PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Vaping cannabinoid acetates forms a deadly gas that could cause lung injury, a Portland State University chemistry professor’s research shows.
In a new study, Professor Robert Stongin and doctoral student Kaelas Munger found that the toxic gas known as ketene is released when cannabinoid acetates are heated under vaping conditions.
Ketene was previously researched and found to be dangerous in 2019 when scientists studied vitamin E acetate in the emissions from a commercial e-cigarette. This research identified ketene as a possible source of the vaping-induced lung injury outbreak that caused thousands of people to be hospitalized and some people to die in the U.S. in 2020.
Delta-8 THC is a relatively new artificially derived cannabinoid that is available online and in cannabis stores across the U.S. Because delta-8 THC contains a similar chemical substructure to vitamin E acetate, which has been shown to form the poison gas ketene during vaping, Stongin predicted the cannabinoid would do the same.
Strongin also tested for ketene by vaping other cannabinoid acetates, including cannabinol (CBN) acetate and cannabidiol (CBD) acetate, and found that these also produce the toxic gas.
Stongin said the acetate group used in products like delta-8 make it easier to cross the blood-brain barrier, enhancing its potency. He said the chemical reaction is similar to how morphine becomes heroin.
“Strongin’s article is the first research into cannabinoid acetate emissions, and provides some insight into the associated risks,” Portland State University wrote in a news release.
Strongin hopes to work with regulatory agencies to help warn consumers and regulators about this finding.
His research provides results based on one puff. It showed that ketene formed at lower temperature settings than previously thought and at levels that are dangerous to a person’s health. Mungen, who worked on the project with Strongin, said the intake for people vaping the cannabinoid products is likely higher because they usually vape more than a single puff.
“The thing we’re most concerned about is prolonged exposure, we don’t know what that is,” Munger said. “That’s why papers like ours are needed. Otherwise people would be exposed to this really toxic substance and it’s really impossible to look for the evidence.”
Strongin said ketene is too dangerous to study in order to fully understand its impact on the human body. He said ketene is virtually untraceable in the human body because it is so reactive with biological molecules.
In September 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an alert to healthcare professionals about rising incidents of adverse effects caused by delta-8. In 661 reported cases of delta-8 THC exposures reported to the CDC in 2020 and the first seven months of 2021, 119 of them required hospitalization.
As of July 1, retailers in Oregon are not allowed to sell any product containing an artificially derived cannabinoid unless it has an Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission-approved label that clearly identifies it as such.