“We thought vaping was safe, and it wasn’t. . . it isn’t.”
-Charlie Baker, Massachusetts Governor, justifying his state-wide 3 month ban of vaping
What Causes Vaping Associated Lung Disease?
The plot thickens as to the cause of the nation-wide epidemic of vaping-associated lung injuries, including deaths. Our immediate “conventional wisdom” was that it was probably related to inhalation of the vitamin E oil used to cut the black market THC. (You may have read it here first) Oil inhalation associated injury is now doubted after examination of lung biopsy tissue and/or autopsy specimens from 17 patients. Pathologists from the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona found no evidence of inhaled oil or the expected microscopic hallmarks of lipoid pneumonia in the lungs of patients with the lung injury after vaping. What they did find was evidence suggesting a chemical “burn” or reaction to a toxic gas. There was no sign of an immune response (like an allergic reaction) that would have suggested that only certain individuals could develop the lung injury disease. The researchers did not speculate as to what could have caused the injury, except they are clear that it doesn’t appear that vitamin E oil is the culprit. It puts us back to considering all possibilities: something added to black market vaping material (both THC and nicotine vapers have been injured or killed), noxious gas produced by the device itself, or a combination of the two. This lung injury epidemic began in August 2019 despite several previous years of vaping use, so “something has changed”. Stay tuned, and don’t vape.
Are There Any Benefits of Medical Marijuana?
Despite the many claims of the benefits of medical marijuana for a variety of conditions, current scientific evidence supports benefits in only three situations: 1. reduce nausea and vomiting after receiving chemotherapy, 2. subjective decrease of spasticity symptoms in multiple sclerosis, and 3. improve chronic pain in adults. The benefit seen in a very rare form of childhood epilepsy is due to CBD alone, not THC. The old idea of benefit in glaucoma treatment was disproven a while back (remember folks? you may have first read it here). A current controlled study of the benefits of medical marijuana is underway at MGH and one of its researchers gave a interim report of their early findings at a conference I attended last week.
The researchers are attempting to do a randomized study of the benefits of medical marijuana in patients 18-55 yo.already holding a medical marijuana card (obtained from a marijuana-use certifying physician for $300 for a single visit). Neither of the researchers, and, in fact, not one of all the MGH physicians are marijuana-use certifying physicians. Since these patients view the marijuana as a treatment for their condition it is unethical to randomize some into a control group who would receive none. Since the clinic can not handle all comers at once they assigned about a third of the patients to a 3 month waiting list for their medical marijuana card. Tests and questions of both the waiting list patients (“control group”) and the patients receiving medical marijuana immediately (“treatment group”) should reveal reveal any benefits or harms from medical marijuana use. A previous study showed that obtaining a medical marijuana card caused holders to double the number of days per month that they used marijuana for their symptoms (from 7 1/2 to 15 days per month).
Since the researchers (along with everyone else) don’t really know what exactly is in the products purchased at a marijuana dispensary, they test for 11 different cannabis metabolites (including CBD) in the patient’s urine each visit. Preliminary data on 84 patients reveals minimal decrease of pain, little improvement in sleep, and virtually no effect on anxiety or depression. Despite the fact that patients were told by the sellers that there was CBD in the purchased product (a “marketing plus” since CBD is touted to reduce adverse effects of THC), one third of the patients had NO detectable CBD in their urine!
Spoiler alert: Today’s cannabis is not your father’s kind of cannabis. Joints at Woodstock had about 1-2% THC. Today the average joint has 6-12% THC. A new edible form of cannabis oil or syrup, called a “dab”, can be 60-90% THC. So “a little dab could really do you.”
What About CBD?
We know even less about the medical benefits of CBD despite the many advertising claims, wide spread ease of purchase, and Gronk’s testimonial endorsement. Cannabis contains over 200 cannabinoids. CBD is one and THC is another. Stay tuned. (Remember, you may have first read it here.)