Cannabis Culture

How mainstream media botched the vape lung story

David BienenstockOctober 16, 2019

Former FDA head Scott Gottlieb known as for legalization to unravel the vape disaster, however Wall Avenue Journal editors blamed legalization for inflicting the disaster—over Gottlieb’s personal story. (AP Photograph/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

In 1989, a mysterious determine often known as Dr. Lunglife despatched Excessive Occasions a set of detailed directions for remodeling a handful of simply obtained tools right into a low value vaporizer. He included a information to creating a extremely potent hashish focus that optimized the contraption’s effectiveness.

Quickly thereafter, the journal printed a letter to the editor from Okay.O. of Clarksville, Mississippi:

Simply thought I’d let you realize I constructed considered one of Dr. Lunglife’s vaporizers. Inform the nice physician that it has labored effectively for me. Now if I can simply get a extremely lengthy extension wire for the Hash Bash in Ann Arbor.

30 years of person information on vaping

Clearly, many hashish fans will need to have began experimenting with vaporization round this identical time.

Industrial merchandise required somewhat extra time to make it to market. The primary Volcano vaporizer, made by Storz & Bickel, appeared within the US in 2003. The primary pen-size vaporizers appeared round 2006. Hashish vape pens hit the American scene beginning round 2010.

That offers us—on the very least—a strong three a long time of anecdotal person information to work with when evaluating any potential harms concerned.

So when a rash of individuals began getting severely and even fatally unwell after utilizing vape pens earlier this yr, it was apparent that one thing apart from hashish have to be the perpetrator. The overwhelming variety of instances of VAPI, vaping related pulmonary harm, have been attributed to counterfeit merchandise produced and distributed illegally with none regulatory oversight in any way.

Tainted unlawful THC pens are suspect

At Leafly, our reporting staff tracked these harmful counterfeit pens from manufacturing to sale. We discovered a provide chain working wholly outdoors the legislation and with a blatant disregard for public well being. Theories on what’s inflicting VAPI vary from harmful components to poorly manufactured pens, or presumably some mixture of the 2. No proof has emerged to indicate THC, CBD, or every other cannabinoid is guilty.

In the meantime, we’ve got peer-reviewed proof favoring vaporizers over leaf smoking that dates again 15 years. In 2004, a medical examine of hashish vapor versus hashish smoke discovered that “vaporizers can effectively ship cannabinoids whereas eliminating or drastically decreasing different smoke toxins.” This examine got here throughout the context of cannabinoid supply to medical sufferers, some with compromised immune programs, who’re in search of the healthiest potential supply mode for his or her situation.

So it doesn’t matter what the reason for the present lethal outbreak, it certainly isn’t hashish. To counsel that hashish—in vapor type or in any other case—has all of the sudden turned lethal is utter nonsense. It’s additionally irresponsible.

Maybe somebody ought to inform the remainder of the media.

Worst of the worst: WSJ

I’ve seen loads of examples of poor, misinformed, and downright false reporting on the VAPI state of affairs. However nothing dropped my jaw with the drive of an op-ed printed final week by the Wall Avenue Journal.

Written by Scott Gottlieb, the previous FDA head who stepped down earlier this yr, the piece started with a weirdly Orwellian headline. Leafly’s David Downs, who’s been breaking actual information on this story for the previous two months, famous:

The phrase you search is ‘tainted’

Nonetheless, not less than the article’s first line is correct: “Medical doctors have linked a tragic wave of lung accidents and deaths to the vaping of tainted marijuana concentrates.” However from there on out, it’s as if the phrase tainted doesn’t exist.

Gottlieb contorts logic and purpose past recognition in a counter-factual try to conflate the regulated hashish market in authorized states like California with the unregulated illicit market in counterfeit vape pens which have been making folks sick.

The previous FDA head implies that THC is harmful as a result of tainted THC pens are lethal. Which makes as a lot sense as a former chief of the FDA claiming that H20 is harmful as a result of folks in Flint are consuming lead-tainted water.

Former FDA head says: legalize

Gottlieb’s argument is so all-over-the-place that it’s exhausting to dissect. However we shouldn’t ignore his proffered resolution to the issue. Which is principally to legalize hashish nationally: “The protracted hand-wringing over federal hashish coverage should cease,” he wrote. “The tragic spate of fatalities associated to vaping of pot concentrates means the time has come for Congress and the White Home to cease blowing smoke and clear the air.”

Maintain on a minute. The Wall Avenue Journal headline says legalization is guilty for VAPI deaths. And but the writer requires nationwide legalization.

How does that make sense?

Fed official doesn’t belief state officers

In response to Gottlieb, the actual drawback is the discrepancy between state and federal legislation. “Federal businesses exert little oversight, and regulation is left to a patchwork of insufficient state businesses,” he wrote. (Really, federal businesses exert no regulatory oversight of hashish in authorized states.) “The weak state our bodies sanction the adoption of unsafe practices similar to vaping concentrates, whereas permitting an unlawful market in hashish to flourish.

Gottlieb’s resolution is to have the federal authorities resolve who will get to eat what sort of hashish. “The ship has in all probability sailed on legalization for leisure use,” he wrote. However regulation of the efficiency of THC compounds, the types they take, how they’re manufactured, and who could make purchases must be potential…

 Let me see if I’ve acquired this straight. Gottlieb thinks banning legally produced hashish concentrates—which haven’t sickened customers—is the best way to cease folks from utilizing unlawful vape pens which have killed greater than two dozen folks and sickened tons of?

Yup.

The AP stumbles too

Had Gottlieb’s Wall Avenue Journal op-ed been an remoted incident, it might be straightforward to dismiss. However right here’s how the Related Press headlined a latest story by veteran journalist Mike Stobbe.

Once more, the primary sentence is technically correct. However neither he nor his editors on the AP deign to incorporate the phrase tainted. U.S. well being officers stated Friday that their investigation into an outbreak of extreme vaping-related sicknesses is more and more targeted on merchandise that comprise the marijuana compound THC,” Stobbe wrote.

 Later, the identical article famous that CDC officers stated they “didn’t know if the THC is the issue or another substance added to the vaping liquid.”

That is the place mentioning that hundreds of thousands of individuals have been vaporizing hashish for 3 a long time with none confirmed instances of VAPI would offer important context. These lung accidents didn’t begin turning up till this yr. That info can be actually useful.

However no.

The place are the non-government specialists?

Nor did the AP’s reporter—or different authors of equally flawed work—attain out to specialists who might need minimize via the BS, defined the problem, and gotten to the guts of the matter. There’s a complete staff at Mission CBD, the California-based group thought of the nation’s main authorities on the suddenly-hot cannabinoid. They’ve been warning in regards to the potential risks of poisonous vape oil components, notably thinning brokers and flavoring components, since 2015.

Martin Lee, co-founder of Mission CBD, has stated this in regards to the present vaping disaster: “Let’s be clear: inhaling additive-free, artisanal entire plant hashish oil with a well-made vaping system is simply as protected, if no more so, than smoking organically grown hashish.

Lee does share some considerations with Scott Gottlieb. Lee worries that vape pens have been too loosely regulated in authorized adult-use states, notably on the subject of the usage of thinning brokers. However he expresses that concern with out shifting the blame onto hashish, THC, or legalization—a false narrative Lee attributes to prohibitionists who’re working “to spin the vaping tragedy to advance their very own agenda.” Lee not too long ago wrote.

“The answer isn’t to ban hashish vaping throughout the board,” Lee added. “Such a misguided coverage can be each impractical and counterproductive, boosting black market commerce and rising dangers for customers… Fairly… state well being officers ought to implement a rigorous regulatory program that prioritizes public well being and raises the security requirements for all edibles and meals dietary supplements.”

There you go, remainder of the media. I fastened it for you.

David Bienenstock's Bio Image

David Bienenstock

Veteran hashish journalist David Bienenstock is the writer of “Easy methods to Smoke Pot (Correctly): A Intellectual Information to Getting Excessive” (2016 – Penguin/Random Home), and the co-host and co-creator of the podcast “Nice Moments in Weed Historical past with Abdullah and Bean.” Observe him on Twitter @pot_handbook.

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