Federal health officials have identified vitamin E acetate in the lung fluids of 29 people sickened in the outbreak of unsafe vaping-related lung injuries.
Scientists may finally know what's behind vaping lung illnesses that have sickened more than 2,000 in the USA: a combination THC and an oil derived from vitamin E, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Friday.
Then, a Mayo Clinic team of researchers reported that biopsies of lung tissue taken from EVALI patients were similar to those taken from chemically burned lungs exposed to high concentrations of noxious fumes.
"This is the first time that we have detected a potential chemical of concern in biologic samples from patients with these lung injuries".
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The agency says they are still open to considering other chemicals as the investigation continues: "While it appears that vitamin E acetate is associated with EVALI, evidence is not yet sufficient to rule out contribution of other chemicals of concern to EVALI".
Vitamin E acetate is a common additive in many cosmetic and food products; it is considered safe when applied to the skin or consumed, but evidence indicates that it may be risky when inhaled.
As was suspected shortly after vape-related lung injuries began to surface, a new study reveals that vitamin E acetate present in poorly-made THC vape products is the likely cause of over 2,000 lung injury cases and 39 deaths.
While the findings released Friday are seen as a significant development, the CDC warns that there could still be additional factors at play.
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It's not clear how vitamin E acetate might actually harm the lungs. Previously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and investigations by NY state had suggested this oil might be a cause for concern after it was found in a number of products taken from patients with EVALI. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, was also found in 23 patients, including three who said they had not used THC products.
Health officials believe the dead and injured patients used psychoactive THC-containing liquids bought off the black market that were diluted with a common chemical additive that, under vaping conditions, becomes risky. Nicotine metabolites were detected in 16 of 26 patient specimens. Numerous injured also reported using counterfeit or black-market products containing THC, notably those marketed as "Dank Vapes". But none of them were found in the lung fluid samples.
Vitamin E acetate is found in lotions, shave gels, lip balms, shampoos, soaps, and anti-aging creams, as well as oral supplements.
Anne Schuchat, the CDC's principal deputy director, said tests have been conducted for a wide variety of substances, including plant oils and petroleum distillates. There are legally produced THC vaping products in some states, but better to be safe than sorry. Virtually all the products were obtained on the illicit market.
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