Vaping investigation breakthrough: ‘Sticky’ chemical linked to THC may be to blame

Vitamin E acetate found in all lung fluid samples tested from injured vapers

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US health officials are reporting a breakthrough in their investigation into the cause of an outbreak of vaping illnesses.

As NBC News reported earlier, numerous lung illnesses have been diagnosed as lipoid pneumonia, in which large amount of lipids, potentially from inhaling vaporized oil, become concentrated in the lungs.

That being said, there is still a small group of EVALI patients who report having used only nicotine-containing e-cigarettes or vaping products rather than THC-containing products.

The Centers for Disease Control said the additive, which can cause serious lung injury when vaped, was found in 29 patients from ten different states who were all diagnosed with EVALI, or e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury. The substance recently became a go-to substitute for vape juice producers looking to cut corners, especially in black market THC cartridges where there's no oversight or regulation.

Although the findings announced Friday do not rule out other possible compounds or ingredients that may be causing the lung injuries, Schuchat described the lab results as a "breakthrough" in the investigation.

Vitamin E acetate is not found in Juul products, for instance, though it's not yet clear what products besides those bought on the black market might have been using the additive, believing it to be harmless.

The latest samples were collected through a process in which fluid is pushed into the lungs and then collected for analysis.

The CDC has issued numerous warnings since the outbreak began, including advising people not to vape any products that contain THC.

"This is the first time that we have detected a potential chemical of concern in biologic samples from patients with these lung injuries". Health investigators have said since almost the beginning of the outbreak in mid-August that some ingredients, including vitamin E acetate, could be responsible for some of the lung illness cases. The CDC has said that in a small percentage of confirmed illnesses, patients had reported using nicotine-only products.

The CDC's study was published today in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

Vitamin E acetate was the only substance tested for that showed up in all 29 samples. Finding THC in 82% of samples is "very noteworthy", but on the flip side, not finding it in 18% of samples is "very explainable", said Dr. Jim Pirkle of the CDC's Environmental Health Laboratory during the news conference. It usually does not cause harm when swallowed, but its effects when inhaled have not been extensively studied.

State health officials in NY had first identified vitamin E acetate from several samples collected in August that were analyzed by the Wadsworth Center lab.

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