Minnesota State health officias are investigating 27 cases of severe respiratory illnesses that may be associated with vaping black-market THC cartridges.
Minnesota Department of Health Epidemiologist Stacy Holzbauer told The Center Square that all 11 people interviewed so far had used a THC-based product, and a majority of them also vaped nicotine.
“People should avoid vaping non-medical-based cannabis products because we have no idea what’s in these cartridges,” Holzbauer said.
Symptoms include shortness of breath, fever, cough, vomiting and diarrhea.
Holzbauer said the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coordinated the investigation to provide a standard interview and medical chart abstraction form, allowing cooperating organizations to compare cases state by state.
MDH has confirmed 15 cases that passed that threshold with an age range from 16 to 23.
Holzbauer said health officials are testing black-market cartridges to determine the cause of the illnesses. The products spanned across different brands.
Those with respiratory illness symptoms after vaping should seek immediate medical care and to avoid further vaping, which could aggravate symptoms, she said.
Dr. Alex Berezow, vice president of scientific communications for the American Center for Science and Health, told The Center Square that consumers shouldn’t buy black market products.
“You don’t know what you’re getting,” Berezow said. “When you buy something from an officially licensed store, it’s more likely to be safer than if you buy something from someone on the street.”
Berezow said that many THC vaping products have oil in them, which can cause pneumonia.
Berezow said that vapes should be used with store-bought nicotine to kick a cigarette addiction.
“[Vapes] should really be thought of as medical devices,” Berezow said. “People shouldn’t be vaping for fun. This should be for people who are vaping to get off of cigarettes, which are really bad for you. Vaping is 95 percent safer than cigarettes. It could save your life if you’re a cigarette smoker.”
On Wednesday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer issued an administrative order that will ban flavored nicotine cartridges for six months so the legislature can enact stricter standards.
Whitmer said certain flavors attract underage users.
“As governor, my number one priority is keeping our kids safe,” Whitmer said in a statement. “And right now, companies selling vaping products are using candy flavors to hook children on nicotine and misleading claims to promote the belief that these products are safe. That ends today. Our kids deserve leaders who are going to fight to protect them. These bold steps will finally put an end to these irresponsible and deceptive practices and protect Michiganders’ public health.”
A CDC spokesperson told The Center Square that 215 similar cases have been reported in the United States this summer.