HARTFORD, CT—Doctors on the state’s medical marijuana review board said patients in Connecticut using vaporizers to administer their cannabis prescriptions are worried about sweeping changes in response to hundreds of vaping-related illnesses around the country.
A sizeable number of patients in Connecticut use vaporizer devices to take precise, fast-acting doses of medical marijuana for symptoms like chemotherapy-induced nausea, doctors said. They worry that steps to ban vaporizers could take away their much-needed relief.
“The important thing to understand is that vaporization is an important delivery system for medical cannabis delivery,” Dr. Mitchell Prywes, a physician on the Connecticut Medical Marijuana Program Physician Review Board, said.
Prywes, a pain specialist in Danbury, encouraged a discussion on vaping Friday morning among his colleagues on the board, which had just finished its scheduled meeting to consider three conditions for addition to the state’s medical marijuana list.
“I know some of the governors have decided to move particularly in the direction of eliminating vaporized forms of delivery systems,” Prywes said. “My patients specifically have become very concerned because vaporized forms of cannabis is a major form of delivery for them that has been very effective.”
“A removal of all vaporized forms of cannabis would have great impact on patients’ ability to benefit,” he said.
Connecticut has not proposed any bans on e-cigarette equipment or products, but state officials said they are participating in the national investigation into what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called a “multistate outbreak of lung injury associated with e-cigarette product use, or vaping.”
The CDC is reporting 12 deaths in 10 states and 805 total lung injury cases. It’s still unclear what is responsible for the sudden illnesses reported around the country.
“More information is needed to know whether one or more e-cigarette or vaping products, substances, or brand is responsible for the outbreak,” the CDC said.
The CDC said that all people who have reported vaping-related illnesses had a history of e-cigarette use or vaping.
Prywes said vaporized delivery systems have been in use for years, but their use for medical marijuana in a regulated environment hasn’t been shown to have adverse effects on the patients so far.
“We have programs in the state where everything is purified including the deliveries and the way it’s processed,” he said. “We have a pharmaceutical model, we meet a very high standard. To take what’s happening with those e-cigarettes and try to translate to what we’re doing here there has to be some education.”
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has reported 18 vaping-related illnesses in the state, including nine that involved vaping of THC products, the agency said Friday. Nine of the 18 required treatment in the intensive care unit, but all of the people with reported lung illnesses have now been released from hospitals, the DPH said.
“I am asking Connecticut residents to consider not using e-cigarette or vaping products while the investigation is ongoing and the search for the exact causes of these lung illnesses continues,” Commissioner Renée D. Coleman-Mitchell said in a statement. “If you chose to continue vaping, you should avoid buying vaping products off the street or from another person, including a friend.”
The DPH on Friday said it is now requiring health care providers to report “unexplained vaping-related lung injuries” to the state.
While the national investigation and debate about the safety of vaping is going on, the doctors reviewing medical marijuana uses said they want to be sure patients can still have access to their prescriptions.
“The people who are having these issues are vaping every 5 minutes, it’s like an obsession for them, while our patients who use cannabis, they’ll take one or two hits on it and that’ll be it for most of the day,” said Dr. Vincent Carlesi. “It’s a lot different.”
Carlesi said he and his colleagues don’t know of any medical marijuana patients in Connecticut who have reported vaping-related illnesses due to their prescription use.
“None of these cases are associated with, as far as I know, with patients who are in a medical cannabis program or using medical cannabis in that way [yet],” said Dr. Andrew Salner, another board member. “We have to be careful about making any statement about it until we get more information from all the people who are studying it.”