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Vaping Disease has Doctors Stumped

Sara Bakhshi

More than 200 patients nationwide are being treated for a life-threatening respiratory condition apparently related to vaping. It's marked by severe shortness of breath typically after a few days of nausea, fever and fatigue. Some patients have had to go on ventilators.

Patients tend to be in their late teens or early twenties and otherwise healthy. Their reluctance to discuss their behavior is making it harder for doctors to determine a cause of the illness.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told vapers to avoid bootleg products and to stop modifying vapes.

From the New York Times:

To become inhalable, nicotine or THC must be mixed with solvents that dissolve and deliver the drugs. The solvents, or oils, heat up during aerosolization to become vapor. But some oil droplets may be left over as the liquid cools back down, and inhaling those drops may cause breathing problems and lung inflammation.

“Inhaling oil into your lungs is extremely dangerous behavior that could result in death,” said Thomas Eissenberg, who studies vaping at Virginia Commonwealth University...

Many vaping ingredients are not listed on the products. Vitamin E oil appears to have been a common substance associated with the severe and sudden respiratory problems in some of the New York cases, according to state health officials. It is not known how it was used. Vitamin E is sometimes advertised as a supplement in cannabidiol oil, which is not designed for vaping but has been used that way.

  • Theories of what’s causing the disease include a toxin introduced into the product supply, contaminated reused cartridges and heavy use of nicotine and/or THC vapes.
  • On lung scans the illness first looks like severe viral or bacterial pneumonia, but tests show no infection.
  • One doctor said four patients she had seen “have been doing e-cigarettes with nicotine constantly, like round the clock. Maybe there’s some sort of accelerant effect causing inflammation in the lung caused by the THC oil.”
  • Kevin Burns, CEO of e-cigarette giant Juul said he did not know of any link between the illness and Juul products.


DEA: More Legal MED Grows Coming Soon

Chanvre Quebec

After several years of stalling, the DEA said it would start processing dozens of pending applications for permission to grow MED, though it remains unclear when the growing licenses will be issued.

  • The announcement comes shortly before the DEA must respond to a lawsuit from Dr. Sue Sisley, an Arizona psychiatrist who has been fighting for years to study MED on veterans with PTSD.
  • The only federally legal marijuana farm is at the University of Mississippi. Sisley, and others, have said the crop there is not good enough quality for testing.

Meanwhile Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said no amount of cannabis is safe for teens, young adults and pregnant women.

Quick Hit

  1. President Trump reiterated his support for states setting their own own marijuana laws.
    Marijuana Moment

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Phylos Spat Points to BigAg Fears

Noah Buscher

A two-part series in MJBiz highlights the industry’s wariness about big agriculture companies like Monsanto. The piece begins with the saga of Oregon start-up Phylos Bioscience, which solicited genetics from growers and has been criticized for how it plans to use them.

  • In a relatively rare defense of Phylos and its CEO Mowgli Holmes, Reggie Gaudino, of Front Range Biosciences said. “They didn’t steal anything,” he said. “They might not have been completely transparent with their messaging, but nothing else that people are pissed about they should be pissed about.”
  • Gaudino added the industry “screwed ourselves” by selling cuttings in dispensaries. The industry already “screwed ourselves,” by putting cuttings in dispensaries. “All Monsanto or Dow have to do is go to a dispensary and buy everything that everyone’s buying,” he added. “They can [genetically] sequence it themselves, and they’re home free.”
  • Part 2 of the series discusses intellectual property strategies for cannabis companies including defenses against patent trolls, and the possible value of plant patents to protect cannabis companies.

Plus: The WSJ explains how the $63B Monsanto-Bayer merger became one of the most troubled megamergers of recent years. Among other issues, the company owes $190M after losing lawsuits about whether Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide causes cancer. Now an additional 184,000 plaintiffs have sued the company.

Quick Hit

  1. The Chicago Tribune discusses the complications of trademarking weed: “The predicament... is akin to if Frito-Lay were able to trademark Cheetos but not the name of its Flamin’ Hot flavor.”


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Washington (St.) Weighs CannaBiz Overhaul

Owen Yin

After five years, Washington state’s second in the nation REC market is contemplating a regulatory overhaul. In an interview with the Associated Press, Liquor and Cannabis Board Director Rick Garza said “Cannabis 2.0” would allow delivery, and provide more support to small businesses and create an equity program.

  • The state is also thinking about whether to scrap its troubled track and trace system for a system where businesses report their sales and then get audited.

In other states:

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Counterfeit Pot Products Flood SoCal

Adli Wahid

California brands are struggling to compete against counterfeit products which undercut sales and their reputation, the L.A. Times reports.

  • The counterfeit products typically sell at unlicensed dispensaries for much less than the originals and are not tested for contaminants.
  • Though it’s unclear how severe the problem is, California brand Loudpack said it spent $2.5M to redesign the packaging and hardware for its Kingpen vapes and the counterfeiters quickly caught up.

Quick Hit

  • A lawsuit accuses the owners of a high profile dispensary in Orange County (Calif.) of defrauding investors.


Canadian Analyst: Buy American (Pot Stocks)

Markus Spiske

In an interview with Barron’s, GMP Securities analyst Rob Fagan says he’s more bullish on U.S. pot stocks than their Canadian counterparts.

  • U.S. Stocks he likes include Curaleaf, Cresco Labs, Harvest Health and Recreation, Trulieve and Green Thumb Industries.
  • Fagan: “The markets where these companies operate are fantastic. Massachusetts converted from medical to recreational sales and is growing above a 500% annualized clip right now. Even a mature market like Arizona is still growing at a better than 30% annual rate.”


R.I. Judge Blocks Acreage Dispensary Acquisition

Vincent Branciforti

A Rhode Island judge has at least temporarily blocked multi-state operator (MSO) Acreage Holdings from buying a dispensary in the state. The decision follows a demand for arbitration filed against the MSO by New England operator CanWell.

CanWell alleges Acreage broke a non-compete contract provision CanWell made with a Maine company now mostly owned by Acreage. The suit alleges the blocked acquisition would give Acreage a stake in more than one Rhode Island MED dispensary, which is prohibited by state law.
Providence Journal

The case is “one of several legal moves or probes in different states which allege, in short, that either Acreage or one of its (near-)subsidiaries have failed to honor rules or pre-existing agreements,” Janet Burns writes in Forbes.

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A "Global Revolution" in Attitudes Towards Cannabis

Adolfo Felix

The Economist says there's a "global revolution" in how countries view cannabis:

"Attitudes towards the drug are softening around the world. But many important countries, most notably Russia and China, remain implacably opposed to reform. The lack of a global consensus prevents the rewriting of the drug treaties...It is only a matter of time before international drug treaties will come to be seen as fundamentally broken."

Even those up-tight Dutch are reconsidering their cannabis laws. Starting in 2021, coffeeshops in 10 cities will be supplied with cannabis legally, rather than forced to scrounge on the grey market.


Connor McSheffrey

Despite legalization, illegal pot farms continue to scar public lands in California.
L.A. Times

  • In 2018, California law enforcement confiscated 1.4M plants and broke up 889 outdoor grows.
  • Even so "illegal grows are still rampant across wide swaths of the national forests in California, leaving behind a trail of garbage, human waste, dead animals and caustic chemicals. Nearly all of these farms are the work of Mexican drug trafficking organizations, posing dangers not just for the environment, but to hikers and others who might encounter them.

Quick Hits


"Connected by Cannabis"

The New York Times' Vows column tells the love story of Hillary Peckham, of New York MED company Etain Health, and her new husband Maren Hall-Wieckert, who also works at the company.

Quick Hits

  1. In the Guardian, I talked to cannabis etiquette maven Lizzie Post.
  2. The Stranger's Josh Jardine parodies the pot press releases he (and I) receive every day.

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