Black-Market Marijuana Vapes Test Positive For Hydrogen Cyanide

Caitlyn Clancey 27 Sep 2019

A laboratory study commissioned by NBC News has shown that some black-market marijuana vapes contain hydrogen cyanide, a discovery which some believe might explain the baffling lung disease plaguing so many vape users.

19-year-old Fabian Castillo smoked a marijuana vape to deal with anxiety before he developed serious damage to his lungs.

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He told NBC News he was admitted to the hospital on August 2.

"I couldn't breathe," he said. "I couldn't talk. I literally couldn't even move my hands."

He would spend the next nine days in a medically induced coma. Nearly two months after the ordeal, he says he still has difficulty breathing deeply, which leaves him feeling like he's just run down a flight of stairs.

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Castillo blames his health issues on his decision to vape.

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"Everything was put on pause because I decided to vape," he told WRCB-TV. "I thought it was safe."

The teen has now said he believes he was smoking from a bootleg vape pen that was contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

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So far, a total of 12 people have reportedly died from the mysterious illness that's been linked to vaping products.

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This week, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that more than 800 lung injury cases have been reported in the U.S, and all of these patients have a history of using e-cigarettes or vapes.

After three more deaths were confirmed on Thursday, Oregon state health officer Dr. Dean Sidelinger implored for people to "stop vaping immediately."

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Some state health officials have speculated that Vitamin E, a solvent used to "cut" cannabis for vape pens, could be responsible for the illness outbreak.

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But there's been no confirmed cause reported, leaving the medical community helplessly attempting to control a rapidly growing health crisis without knowing its cause.

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In an effort to find some answers, NBC News commissioned a laboratory study at one of the nation's leading cannabis testing facilities.

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The news organization ordered testing on a total of 18 vaping cartridges infused with THC, the main psychoactive compound in marijuana.

Three samples were purchased from legal dispensaries in California, of which the CannaSafe testing company found no heavy metals, pesticides, or residual solvents, like Vitamin E.

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But it was the cartridges bought from unlicensed dealers that turned up the most troubling results.

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Of the 15 black-market products tested, 13 were found to contain Vitamin E, which health officials say can cause severe lung damage when it's inhaled.

Even more troubling, researchers also found the pesticide myclobutanil which, when burned, can turn into hydrogen cyanide — a dangerous chemical which takes only minutes to lead to fatal asphyxiation.

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It interferes with the normal use of oxygen in just about every organ in the human body.

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According to the CDC, this pale blue or colorless liquid is rapidly absorbed by the lungs which can lead to a rapid death, unless supplemental oxygen is administered.

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Antonio Frazier, the vice president of operations at CannaSafe, said no one should be smoking cyanide.

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"I don't think anyone would buy a cart that was labeled hydrogen cyanide on it," he said, adding that this discovery is "very disturbing" and is "going to cause a very toxic effect on the lungs."

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The FDA said investigators are working to identify the toxic products and "follow the supply chain to the source."

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"FDA is not pursing any actions associated with personal use of any vaping products, our interest is in the suppliers," commissioner Ned Sharpless said.

"But," he added, "just to be clear, if we determine that someone is manufacturing or distributing illicit, adulterated vaping products that caused illness and death for personal profit, we would consider that to be a criminal act."

According to NBC News, the American Vaping Association says the outbreak is linked to THC oils and knock-off products.

h/t: NBC News, CDC

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