CLEVELAND — While headlines across the nation talk about vaping deaths and more than a thousand people in the hospital with serious lung problems, medical marijuana patients like Alec Chenkus are paying attention.
"Obviously, it's a concern," said Chenkus.
When Chenkus talks to other patients as the Patient Education Manager at Ohio Marijuana Card, he tells them he's confident Ohio's medical marijuana vaping products won't make people sick.
Cleveland Clinic Pulmonologist Dr. Humberto Choi has cared for patients seriously injured by vaping and he says the main problem right now is that medical experts don't know what vaping products patients have used.
"There are many different devices and the liquids are also not well-regulated, so in effect, it would be difficult to determine what's in there," said Dr. Choi.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told Congress last month one substance that keeps showing up in the most series cases is called Vitamin E Acetate.
Experts say it's used in low-quality, black market vape products. Until that's confirmed to be the only thing killing some users and making many more sick, Dr. Choi's recommendation is clear.
"What all these things have in common is the vaping itself," said Dr. Choi. "So vaping is definitely not safe and not something that we would recommend."
But Ohio's Medical Marijuana industry claims its products are safe.
Companies that make vape products through the Ohio Medical Marijuana Program tell News 5 they don't include any Vitamin E or any material that doesn't come from the medical marijuana plants naturally.
Processors we talked to gave News 5 the following statements regarding why their products are safe for patients:
We're obviously following the issue very closely and working closely with the State of Ohio. We have made the decision internally to place the following warning label on any Standard Wellness smokeable or vapeable product given the concerns.
"WARNING: Smoking or Vaping May Cause Serious Risks to Your Health."
GREEN THUMB INDUSTRIES
We are closely monitoring the news regarding illnesses being potentially linked to the use of certain vaping products.
Please know that safety is our number one priority at GTI and the wellness of our customers and patients is of paramount importance.
With respect to reports concerning Vitamin E acetate, GTI does not use Vitamin E in any of our vape products
We are dilligently focused on quality, safety and compliance. All of our products, including vapes, are rigorously tested by third-party, independent laboratories for contaminants to ensure compliance with state regulations.
We will continue to prioritize health and safety and monitor this important issue. Background and additional information on this topic can be found at the Centers for Disease Control.
At GrowOhio, we go to great lengths to provide safe medical marijuana products to our patients every time. Butterfly Effect Oil ONLY utilizes 100% full spectrum CO2 extracted raw cannabis oil and cannabis derived terpenes for our vaporization products. We do not utilize cutting agents (I.e., VG, PG, PEG, MCT), which includes Vitamin E Acetate. We adhere to strict production and quality control measures throughout the processing cycle. GrowOhio products are rigorously tested and live up to the highest safety standards available.
Industry workers say state labs make them prove it.
"Patients deserve access to products that have been tested, that are transparent, that are traceable and that are highly regulated," said Greenleaf and Ohio Botanist Dispensaries Vice President Caroline Henry.
All products created within the Ohio Medical Marijuana program are tested by a third party making sure everyone knows what's inside.
Dr. Dvora Nelson co-owns Lakewood Medical Clinic and trans doctors who recommend medical marijuana to Ohio's patients. She's concerned Governor Mike DeWine's call for the legislature to ban some flavored vaping products could scare patients away from vaping medical marijuana too.
She says that's a problem because vaping is one of the best ways for new users to take medical marijuana since the effects are essentially immediate.
"You get that relief, you're goal is relief, you reach your goal, you're done," said Dr. Nelson.
Her doctors warn patients to stick with the state-approved products and not try to save money turning to the black market.
"A dollar can cost you your life."