Last Friday, in response to the panic surrounding the recent rise in vape-related deaths, the Centennial Institute released a letter urging officials to ban all marijuana vaping products and restrict any further expansion of the legal marijuana industry. The Centennial Institute’s statement reacts to a CDC report, also released last Friday, that compiled all available data regarding the vape-related illness epidemic. 

“We call upon local, state, and federal officials to take immediate action to protect citizens from the health problems associated with marijuana vaping. The problems resulting from marijuana use can no longer be ignored. We also call for Senators to reject the SAFE Banking Act in light of the CDC research detailing problems stemming from marijuana use,” said Jeff Hunt, Director of the Centennial Institute.

The current epidemic of vaping-related illness and death is a serious public health concern, but upon examination of the available evidence it becomes clear that the Centennial Institute mischaracterized the CDC research and conclusions regarding the cause of the epidemic. The Centennial Institute points to data from the report, which received data on substances used in e-cigarettes or vaping products in the 30 days prior to symptom onset among 514 patients, citing that 77% reported using THC-containing products; 36% reported exclusive use of THC-containing products. At first glance, this report is extremely damning to THC vape products, but the Centennial Institute neglected to highlight a multitude of significant conclusions and data from the report that implicates offenders entirely separate from the legal marijuana market.

 So what does the data actually tell us? Perhaps the most significant conclusion to discuss from the CDC report is that, so far, “No single product or substance has been linked to all lung injury cases.” 

In an attempt to find the culprits of the epidemic, NBC News commissioned testing of 18 THC vaping product samples, a combination of 15 black market products and three legal products from California dispensaries. The results were shocking. The black market products, overwhelmingly tested positive for Vitamin E acetate, pesticides, and myclobutanil, a fungicide that can transform into hydrogen cyanide when burned. The side effects of inhaling these substances can be very damaging. Regarding these harmful substances, Dr. Melodi Pirzada states that myclobutanil inhalation has “a very toxic effect on the lungs,” and Vitamin E acetate should “never be inhaled.” However, a second critical result from the NBC test found that none of the three legal products from dispensaries tested positive for metals, pesticides or residual solvents like Vitamin E. 

The Wall Street Journal also spoke to physicians about the epidemic for answers. After realizing that her patients’ illnesses were related to vaping from THC cartridges, Dr. Melodi Pirzada explained, “They all say that their friend gave [it to] me, or ‘I was at a party and I just got my hands on it.’ We don’t know where they are getting [them].” Further, the investigation found the extent to which black market vape cartridge manufacturers will go to counterfeit legal marijuana products. Buying cartridges that resemble legal products and filling them with untested, impure, product is the norm in black market THC vape operations. This counterfeiting process indicates that the black market vendors are aware of the difference between their product and legal product, and they seek to exploit their customers’ trust in the legal marijuana market by selling the counterfeit cartridges. 

None of these reports fully absolve the legal marijuana market in the vape-related illness epidemic, and there are still many questions that need to be answered to find the causes. But there is no denying that the data that we do have indicates that it is far more likely that unregulated products bought on the black market will have dangerous additives and substances, that health officials already recognize, can lead to negative health outcomes. The Centennial Institute not only ignores the implications from the available data to draw their conclusions, their insistence that support should be withdrawn from the legal market could lead to further cases of vape-related illness by pushing consumers to purchase black market products if legal products become unavailable. We’ve seen time and again that prohibition does not stop consumption. The Centennial Institute’s belief that prohibition is the way out of this epidemic demonstrates clearly just how far their heads are buried in the sand on the issue. 

So where can the legal marijuana market go from here? Testing of legal THC-containing product is already an industry standard, and as the NBC report discovered, legal products are not testing positive for the harmful substances common on the black market. The CDC is recommending that while investigations into the epidemic continue, consumers should refrain from any type of vaping. If consumers choose to continue vaping THC, the best course of action is sticking to legal THC products purchased from licensed marijuana dispensaries. Until conclusive evidence is made public, we urge that consumers remain educated on the available data, and continue to look to the CDC for any updates on their investigation.