Cannabis vape products spark health concerns

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Doctors on the front lines of an epidemic of vaping-related illnesses in Canada and the U.S. are questioning a decision by Health Canada to allow the sale of cannabis vape products in many parts of the country.

“I’m really surprised that Canada is taking this step with all the data that has come out this year with how dangerous this stuff is,” said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, a pulmonologist and the head of the Acute Lung Injury Center at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, N.Y.

“It really worries me because I think we should be heading in the opposite direction.”

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Narasimhan has treated about 40 patients for EVALI — e-cigarette/vaping associated lung injury — in recent months.  EVALI is the name medical professionals have given to an illness that has hospitalized more than 2,400 patients in the United States.

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As of Dec. 10, the U.S Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says 52 people in that country have died. There have also been 14 cases of EVALI reported in Canada.

The CDC has identified vitamin E acetate as a chemical of concern, but on its website, it warns, “there are many different substances and product sources that are being investigated, and there may be more than one cause.”

Health Canada has said that vitamin E acetate is not allowed in Canadian cannabis vaping products.

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Global News reached out to Health Canada to find out how ingredients in cannabis vape products were being tested for safety but a response was not made available before publication.

Dr. Narasimhan says all vaping ingredients need to be tested for safety, not just in liquid form but when they become vapour as well.

“The worry is that when we super-heat these products they change and it changes their properties somehow and when they’re pooled again, and they settle in the lungs, that’s when all the damage happens.”

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At least one Canadian cannabis company is delaying the launch of its vaping products because of safety concerns.

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“We understand that diluting agents found in some cannabis extracts are under increased scrutiny for potential negative health impacts,” Isabelle Robillard, VP of communications for HEXO Corp. said in a statement e-mailed to Global News.

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“As such, to produce quality vapes, and out of an abundance of caution, HEXO will not develop products that use these carriers.

“Further, in partnership with a reputable contract research organization, we are conducting a study to evaluate a number of factors: safety, tolerability, palatability and the occurrence of adverse events.”

Cannabis vapes have so far been banned by two Canadian provinces. Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador have said they will not allow the sale of cannabis vapes, while Nova Scotia will not permit any flavoured cannabis vapes to be sold in its province.

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