Five Utahns, including some teenagers, have experienced “serious breathing problems” that may be related to vaping or other inhaled drugs — including marijuana oil — and the state health department is investigating.
Dixie Harris, a pulmonology and critical care specialist at Intermountain Healthcare, alerted the health department after she saw a second patient who was having difficulty breathing after vaping.
“The first several cases we had, the patients were inhaling marijuana oil in some form,” Harris said. “We’re seeing this associated with marijuana oil, definitely, in every case. Many of the patients are also doing e-cigarettes."
The patients came into the hospital experiencing “significant problems with their lungs,” Harris said. "A couple of the patients we’ve had have been on ventilators — life support. It’s not something to be taken lightly.”
Harris also had seen a recent alert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about nearly 100 possible cases of severe lung illness associated with vaping. The cases have been reported in 14 states, from June 28 to Aug. 15. That includes 30 cases in Wisconsin.
All of Utah’s reported patients have suffered shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and coughing — symptoms that worsened for several days or weeks, according to the Utah Department of Health. All five were hospitalized.
Marijuana oil without a hemp extract registration card from the Utah Department of Health is illegal in Utah, but legal elsewhere. “One of my patients told me they got their marijuana oil from a friend from out of state,” Harris said.
The symptoms begin with nausea and vomiting and “feeling like they have the flu” with high fevers and coughs. “It looks like they have severe pneumonia, but there’s no infection,” Harris said.
While the patients’ conditions have improved, the long-term effects on their health are “unknown,” according to the health department. All of the Utah patients are under the age of 40, Harris said.
The cases primarily involve vaping among adolescents and young adults in Wisconsin, Illinois, California, Indiana and Minnesota, the CDC said. According to Harris, doctors are still “trying to figure out where all this is coming from. Is it coming from one source? What’s the commonality?”
Utah health officials are working with national partners, local health departments and clinicians to identify the cause of the state’s five “severe illnesses,” the state health department said in a news release.
Health officials urge anyone who has chest pain or difficulty breathing after vaping to seek immediate medical attention. They also are advising care providers to ask patients with unexpected serious respiratory illness to ask about recent vaping and report cases to state or local health departments.
“What I would suggest at this time is not to inhale any marijuana oil. Don’t inhale it or vape it in any fashion,” Harris said. “I would be very careful with e-cigarettes until we sort out what the culprit is. ... The [Food and Drug Administration] just recently started controlling the e-cigarette market. There’ve not been many studies about the toxic effects of e-cigarettes.”