Health officials looking for a common thread in the baffling series of respiratory illnesses across the country tied to vaping may have found it. Tests show the same chemical in marijuana products used by the patients, the Washington Post reports: a contaminant derived from vitamin E. The oil, vitamin E acetate, is harmless when taken as a vitamin supplement or used as a skin treatment. But its molecular structure, officials said, could make it dangerous to inhale and could cause the respiratory problems the patients have reported, including coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain. New York health officials found that nearly all of the cannabis samples taken from patients there contained vitamin E acetate, per Live Science.
More than 215 such cases of respiratory illness have been reported in 25 states. Many patients said they bought cannabis products on the street, and officials have suspected contaminants as the problem. It's not known yet that vitamin E acetate is what they've been looking for, and the investigation is ongoing. Answers have been few so far. "We don’t know what we’re looking for,” a CDC official said last week. (Oregon reported the nation's second possible vaping death.)