The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows there have been 2,172 cases of serious lung injury related to vaping in 49 states, Washington, D.C. and two U.S. territories as of Nov. 13.
Forty-two people have died in 24 states and the District of Columbia, according to the CDC.
Vitamin E Acetate: A Common Thread In Vaping Cases
Vitamin E acetate was found in every one of 29 fluid samples submitted to the CDC from patients in 10 states.
"These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury within the lungs," the federal agency said.
Most of the products containing THC that are involved in the outbreak came from an illegal or unregulated source, according to the CDC.
While vitamin E is used as an additive to THC vapes, cannabis companies have a broader challenge in producing clean and safe products due to a range of factors that include mold, yeast, bacteria and water pollution.
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Cannabis should be grown in a clean room with appropriate air filtration and regulated laboratory practices in order to avoid microorganism contamination, according to Microbiology International, a biotechnology company that offers the microbiology automation in the modern laboratory.
The company, founded in 1997, "specializes in autoclaves, peristaltic pumps, air samplers, anaerobic chambers, plate pourers, media preparators and stomachers as well as other automation equipment used in microbiological laboratories."
While most microorganisms should not create health issues at low levels, some pathogenic microorganisms are more toxic and can cause allergies and more serious health problems.
The cannabis users that are most at risk are those with compromised immune systems, such as those undergoing chemotherapy.
Research done in a collaboration between researchers at the University of California Davis-Medical Center and Steep Hill Labs showed that of 20 randomly selected cannabis samples, all had detectable levels of microbial contamination — and many had signiﬁcant pathogenic microorganism contamination.
An astonishing diversity of bacteria and fungi were found in the samples, and they included enterobacteria, aspergillus, klebsiella, pseudomonas, fusarium, acinetobacter, botryotinia, mucor, penicillium and many others.
The cannabis testing lab CannaSafe has found other contaminants in cannabis products such as solvents, heavy metals, mycotoxins and pesticides.
In 2017, around 15% of all commercially grown flower had microbial contamination, according to the decontamination company Willow Industries.
Cannabis Contamination Solutions
What can companies do to ensure the safety of any cannabis ﬂower product grown under any conditions?
Unfortunately, relying mostly on sterilization of the product does not guarantee complete safety.
Sterilization may kill live microbes, but it doesn’t eliminate its presence in the form of DNA, proteins or lipids left behind — or remove the toxins some microbes have already left, according to Microbiology International.
These concerns and pesticide usage can create great problems for consumers. During smoking, cannabis components enter the bloodstream faster, which can aggravate the effects of the contaminants. Even dead organisms have been known to cause allergies and asthma.
Prevention Is Always The Best Option
Pharmaceutical-grade medical cannabis should be produced using good growing practices, including clean grow rooms and greenhouses, full humidity, HEPA-filtered air systems, regulated ventilation and gowns and hair coverings for workers.
Cannabis growers can also make sure their flower is safe after harvest by testing it at an accredited lab.
In addition to respecting good growing practices and preventing contamination in advance, cultivators can use products such as Willow Industries’ ozone-based post-harvest microbial decontamination technology, WillowPure.
The WillowPure system utilizes industry-recognized USDA/EPA approved ozone gas to eliminate pathogenic contaminants on harvested cannabis. The process keeps the plant’s terpenes, color, taste and potency intact, according to the company.
“Microbial contaminants pose a major health risk to consumers who utilize medical cannabis for numerous conditions, and whose upper airway and immune systems are compromised,” Dr. Ramie Tritt, an ENT and nasal-sinus surgeon said in a statement provided by the company.
“Willow has developed a solution to reduce or eliminate microbial contaminants without compromising the medicinal and recreational properties of the flower to allow safe use of cannabis.”
Photo courtesy of Willow Industries.