U.S. health officials have found vitamin E acetate in the lung fluids of 29 people sickened in the recent outbreak of vaping-related injuries, according to reports by The Washington Post, Reuters and other sources.
Described as a “breakthrough,” the discovery points to the oil as a likely culprit in the outbreak that has affected more than 2,000 people and killed at least 39.
The findings are significant because for the first time, scientists have been able to connect results from product testing with clinical specimens from patients.
“These findings provide direct evidence of vitamin E acetate at the primary site of injury within the lungs,” said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Significantly, no other potential toxins were detected, according to Schuchat. The CDC tested for a wide range of substances in patients’ lung fluids, including plant oils and petroleum distillates, such as mineral oil.
Vitamin E acetate has been used in recent months as a cutting agent or additive on the cannabis black market to stretch the amount of THC in vape cartridges, officials and industry experts have said. Vitamin E acetate is a popular additive because it is colorless and odorless, has similar viscosity to THC oil and is much cheaper.
CDC officials found THC in the lung fluids of 23 patients, including three who said they had not used THC products.
Used in many foods and in cosmetics, vitamin E acetate is not known to cause harm when swallowed or applied to the skin. But when it is heated and inhaled, it may interfere with normal lung function, causing symptoms similar to those described by the patients suffering from vaping illness, according to experts.
As of Nov. 5, 2,051 cases of vaping-associated lung injury and 39 deaths had been reported to the CDC.