The thick, gooey substance that has caused chemical-like burns in a slew of vaping-related illnesses across the country was discovered at a lab in upstate New York.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a breakthrough and said scientists had discovered a potential suspect in Vitamin E acetate.
The ‘chemical of concern’ clings to the lungs when it’s inhaled and causes burns that have been likened to those suffered by soldiers attacked with mustard gas during World War I.
Since March, 2,172 Americans have been sickened and at least 42 in 24 states and the nation’s capital have died from illnesses linked to e-cigarettes.
Good Morning America went inside the Medical Marijuana Laboratory of Organic and Analytical Chemistry at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York, to learn how scientists found the ‘key culprit’.
A laboratory at the Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York, discovered vitamin E acetate (pictured) when scientists tested fluid samples from patients who’d fallen ill with vaping-related illnesses earlier this year
The oil, derived from vitamin E, is often used as a thickener in vaping fluid. It clings to the lungs and causes chemical-like burns likened to those suffered by soldiers attacked with mustard gas. Pictured: Vitamin E in a vial, left, and being held by a reporter from Good Morning America
Vitamin E acetate has only recently been used as a thickener in vaping fluid, particularly in cannabis vape cartridges, the Associated Press reported.
While vitamin E is safe as a vitamin pill or to use on the skin, inhaling oily droplets of it can be harmful.
It’s sticky and stays in the lungs, so much so that Dr James Pirkle of the CDC likened it to honey.
The majority of people who got sick said they had vaped liquids that contain THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana, with many saying they got them from friends or bought them on the black market.
It wasn’t clear why or how people were getting sick so scientists at the Wadsworth Center decided to run tests.
They isolated the fluid samples collected from the lungs of dozens of patients, spun it, put into a vial and extracted the oils in a special machine.
One of the substances distilled from the process was vitamin E acetate – a thick, syrupy, pale yellow substance.
The scientists alerted officials at the CDC and US Food and Drug Administration that they’d found a suspicious goo.
‘It’s the same consistency as cannabis oil,’ Dr Victoria Derbyshire, deputy director of the Wadsworth Center, told Good Morning America.
The vitamin E-derived oil was only found in samples of patients who used black market products, not in those who used legal, medical marijuana.
But officials say they’ve not singled out the oil as the only thing making patients sick.
According to the CDC, about 86 percent of people who’ve fallen ill reported vaping liquids containing THC.
By comparison, a mere 11 percent have reported exclusive use of nicotine-containing products.
However, health officials believe that most of the illnesses have come from people vaping a combination of the two.
Vitamin E acetate was only found in samples collected from patients who used black market vapes, not legal medical marijuana. Pictured: A safe containing samples of patients
Since March, 42 Americans have died and 2,172 have been sickened from vaping-related illnesses. Pictured: Vials of fluid collected from sick patients
Most of the victims who’ve fallen ill are male and under the age of 35, with the ages of those who died ranging from 17 to 75.
There have been four deaths each confirmed in California, Illinois and Indiana; three deaths each in Georgia and Minnesota; and two deaths each confirmed in Kansas, Massachusetts, Oregon and Tennessee.
Meanwhile, one death each has been confirmed in Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington, DC.
Health officials say that teens and young people make up the majority of illnesses because flavored e-cigarettes were marketed towards them.
Amid pressure, e-cigarette company JUUL announced it will no longer sell flavored pods like creme brulee, cucumber, mango, mint and fruit anywhere.
Bans have been enacted in at least 5 states – including Massachusetts, Montana, New York, Rhode Island and Washington – although most are currently facing legal challenges.