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Column: If you vape THC, are you risking your life? That may depend on where you got it

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Starting last summer, very sick patients began showing up in emergency rooms all over the country with similar symptoms — mainly, they couldn’t breathe.

The outbreak peaked in September and has since slowed considerably. By mid-December, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported, a total of 2,506 patients in all 50 states had been hospitalized for the condition, christened EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury). Fifty-four people died, most of them otherwise healthy young adults.

What soon became clear, thanks to epidemiologists, medical sleuths and the relentless reporting of the cannabis news website Leafly, was that there was a link between the illness and vitamin E acetate, a viscous liquid that can be swallowed or used topically in cosmetic creams.

Unscrupulous operators were using it to dilute cartridges containing THC oil, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

“We are confident that vitamin E acetate is strongly linked to the EVALI outbreak,” the CDC’s principal deputy director, Anne Schuchat, told reporters in a telephone briefing Dec. 20. “I want to stress that this does not mean that there are no other substances in e-cigarettes or vaping products that have or are capable of causing lung injury.”

Where, exactly, were cannabis users getting these tainted cartridges?

Last week, the CDC announced that a survey of 809 patients in Illinois, Utah and Wisconsin found that most — 78% — obtained their THC-containing products from “informal” sources like friends, family or dealers, or purchased it online.

A sliver of them —16% — said they got their cannabis from brick-and-mortar commercial sources, like dispensaries, smoke or vape shops and pop-up stores.

But “commercial” does not mean “legal.” In Los........

© Los Angeles Times