By Michael R. Blood, Associated Press
California health officials Tuesday urged consumers to stop vaping marijuana or tobacco products until investigators determine why hundreds of people nationwide have been sickened after using the devices.
Ninety people with a history of vaping have been hospitalized for severe breathing problems and lung damage in the state, and two people have died. With no known cause, officials say consumers should refrain from vaping of any kind until investigations are completed.
“We are seeing something that we have not seen before,” Acting State Public Health Officer Charity Dean said in a statement. “There are numerous unknown factors at this time, and due to the uncertainty of the exact cause, it is our recommendation that consumers refrain from vaping until the investigation has concluded.”
Over 500 cases have been reported across the U.S., and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the mysterious outbreak but has not yet identified a common electronic cigarette or ingredient as the culprit in the rash of illnesses.
Symptoms can include chest pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss.
In its health advisory, the state Public Health Department specifically warned against using cannabis products from illegal dispensaries that could be holding tainted oil.
Black market operators are using thickening agents to dilute THC oil because a crackdown by state authorities has made the oil scarcer on the black market, according to a report today by the Washington Post.
Investigators are focusing on one thickening agent in particular, vitamin E oil, known as vitamin E acetate. Three thickener-makers have already been subpoenaed in New York: Honey Cut, Floraplex and Mass Terpenes.
“Illegal cannabis dispensaries sell unregulated and untested cannabis products and absolutely should not be used,” the agency said.
Last week, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the state will spend $20 million on a public awareness campaign about the dangers of vaping nicotine and cannabis products and step up efforts to halt the sale of illicit products.
The Associated Press reported earlier this month that shops in downtown Los Angeles are openly selling packaging and hardware that can be used to produce counterfeit marijuana vapes that have infiltrated the state’s cannabis marketplace.
-Long Beach Post reporter Stephanie Rivera contributed to this report.
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