FDA Escalates THC Vape Warning

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On Friday, acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Ned Sharpless issued an updated consumer warning regarding a mystery illness linked to vaporizing cannabis and nicotine products.

The agency is “strengthening our message to the public” regarding THC vapes, Sharpless said in a statement, telling consumers that they “should not use vaping products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive component of the cannabis plant.” 

The alert builds on previous FDA recommendations and “is based on new information we’re continuing to learn from both patients and the samples that have been tested so far.” Of the products that have been tested, the FDA said in a statement, “a majority of the hundreds of samples of vaping products tested by the states or by the FDA so far have been identified as containing THC.”

Some 1,080 people living in 48 states and 1 U.S. territory have fallen ill, some seriously. Now, 18 deaths have been confirmed in 15 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which updated their numbers Thursday.

The CDC and FDA are “working tirelessly” to investigate the matter, while the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations is also continuing their parallel enforcement investigation. 

OCI agents are “focused on identifying the products that are making people ill and following the supply chain to the source. We are not pursuing any enforcement actions associated with personal use of any vaping products; our interest is in the suppliers,” Sharpless said. 

It is important to note that no single compound has been found has “emerged as a singular culprit,” Sharpless said. “We do know that THC is present in most of the samples being tested,” he added. 

“Because of this, the agency believes it is prudent to stop using vaping products that contain THC or that have had any substances added to them, including those purchased from retail establishments.” 

FDA and CDC officials faced a grilling by House lawmakers in late September during a hearing called “Sounding the Alarm: The Public Health Threats of E-Cigarettes.” (Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of the hearing here.) 

Already, some lawmakers are reacting with bans on vape products. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state-wide public health emergency in response to the unidentified lung illnesses, calling for a 4-month ban on all vaping products in the state, including cannabis, that would last until January 24, 2020. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order to ban vape flavorings and directed the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board and the Department of Health to commit to a number of actions. The moment the source (or sources) of the vape-related illnesses is identified, those too will be “immediately” banned. For their part, the LCB has created warning signage.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles, a hotbed of illicit cannabis activity, could be headed for an outright vape ban as a proposal has been put forward by Paul Krekorian, a council member representing the 2nd district (which includes the eastern and southeastern areas of the San Fernando Valley and parts of the Crescenta Valley).

Krekorian’s plan asks the city attorney to draft an ordinance that will “prohibit the sale of all cannabis products and associated accessories used for vaping within the City of Los Angeles for one year, and to require renewal of that prohibition each year unless and until the Council affirmatively finds that particular cannabis vaping products have been determined safe for consumer use.” (Note the inclusion of “accessories.”)

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