Researchers have found that a rare lung condition called hard-metal pneumoconiosis, usually caused by exposure to hard metals, was found in a patient who smoked with a vaping device used with cannabis.
The information comes from a case study published in the European Respiratory Journal written by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.Read More
The condition makes breathing more difficult and creates a “distinctive pattern” of damage to the lungs, according to the letter. When doctors learned that the patient had not been exposed to any hard metals, they identified vaping as a possible cause of the condition.
This is the first reported case in which the condition has been linked to vaping.
After testing the vapor of the patient’s device, they found it released cobalt, nickel, aluminum, manganese, lead and chromium.
The condition has to do with “macrophages,” or cells that are there to take away toxins, dust particles, bacteria and anything that shouldn’t be there, Dr. Roman tells SurvivorNet. They do so by “engulfing” the unwanted particles, and are called “the scavengers of the lung.”
“Imagine a cell in your body trying to digest a piece of metal,” says Dr. Roman.
When the cells try to engulf something they can’t digest, they keep producing digestive enzymes and are continuously activated. “Metal will not dissolve in the lifetime of the individual,” says Dr. Roman. When cells are continuously activated, they become inflamed. At that point, the lung starts to heal by depositing collagen, which creates scarring, which can make it difficult to breathe, he says.
Increased Risk for Lung Cancer
The type of environment created by this condition could increase risk for lung cancer, says Dr. Roman. “Typically cancers arise in an ‘abnormal’ lung. Any time you have an individual with an inflammatory lung disease or scarring there is a higher risk for cancer,” he says.
He is careful to note that not everyone with an inflammatory lung condition will get cancer, but says the risk does increase.
Experts also warn that the increasing number of teens and children using e-cigarettes with nicotine increases their risk of getting cancer. More than 5 million middle and high school students currently use e-cigarettes, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey, up from more than 3.6 million last year.
The Dangers of Vaping
The CDC has confirmed 2,290 cases of e-cigarette- or vaping-associated lung injury (called “EVALI”), and 47 related deaths.
Many different chemicals — some natural, some not — are used in these devices; what’s being inhaled depends on factors such as the brands themselves or the third-party vendor that sell the cartridges to use in the vapes.
The majority of people who have developed EVALI reported having used vaping products that contain a mix of ingredients including vitamin E acetate — a synthetic form of the vitamin — and THC (the psychoactive compound in marijuana). Researchers have analyzed samples of these products and found they contain a dangerous chemical, vitamin E acetate. While the synthetic vitamin is found in some skincare products, research shows that inhaling it can “interfere with normal lung functioning,” according to the CDC.
No Long-Term Studies
Because vaping is still new, researchers haven’t been able to conduct long-term studies on the physical damage these products can do.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Weill-Cornell thoracic surgeon Dr. Brendon Stiles explained that the need to study these products and their dangers now is urgent.
Dr. Brendon Stiles, thoracic surgeon at Weill-Cornell, talks about the need for more research on vaping and lung cancer
“The reason doctors can’t say with certainty that vaping is dangerous is that there simply hasn’t been enough time to study the long-term effects yet,” Dr. Stiles told SurvivorNet, adding that these unknowns make it dire that research on the dangers is started sooner rather than later. “It’s very pressing to start researching this now. If we wait 10 to 15 years until we see the clinical effects in all these kids who are taking up vaping, it’s going to be too late.”
In its latest warning, the FDA acknowledged that there is still much more research to do, but said that there are serious indicators implicating THC-containing vape products as a real danger to a person’s health.
“This is a complex, ongoing and evolving investigation,” the FDA said. “In addition to our own analyses, we are also diligently reviewing published literature of third-party analyses of samples and data, which are beneficial to our ongoing investigation. At this time, the FDA does not have enough data to identify the cause, or causes, of lung injuries in these cases. Additionally, while no one compound or ingredient has emerged as a singular culprit, we do know that THC is present in most of the samples being tested.”