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Some medical marijuana users in Maryland reporting symptoms amid spate of vaping-related illness

A woman takes a puff from a cannabis vape pen in Los Angeles.
A woman takes a puff from a cannabis vape pen in Los Angeles. (Richard Vogel / Associated Press)

Seven medical cannabis users in Maryland have come forward to report unexplained respiratory symptoms since the state’s Medical Cannabis Commission asked users and providers to alert regulators of any lung problems in light of the mounting cases of illnesses locally and nationally linked to vaping.

In light of those illnesses, and a half-dozen deaths across the country, the commission sent an advisory in late August to the medical marijuana community asking those who suffer unexplained symptoms to seek medical attention and report cases to the commission.

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None of the official vaping-related cases in Maryland had involved medical cannabis patients at the time of the advisory, though the Maryland Department of Health reported that some of those with respiratory problems reported using devices with nicotine, marijuana and THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the psychoactive element in marijuana.

“Patient safety is paramount to the Commission, and we are working with the Department of Health and others to determine whether any medical cannabis patients may be experiencing similar symptoms,” Will Tilburg, the commission’s acting executive director, said in the advisory, which went to about 100,000 registered patients, 1,500 medical providers and 130 businesses.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began receiving reports in June of a mysterious illness related to vaping and now say there are more than 450 possible cases of lung illness linked to e-cigarette products in 33 states.

Maryland health officials reported in late August that there were five hospitalizations in the state and no deaths, but Tilburg said several more have been counted since then. That does not include the medical cannabis patients, who had not yet seen their medical providers.

Officials with the Maryland Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

State health officials have been working with the CDC and believe chemical exposure is causing the illnesses in people, who all report similar symptoms. They say the symptoms come on gradually and include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath and chest pain. Some also have gastrointestinal problems such as vomiting and diarrhea, as well as fever and fatigue.

The cannabis commission has been helping with the investigation, reporting data from required lab testing and sending the advisory.

The commission issued another advisory in June, notifying patient and others of potential lead contamination in cannabis liquids and vape cartridges. The commission later said it enhanced laboratory testing requirements to detect lead and other heavy metals.

Tilburg said it’s too soon to say if there would be new testing requirements of cannabis products in the state or any other changes to reduce risk to users.

Medical cannabis users in Maryland must be 18 unless they have a parent or legal guardian as a caregiver. Vaping users in the state must be 21 to buy products, though those products have become popular among youths, especially those that are flavored.

The Trump administration moved Wednesday to ban the flavored e-cigarettes.

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