Legal Marijuana Could Reduce Vaping-Related Lung Injuries
As vaping is widely replacing regular smoking habits, studies have shown that the harmful effects of vaping on the lungs is a major concern.
In light of 2019’s e-cigarette and vaping product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) crisis, recent studies confirm that contaminated vape cartridges were a clear source of EVALI, causing thousands of vaping users to be hospitalized with associated lung injuries. The contamination was found to be more common in unregulated markets where users cannot purchase legal marijuana products.
A recent research letter published by the JAMA Network Open indicates that states with legal recreational marijuana shops had only 1.7 EVALI cases per million population compared with 8.1 cases per million population in states where recreational marijuana is not legal. The data strongly suggests that EVALI cases were disproportionately concentrated in states where users do not have legal access to recreational marijuana dispensaries. Consequently, they turn to vaping, with harmful effects.
The letter states, “One possible inference from our results is that the presence of legal markets for marijuana has helped mitigate or may be protective against EVALI.” Researchers went on to say that “it’s possible that in recreational states, people tend to purchase marijuana products at legal dispensaries, which may be less likely to sell the contaminated products that are thought to cause EVALI.”
This further supports the widely-held theory that by legalizing marijuana and other cannabis products, it is an important safeguard to public health. It ensures compliance with quality control standards in cannabis products. One caveat to this is reports of select lung injuries associated with obtaining marijuana vaping products from licensed dispensaries in the state of Oregon.
Executive Director of NORML, Erik Altieri says, “In jurisdictions where cannabis is legally regulated, consumers gravitate toward the above-ground retail marketplace where they can access lab-tested products manufactured by licensed businesses.” He went on to compare it to the prohibition of alcohol in the last century, which gave rise to the illegal production of “bathtub gin” which had dangerous consequences for consumers. The resulting concoctions of denatured alcohol were the direct result of thousands of deaths during prohibition’s 14-year tenure.
Illegal marijuana production produces similar results in providing bad actors and unlicensed businesses where untested and potentially harmful products are readily sold and consumed, many times with tragic results. We would therefore be remiss not to learn from the past mistakes of prohibition with more widely regulated and legalization of marijuana across all states.
Similarly, EVALI seems to be associated with contaminants that run rampant in illicit markets, where vitamin E acetate is used to dilute cannabis concentrates, “a scenario reminiscent of the unscrupulous bootleggers of the Prohibition era.”
Despite the conflict of federal and state mandates against legalizing marijuana, the Trump administration acknowledged during a meeting of the vaping crisis, that simply banning cannabis products wouldn’t work. People would just move to the illicit market, where products are unregulated.
A CDC official stated that currently, this conflict actually inhibits research into effectively addressing EVALI cases, which complicates shipments of vaping specimens. He went on to further suggest that federal cannabis regulations could help mitigate the current vaping problem.