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What the Vaping Crisis Means to America’s Cannabis and Hemp-Derived CBD Industries


As of today, there are now 22 known deaths blamed on vaping in the United States, a number that will unfortunately increase.


While the vaping crisis was initially blamed on nicotine vaping, it now appears that most of the deaths are attributable to illegal THC vape products.  


As of the first of this month, 1,080 lung injury cases associated with using an e-cigarette or vaping product were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from 48 states.


The confirmed deaths have not been limited to one state, nor a geographical region, but have occurred in 15 states, Alabama, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, and Virginia. 


Most of the patients were men and were under 35 years old, with 16 percent under 18 years old.


In a press briefing last week, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director indicated that the median age of the patients who died was around 50, with patients ranging in age from those in their 20s to their 70s. She also indicated that women represented the highest proportion of deaths. 


Schuchat also stated, “We haven’t seen a measurable drop-off in the occurrence of new cases. We don’t feel individuals have changed their behaviors or the products are gone. … I cannot stress enough the seriousness of these lung injuries.”


While no single vaping product has been determined to be the cause of all vaping-related lung injuries, the CDC reports that most patients with vape-related lung injuries reported a history of using THC vaping products. As a result, the CDC has recommended refraining from using both e-cigarettes and all types of vapes, especially those with THC.


A Mayo Clinic study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the likely cause of the lung damage is toxic chemicals in the vape liquid.  


The CDC in conjunction with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are now trying to determine the sources and causes of the outbreak with the objective of removing those vaping products from the marketplace. But Schuchat acknowledged that this would likely be a difficult and time-consuming process.  


The Impact of the Vaping Crisis on America’s Cannabis and Hemp-Derived CBD Industries


The vaping crisis is bad news and is impacting America’s state-licensed cannabis industry and its hemp-derived CBD industry. There will likely be a more significant impact on these industries as the causes of the lung damage and deaths are determined. 


What is interesting is that so far there haven’t been any reported vaping deaths from Colorado. As the first state to legalize recreational adult-use cannabis, vaping is very popular in the state and a high percentage of legal cannabis sales are concentrates and vape products. The lack of deaths in Colorado is likely due to both the easy availability of legal cannabis products, the minimal black market, and the state-mandated testing of all cannabis products. 


Another concern to the legal cannabis vaping industry is that the first product liability lawsuit has now been filed. There will likely be an avalanche of lawsuits, and many insurers may cease writing coverage for state-licensed cannabis businesses and hemp-derived CBD producers, or at a minimum, insurance premiums will likely sky-rocket. 


Already, out of fear, many users of THC vape products, including all types of concentrates and extracts are going back to flower. This will result in a loss of revenue from what are generally higher-margin products.


While it’s too early to jump to conclusions, full federal legalization of cannabis or additional states legalizing cannabis, with mandated testing, could be a solution to this vaping crisis.


I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of the eleven states and the District of Columbia who have legalized recreational or adult-use cannabis to ban THC vaping products completely. It’s also possible that some states will go further and also ban some or all types of extracts and concentrates. This again is bad news for America’s legal cannabis industry and consumers and could be seen as a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” approach. 


The impact on America’s hemp-derived CBD industry is also likely to be significant. Because the DEA doesn’t have a regulatory role regarding CBD products derived from hemp, any action will likely be taken by the FDA or the individual states. 


The FDA has generally stayed away from regulating the hemp-derived industry other than sending warning letters to a few CBD businesses who were making medical and health claims regarding their products. The FDA has the authority, if not the responsibility, of regulating both CBD and THC vaping products. The significant number of deaths and patients who have lung disease from vaping products may force the FDA to act. 


It wouldn’t surprise me if the FDA bans all THC vaping products. While many in the state-legal cannabis industry take the position that the FDA has no role in regulating state-licensed cannabis businesses, this is not the case. While the FDA has avoided regulating state-regulated cannabis businesses, the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1906, which created the FDA, clearly provided the agency with that authority. 


Copyright 2019 - Jeffrey O. Friedland, All Rights Reserved


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© 2020 Jeffrey Friedland - All Rights Reserved