State health director urges medical marijuana users to avoid vaping


Patrick Cooley - The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)



Ohio’s health director has recommended that medical marijuana patients avoid vaping after more than 400 cases of respiratory illness and six U.S deaths were linked to vaping in recent weeks.

Dr. Amy Acton told The Dispatch that 13 vaping-relating hospitalizations were reported in Ohio recently, including two in Franklin County and two in Union County. THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, was used in some of those cases, although it’s unclear whether it came from legal dispensaries.

The two Franklin County cases involved THC bought on the street, not from legal dispensaries, said Dr. Mysheika Roberts, health commissioner for Columbus Public Health.

THC use was a factor in roughly 80 percent of the illnesses and deaths nationwide, and Acton said the percentage in Ohio is probably similar.

The illnesses resulted from oil heated and vaporized before being inhaled, coating the lungs and hardening, causing breathing problems, Acton said. Investigators are working to determine where the oil came from, she said.

Until then, “there is no product we can say is safe,” she said. Acton suspects that users are mixing legal THC and nicotine products with illegal vaping products. “Our recommendation is to avoid vaping” until the illnesses and deaths are better understood, she said.

Investigators are examining another 14 hospitalizations possibly tied to vaping, Acton said.

People who work in the medical marijuana industry emphasize that none of their products has been linked to illnesses or deaths.

“There’s not a clear differentiation in the reports that I’m reading between illegal vaping products and medical marijuana that’s fully compliant with state regulations and that’s fully tested,” said Ryan Smith, chief operating officer for Cure Ohio, which owns dispensaries in the Buckeye State. “I’m totally comfortable and confident that the products being sold through the regulated medical marijuana system in Ohio are not the kind of products” putting people in the hospital.

Dispensary products are repeatedly tested and tracked to ensure they are safe for human consumption, said Alex Thomas, executive director of the Ohio Medical Marijuana License Holder Coalition.

“The vape products sold in medical marijuana dispensaries in Ohio are highly regulated, they are tested at multiple stages in the process,” Thomas said “The cultivators and processors have to submit all of their plans and (their product) is tracked.”

The Ohio Department of Commerce, which regulates dispensaries, continues to work with the state health department “and will be able to act as soon as an ingredient or chemical is identified in the investigation” into the vaping illnesses, Department of Commerce Public Information Officer Kelly Whitaker said in an email.

Acton cautioned that the inquiry into the illnesses continues. In the meantime, she recommended using other medical marijuana products such as edibles.

Some medical marijuana cardholders in Ohio said they are mostly unconcerned.

Bill Schmitt, 42, of Bellaire, said the extensive media coverage of the illnesses seems overblown.

“There have been six deaths,” from vaping nationwide, Schmitt said. “But there are thousands of people dying from cigarettes and alcohol. Why isn’t there a national emergency for that?”

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Patrick Cooley

The Columbus Dispatch (TNS)

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