Michigan, feds warn against THC-containing vapes, noting role in illnesses

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

State and federal health officials are warning residents to stay away from vaping products containing a derivative of marijuana called tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. 

THC-containing e-cigarette products have played a role in the vaping-related lung injury “outbreak” that has led to 1,299 cases, including 26 deaths, as of Tuesday, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Since August, 35 lung injury cases believed to be vaping-related, including one death, have been reported in Michigan, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Marijuana Regulatory Agency, which regulates the commercial end of legalized marijuana in Michigan, has received two reports of potential adverse effects linked to marijuana products in the last month, but has been unable to confirm a link between those reports and the lung injuries reported by the state health department, said spokesman David Harns. 

"We are working closely with our partners in public health to determine the cause of the illnesses," Harns said Friday. If or when a causal link is found, "the MRA will work to determine if any changes are needed to the administrative rules to further protect patients and consumers," he added.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced in early September a ban on flavored vaping products in Michigan, following reports of a marked increase in youth usage and an uptick in presumed vaping-related illnesses.

The emergency rules banning the flavors were issued after Chief Medical Executive Joneigh Khaldun declared a public health emergency over the increase in youth e-cigarette use. 

The ban went into place Oct. 1 but is being challenged in state and federal courts by Michigan vape shop owners. So far, judges have declined to issue preliminary stays on the ban.

Vapers have protested the changes, noting Michigan just passed a law making it illegal for children to use vaping products and arguing the ban could have an impact on those who use e-cigarettes as a relatively healthier alternative to combustible cigarettes. 

Vapers also have argued that the sicknesses were not tied to flavored nicotine devices, but to ones containing various forms of THC. 

Of the 26 people in Michigan who reported lung illnesses, 80% reported that they were using THC-containing products, according to the state. All of the individuals, who range in age from 16 to 67 years old, are residents of the Lower Peninsula. 

Vapers experiencing fever, cough, chest pain, vomiting or shortness of breath should seek medical attention immediately, the state said. 

In addition to cautioning against the use of THC-containing vaping products, the state health department has encouraged people to stop using nicotine-containing vaping product and to halt modifying the substance used in e-cigarettes.  

State officials are working with federal agencies to determine the ingredients leading to the sicknesses. 

“This outbreak may have more than one cause, many different substances and product sources are still under investigation,” the state said in a Friday statement. “So far, no specific brand of device or e-liquid has been identified.”