’s what experts know, and how you should proceed.

Sarah Watts
Elemental
Published in
3 min readSep 17, 2019

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Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

AsAs of September 17, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported at least six deaths and 530 hospitalizations from the use of vape products like e-cigarettes and vape pens. The illnesses have spanned 36 states and one U.S. territory, but the deaths have come from states on the West Coast and in the Midwest: Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, California, and Oregon.

“Patients have been coming in with various lung issues caused by irritation in the lungs related to [vapes],” says Dr. MuChun Tsai, a pulmonary care physician at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. While there have been no vaping-related deaths in Ohio, Tsai says community hospitals are seeing a significant uptick in vaping-related hospitalizations. The most common symptoms reported are shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

The cause of the illnesses and deaths is still under investigation and a single vape or e-cigarette product has not been identified as responsible. But according to the CDC, the commonality among all the sick people is a history of vape product use, and the majority of people hospitalized have used THC oil — the active ingredient in marijuana — in their vape pens. Tsai reports that the sick people she’s seen in Ohio have commonly used THC or a combination of THC and nicotine in their vapes. Because doctors have found “no consistent evidence of an infectious disease,” the suspected cause of the lung irritation is a chemical exposure.

What’s behind the recent hospitalizations?

Vape products first hit the American market over a decade ago. They use cartridges that are filled with oil and other additives; these oils are aerosolized and become vapor that the user inhales. Some vape products, such as e-cigarettes, contain nicotine so that users can satisfy cravings without some of the toxic chemicals that come from combustible tobacco. Others use cartridges with THC oil.

It’s clear that e-cigarettes produce fewer amounts of toxic chemicals than traditional cigarettes. But…

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Sarah Watts
Elemental

Musing about mental health, science, pop culture and more.