A new clue and more black market vaping products emerge as health officials at the state and federal level continue to investigate the sudden rash of lung illnesses hitting vapers across the US. Tests now show one chemical was present in many patient samples from different locations.

That chemical, vitamin E acetate, is derived from vitamin E. US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) investigators found the vitamin E acetate oil in many of the sampled cannabis products taken from sick patients across the nation.

The US FDA revealed the findings via call and press release Friday, September 6, 2019. On the call, New York State health department officials revealed that vitamin E acetate was also found in almost all recent patient cannabis samples in the state.

Black market vapes: use caution

This link between the mystery illnesses and one substance is the first break of its kind in this case. However, health officials emphasized that it is too soon to be sure that this is the cause of the illness.

Vitamin E is essential to human health, occurs naturally in foods like almonds and olive oil. The little vitamin E supplements you see at the store are full of vitamin-derived oil, vitamin E acetate.

Although this makes the substance sound harmless, it’s not totally clear what vaping it might do to the body. The lungs are designed to handle gases, not oils, and many patients report respiratory symptoms.

It’s also difficult to track an illness without a standardized method for reporting potential cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now investigating at the national level. However, they are doing so without any state level reporting requirement or many of the standard protocols that ease investigations of infectious diseases.

The Washington Post reports that there were 215 possible cases in 25 states as of August 27. Additional reports of lung illnesses continue to roll in. And after three deaths, the CDC warned the public not to vape at all until they better understand the illness and its causes.

Contaminants and black market vaping products

It seems likely so far that counterfeit substances, contaminants, and other negative consequences of the black market are causing this illness. For example, health officials at both the state and federal levels are focusing largely on illicit products.

Many patients admitted to healthcare providers that they purchased cannabis products off the street. Many are teens who cannot legally buy the products from a licensed retailer.

Vitamin E acetate is itself not an approved additive for use in medical marijuana in New York. In other words, in the place with the strongest vitamin E acetate connection, the substance is, by definition, only present in black market vaping products.

And despite the promising vitamin E link, no one substance has been present in every sampled. Health officials are also keeping a close eye on other important factors such as environmental and behavioral issues.

VV has reported on the issue of heating compounds and vaping them with unknown health effects in the past. This is an ongoing area of research, which we can expect to see develop in the coming months and years. What is even odder about this story is the sudden, nationwide onset of this illness.

In the meantime, there’s no question that buying whatever products you use from licensed, reputable dispensaries or other retailers is the safest way to go. Never trust black market vaping products, or anything priced similarly.

And if you do get sick, report it and get help.