by Willie McKinney., Ph.D., D.A.B.T

Colorado got it right. That state now requires cannabis vaporizer companies to test the aerosol created when their products are heated. Yes, it’s a pain and an expense, especially for smaller companies, but it’s clearly the right thing to do to protect the public health. Other states are likely to follow suit. Be prepared.

The move was inspired by the EVALI (E-cigarette/Vaping-Associated Lung Injury) outbreak of 2019 which resulted in more than 2800 hospitalizations and deaths. After the initial panicked blame was assigned to commercial vaping products, the CDC determined that the illness was caused by the addition of vitamin E acetate to black market vaping liquids containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) rather than commercially produced nicotine-based vapes.

Even after the culprit was determined, the response of the states was manifold. Washington, which has regulated cannabis markets, temporarily banned additives, including flavorings, to vapes. Massachusetts had a more-extreme response, banning all vapes. This led Massachusetts-based marijuana company Temescal Wellness to destroy $2.6-million in vape cartridges because, it claimed, the public didn’t trust their state-mandated tests for toxic heavy metals such as lead. Other marijuana companies faced similar consumer skepticism triggered by EVALI.

What’s safe? Whom do I trust?

The state mandate, as well as the EVALI outbreak, put sharp focus on the question of how we know whether something is safe. For example, many of the flavorings added to vape juice by vape shops and “artisanal” blenders are deemed safe for ingestion. But that safety rating provides no information on what those chemicals do when they’re heated and inhaled. The lungs are not the gut.

The costly actions of Temescal Wellness underscore the importance of trust between marijuana companies and their clients. This is especially true during turbulent times such as the chaos of the EVALI outbreak when emotions seem to trump science.

That’s why Colorado is taking a step in the right direction, albeit an expensive and time-consuming step for some marijuana companies. It’s not just an investment in science; it’s in investment in trust. The payback should be exceptional when the industry needs it the most.

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