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Medical marijuana patients on edge over vaping scare; manufacturers say products are safe – Twin Cities


Katy Cummins-Bakko relies on medical marijuana for her connective tissue disease, which can trigger pain or dislocation with each step. At night, when pain can creep up and keep her awake, she uses a vaping device for more immediate relief.

Or at least she did until recently.

Cummins-Bakko stopped vaping her medical cannabis earlier this month after a Minnesotan became the fifth person in the country to die from a serious vaping-related lung injury.

“I’m just not sure it’s worth the risk at this point,” said Cummins-Bakko, a St. Paul resident who is now using medical cannabis capsules and tinctures (drops placed under the tongue) instead. “It’s been kind of a struggle … not having that as an option anymore.”

ILLEGAL CANNABIS LINK TO INJURIES

As of Friday morning, Minnesota health officials had recorded 28 cases of suspected vaping-related lung injuries. More than 450 cases have been reported across multiple states to date.

Most of the cases have involved people who vaped illegal cannabis products. That’s a distinction that the Office of Medical Cannabis has reiterated to the more than 17,000 Minnesotans who use legal medical marijuana.

Officials note that most lung injuries were linked to black market products, though they cannot guarantee that medical cannabis vaping products are safe until investigators pinpoint the cause of the injuries.

“The products in the medical cannabis program do undergo laboratory evaluation. There is a quality control,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Ruth Lynfield, who is leading the Health Department’s investigation into vaping-related lung injuries. “Here we have people who have really significant health conditions who are using medical cannabis as medicine. And from what we know to date, there has not been an association.”

MANUFACTURERS: OUR PRODUCTS ARE SAFE

The state is in frequent contact with Minnesota’s two medical marijuana manufacturers, said Chris Tholkes, interim director of the Office of Medical Cannabis. The office will check in with Leafline Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions twice a week going forward, she added.

Both of the manufacturers have stood by their vaping products.

Minnesota Medical Solutions has produced more than 100,000 vape cartridges since 2015 and has had no patient injuries, the company said in a statement. Additionally, the company does not use Vitamin E acetate — which has been singled out by health investigators as a potential cause for the injuries — in its products.

Neither does Leafline Labs, according to CEO Bill Parker.

“There are no pesticides in our growing process, and we have never added any Vitamin E acetate, diluting agents or other solutions to the medicine used in our vape cartridges. Our cannabis vaporization oils are 100% pure,” the company said in a statement. “While we are confident in the quality and safety of our medications, we have commissioned additional testing to further validate our formulas.”

ADVOCATES SAY MORE OPTIONS NEEDED

Advocates for medical cannabis patients are using the health scare to push for more affordable products. They say the processed pills and oils that are legal are currently too expensive, which pushes the ailing patients who need them toward cheaper black market products.

They want the state to legalize the marijuana plant for medicinal use; a push at the State Capitol to do just that failed earlier this year.

Many patients have said they would prefer to use the real plant, and the manufacturers have admitted it would be cheaper to sell. The manufacturers here have to process the plants into pills and oils before they can sell them, which ups their operating costs.

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