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Md. regulators order medical cannabis companies to report vaping illnesses

Will Tilburg, acting executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears0

Will Tilburg, acting executive director of the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears0

Maryland medical cannabis regulators are ordering medical cannabis licensees to report any incidents of illnesses connected to the use of e-cigarette products as federal health officials continue to investigate widespread reports of health concerns related to vaping.

The requirement was part of an alert sent to patients, medical providers and license holders late last month. The document urges patients and medical providers also to report illnesses that might be connected to vaping cannabis products. It’s the second time this year the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has issued warnings about vaping products.

“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, acting executive director of the commission, said in the statement sent to patients, medical providers and dispensaries.

So far, there have been about 450 cases of lung illnesses in 33 states, including Maryland, that are believed to be related to the use of vaping products and e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Deaths have occurred in five of those cases, the agency said. To date, none of those deaths have been in Maryland. All of the five cases reported in Maryland required hospitalization, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

The cause of the illness remains unknown. It has not yet been linked to any brand of e-cigarette device, vaping cartridge or substance. The state Health department notes in a separate bulletin that people who developed the illness reported using a variety of vaping products, including those containing marijuana and THC — the psychoactive chemical in marijuana — and nicotine.

To date, none of the five cases of suspected vaping-related lung illness cases reported in Maryland involve medical cannabis patients, the state medical cannabis commission said

The warning from the commission was sent to thousands of registered patients, medical providers and licensees late in August, said a spokeswoman for the commission.

Symptoms of the illness include shortness of breath and pain associated with breathing and cough. Nausea, fever, vomiting and diarrhea are also symptoms.

The new release does not appear on the commission’s website. The spokeswoman initially declined to release a copy of the document, saying it was “confidential,” but released it later without further deliberation when The Daily Record filed a request under the Maryland Public Information Act.

In June, the commission issued a public warning about the potential hazards of vaping products. On Friday, regulators announced new testing requirements.

The commission issued its latest warning after concerns arose in a number of states related to lead and other heavy metal toxins in medical cannabis vaping products identified in a 2018 study by the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Health. Health researchers tested e-cigarette devices of 56 patients and “found that significant numbers of the devices generated aerosols with potentially unsafe levels of lead, chromium, manganese and or nickel.”

The inhalation of toxic chemicals are linked to lung, liver, immune system, cardiovascular and brain damage, and some forms of cancer, according to the report.

Some patients at the time criticized the commission for being slow to notify patients and not doing enough to ensure product safety.

In October, the commission quietly ordered all medical cannabis dispensaries in Maryland to stop selling and quarantine products from ForwardGro, an Anne Arundel County medical cannabis grower, over reports that the Anne Arundel County-based medical cannabis grower used banned pesticides on its products. The commission did not issue warnings to patients at that time.

Months later, the commission announced a consent order with ForwardGro and urged patients with concerns about the company’s products to speak to a medical professional.

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