Nov 26th, 2019, 06:24 PM

Behind the Puff of Smoke

By Jessica Cruz
Man in hoody vaping -- Photo by Wild Vibes on Unsplash
Photo Credit: Unsplash via Wild Vibes
Since August 2019, forty-seven people have died from vaping.

Coming from small suburban towns and cities all around the country high schoolers are spending immense amounts of free time getting high. Whether it is before school, after school, parties or any time in between, it's clear that getting high is a popular pastime for many in America. It isn't new news that teens and even adults are smoking marijuana today. From bongs, pipes, bubblers, and joints, no matter the legal status,  getting high is pretty common.

But something has changed over time that further normalized smoking culture among teens. It seems to have happened overnight, suddenly no longer are teens smoking weed; instead, they all have THC vape pens, also known as “dab pens”. THC is the main active ingredient in marijuana that causes the common “high”. Now in the hands of America's teens across the country, are these sleek silver and gray vape pens with a clear tubed cartridge filled with a thick golden honey substance. The pens leave no odor, they charge quickly, and they have the convenience of fitting comfortably into your pocket. But as concealable and convenient as these THC vape pens look, there is a dark poison inside the golden oil being inhaled by teens across the nation causing irreversible damage. 



Candy Land 🍭🍬🍭 #holographic

A post shared by Dank Vapes (@dankvapesla) on

In recent news, there has been large attention to the spike in mysterious fatal lung illnesses sweeping across the US, primarily in male teens, all of which are related to “vaping.” The original cause behind lung illnesses was thought to be due to the popular use of E-cigarettes. But with a lack of concrete data to support the claim, many health professionals were often left sharing vague health statements to the public. 

It was August 23, 2019, in Illinois when the first person to pass away from vaping was announced, their name was not released, nor the vaping device behind their death. The victim was presented as an anonymous 30-year-old adult, with no further information, leaving American with little to no understanding of the exact cause of death. 

After the first death, doctors watched as more and more victims collected all with similar symptoms, such as a heavy chest, coughing, and other respiratory illnesses. 

Since then there have been 2,172 cases and 47 deaths linked to vaping. 

Doctors and medical professionals are now recognizing a common factor to the victims outside of their symptoms. As it was noted, E-cigarettes were being questioned as to how they could be playing on one's lungs, but since then, the THC dab pens have presented themselves at the main culprit. Since August, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention, it has been estimated that 77 percent of the lung injury patients regularly vaped THC devices. 

Today in America there are only 11 states with full legalization of marijuana. Leaving the other 39 states susceptible to dangerous illegal products being sold to minors and others. These illegal THC dab pens can be exploited and tampered with for-profit, as local small-town drug dealers are selling in bulk colorfully designed and fruity flavored dab pens which are increasingly appealing to a younger audience. 

Due to this underground production and selling of the cartridges in the black market, researchers are unable to discover where these THC carts are being produced, what they’re being produced with, or by whom. Thus leaving the customer susceptible to unknown ingredients and consequences. 

While there are no cases of serious illness or deaths coming from the legal THC dab pens being sold the dispensaries in states that have legalized marijuana, Dr. Schuchat says the products should not be fully trusted as there is anecdotal evidence that has not yet been fully investigated.

In the latest study, it was discovered that many of the illegal THC dab pens were being “cut” with vitamin E acetate. According to Dr. Anne Schuchat, Principal Deputy Director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, this is the first potential toxin that could be linked to the fatal lung illnesses striking the nation. 

This newly discovered toxin in the black market distribution of THC dab pens has further revealed the unregulated shady marketplace of vaping devices. Many of the creators behind the bootleg THC dab pens use the vitamin E acetate in carts to thicken and dilute the THC, creating a cheaper product to make and increase their profit. 

Usually, vitamin E acetate is used as a capsule supplement or an ingredient in facial lotions, and should not be inhaled into one's lungs. Its effects are for the most part unknown but tests being conducted on animals have revealed symptoms to support the claim linked to lung illnesses. 

Not only was the Vitamin E acetate discovered, but in even more recent was the discovery of formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, and other pesticides in a study by the Cannasafe Lab in California. The company tested 6 different black-market cartridges all of which contained an extreme level of these illegal substances. 

In Illinois, a survey was conducted throughout 4,631 adults who vape to identify risk factors. During the survey, the theory of nicotine being the main cause was not dismissed, but the results did support the theory that THC held a high blame factor. The patients who became ill were more likely to have vaped THC pens multiple times a day. They were also nine times more likely to purchase such products from less reliable and secure sources such as street dealers.  



Providing the highest grade organic quality #getlit #cbd #cannabis #girlswhosmoke #dabpens #datway

A post shared by Gold Pusher (@goldpusher) on

Back in Massachusetts, 20-year old Matthew Matijević, a student from Connecticut, was sent to the hospital late at night after taking a direct inhale from an unregulated TKO THC Cartridge. Immediately after inhaling the vapor, Matthew began experiencing sharp pains in his chest. He recalls the pain, “I’ve had asthma, but this was super different and then the pain was super scary. It was a pain I’ve never felt in my life.” Once arriving at the hospital, officials diagnosed him with spontaneous pneumothorax, a sudden collapsed lung usually due to a sudden traumatic injury or lung disease. Matthew's doctors noted that since he was a smaller male, his lungs were unable to handle the long term exposer to the harmful vaping chemicals, quickly urging him to stop vaping. 


Even before Matthew's health scare, he was aware of the possible medical dangers of nicotine vapes and unregulated THC vapes. He recalls thinking “Most young adolescents know of the side effects, but it always came to the idea that it would never happen to me. Until it did.” 

As the death toll rises, and mysterious lung illnesses circulate the country, more and more people are becoming aware of the possible dangers of vaping. But will this awareness be enough to stop the infiltration of unregulated chemicals seeping into the lungs of Americans, or will the “it will never happen to me” mindset continue?