Michigan recalls marijuana vaping products for additive linked to lung injuries

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan's Marijuana Regulatory Agency is recalling marijuana vaping products that failed new testing requirements for vitamin E acetate, the additive that health officials have linked to an outbreak of lung injuries.

The recall on Tuesday was the first indication that vitamin E acetate, which has been used as a cutting agent in marijuana vaping products, was in the regulated market in Michigan. But the products recalled on Tuesday were sold to licensed businesses by caregivers who usually work with medical marijuana patients, according to the Marijuana Regulatory Agency.

Industry officials previously have linked vitamin E acetate primarily to illicit products that fall outside regulations.

George Murphy III, a senior scientist at PSI Labs in Ann Arbor, performs testing for the detection of banned microbes on Nov. 11, 2019. PSI Labs is a licensed laboratory in Michigan's medical marijuana program.

Michigan officials began requiring testing for vitamin E acetate on Nov. 22 amid the  outbreak of lung injuries that's hospitalized 2,409 people across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There have been 52 deaths, including two in Michigan.

State regulators effectively paused the sale of marijuana vaping products on Nov. 22 because those already on sale were required to go through testing again to meet the new standards. 

The new requirements came nine days before the first recreational sales of marijuana began Dec. 1 in Michigan.

The CDC has linked the outbreak of lung injuries to vitamin E acetate but says there could be additional substances involved as well.

Vitamin E acetate is often used in skin ointments. When it's applied to the skin, it doesn't cause harm. But when it's inhaled, it "may interfere with normal lung functioning," according to the CDC. Because of its thickness, it's been used as a cutting agent in marijuana vaping products.

Before the Marijuana Regulatory Agency announced new testing requirements for vitamin E acetate on Nov. 22, there was no state policy banning its use in marijuana vaping products as The Detroit News reported Nov. 11.

At the time, Robin Schneider, executive director of the Michigan Cannabis Industry Association, said it made "complete sense" for state regulators to ban vitamin E acetate because of the potential health risks. And Don Bailey, a former member of the Medical Marijuana Licensing Board, said the ban should have come as soon as federal regulators identified vitamin E acetate as a potential cause of the injuries.

On Sept. 9, New York state officials said they were investigating the health effects of vitamin E acetate, which was already banned under New York's medical marijuana program. New York also said it was subpoenaing a Michigan company that sold a product called Uber Thick, which allegedly contained vitamin E acetate, and two others as part of its investigation.

In November, Michigan regulators said they had been working with public health officials to determine the cause of the illnesses related to vaping and what could be done. 

Many of the vape cartridges included in the recall on Tuesday had levels of vitamin E acetate that were greater than 500 times the limit at which the additive would be detected.

The recall affected cartridges sold at retailers in Bay City and Mount Morris.

The recalled products in Bay City were sold between May 15 and Nov. 19 at Elite Wellness Bay City. They were Cereal Cart 1G (Fruit Loops, Trix and Frankenberry) and Dank Vape 1G (Durban Poison, Mimosa and Tangie), according to the announcement.

Vitamin E acetate, an additive found in vaping products, is not currently prohibited in Michigan under the state's marijuana program. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said fluid extracted from 29 lung injury patients who vaped contained the chemical compound in all of them.

The recalled products in Mount Morris were sold between Aug. 3 and Nov. 22 by Elite Wellness Mount Morris. They were Cereal Cart (Honey Nut Cheerios, Trix, Cocoa Puffs and Captain), Monopoly Cart (Grape Soda and Gelato), Royal Highness Princess Pie and Savage Stick Sundae Driver.

Patients who have the affected vape cartridges in their possession should return them to the businesses for disposal, according to the Marijuana Regulatory Agency. Both retailers will also notify patients or caregivers that purchased the recalled vape cartridges.

This recall also affected four caregiver products purchased by grower Larren Investments, LLC. The products were recalled by regulators before they made it to provisioning centers, according to the agency.

"Patients who have experienced symptoms after using these products should report their symptoms and product use to their physician," the Marijuana Regulatory Agency added in its recall announcement.

Patients and caregivers are requested to report any adverse product reactions to the agency via email: MRA-Enforcement@michigan.gov.