Patients receiving treatment for lung illnesses sustained from vaping had injuries that resemble chemical burns from mustard gas, according to a physician at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Brandon T. Larsen, a surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona, told the New York Times that lung tissue samples from 17 patients had been analyzed for a study.
The samples were taken from four women and 13 men who ranged from 19 to 67 years old, 70 percent of whom had a history of vaping nicotine or cannabis.
“All 17 of our cases show a pattern of injury in the lung that looks like a toxic chemical exposure, a toxic chemical fume exposure or a chemical burn injury,” Larsen said.
“To be honest, they look like the kind of change you would expect to see in an unfortunate worker in an industrial accident where a big barrel of toxic chemicals spills, and that person is exposed to toxic fumes and there is a chemical burn in the airways,” he added.
Larsen also said that the patients’ lungs resembled the injuries sustained by soldiers poisoned by mustard gas during World War I.
The results of the study were published earlier this week in the New England Journal of Medicine. 11 of the patients whose samples were studied were located in Arizona. Five were from Minnesota and the remaining patient was treated in Florida.
Two of the cases occurred prior to 2019. Larsen said that he believes that the condition may have existed for some time without the cause being recognized.
THC, Vitamin E Exonerated by Study
The findings seem to dispute earlier speculation that oils in the vape liquids could be building up in the lungs and causing the illnesses. Both vape liquid additives, including vitamin E acetate and THC oil itself, were postulated as possible culprits. The Mayo Clinic, however, found no signs of oil accumulation.
Instead, they found immune cells called macrophages that appeared white and foamy, a symptom usually observed in patients with chemical burns.
“So maybe we need to look more closely at the chemical compounds, and not just oils, but the chemical constituents, to figure out which ones are injurious,” Larsen said.
So far, nearly 800 people nationwide have been afflicted with serious lung illnesses after vaping and at least 16 have died as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most were vaping cannabis products, but some have claimed to have only used nicotine vaping devices.
Although most patients who were hospitalized with vaping-related injuries have recovered and were able to leave the hospital, it is not yet known if they will recover fully.
“Based on the severity of injury we see, at least in some of these cases, I wouldn’t be surprised if we wind up with people down the road having chronic respiratory problems from this,” Larsen said. “Some seem to recover. I don’t think we know what the long-term consequences will be.”