As health agencies work to identify the culprit in the swath of severe respiratory illnesses reported nationwide linked to vaping, one suspect has come under intense national scrutiny: vitamin E acetate, a compound found in many black-market vaping cartridges.
One food, environmental and cannabis testing lab in Oregon, Pixis Labs, recently developed a matrix that tests for vitamin E acetate in cannabis products. They developed test when news of the national epidemic emerged.
Pixis Labs already tests cannabis products for different compounds, and have many clients that are licensed cannabis manufacturers.
Derrick Tanner, a spokesman for Pixis Labs, says the lab will be offering its testing to the general public starting Sep. 16. He says the company has tested several cannabis oils for a few existing clients to test the validity of the method. Though he declined to comment about if vitamin E acetate was found in the samples, Tanner notes that the samples Pixis tested were not currently available on the market.
"Anyone who's…not even just generating cartridges and oils, anybody who's ancillary in this service line is interested in having this as an additional test for their product," says Tanner. "Everyone's concerned about it right now."
He says manufacturers who do not produce 100 percent of their materials are especially concerned about additives slipped into products without their knowledge—but he says this type of deception is not unique to the cannabis industry. Cutting pure products with fillers is a common phenomena in the food industry, Tanner says, and the two most prominent examples of that are olive oil and honey.
"Any time you have a commodity that's highly valued, and there's a way to increase your profits one way or another, there's going to be certain people who may take advantage of that and try to [stretch their commodity] out."
But concern about additives to cannabis oil is especially intense during an outbreak of respiratory illnesses linked to vaping.
Justin Wilson of Gresham was Oregon's second reported case of the severe respiratory illness. He tells WW that his doctor reported that oils in his e-juice inhaled through his Juul—vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol—had attached to lipids in Wilson's lungs and trapped the fatty oils in the lungs, nearly suffocating him.
Some of the cases being researched by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been named as lipid pneumonia, where fat particles gather in the lungs, become too heavy for the lungs to remove, and severely inhibit breathing.
The ratio of cutting agents, or dilutants, to cannabis oil in vape cartridges may be a factor in the illnesses. But the ingredients themselves are also under scrutiny.
The Oregon Liquor Control Commission does not currently require testing for vitamin E acetate in cannabis products, but according to its spokesman Mark Pettinger, tighter regulations may be coming.
"Because of the vaping illness crisis," he says, "the OLCC will consider taking whatever action is necessary to protect consumer health, including the recall of tainted product, and banning inclusion of questionable additives into marijuana products that threaten human health and public safety."