Just on the heels of the historic congressional passing of the MORE Act, which federally decriminalized cannabis and moved to address the racist legacies of the War on Drugs, the cannabis think-tank and networking company Revel invited industry professionals to discuss, strategize, and brainstorm solutions to the current vaping crisis. Founded by Jacobi Holland and Lulu Tsui, Revel provides a platform for showcasing the entrepreneurial innovation within legal cannabis markets, as well as connecting various professional communities within the cannabis space. Hosted quarterly in New York City, Revel’s forums tackle pertinent social, financial, and legal issues, ranging from branding, licensing, and health.  

This season’s event, “Cannabis + Vaping,” featured financial, medical, legal, and engineering experts as they shared their respective takes on the current vaping crisis. The main focus of this crisis, at least amongst the Revel Forum speakers, was “EVALI,” short for “e-cigarette, vaping associated lung injury.”  According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as of November 13, 2019, there have been a reported number of 2,172 cases in 49 states (Alaska is the exception), the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Of those, 42 cases have resulted in death. The symptoms of EVALI are akin to pneumonia, ranging from chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting. Since antibiotics, which typically treat pneumonia, are ineffective for vaping related illnesses, it is critical to report your vaping habits to your doctor, should you develop these symptoms.  

As of this reporting, there is no conclusive evidence as to the cause of EVALI. However, one of the main suspects is Vitamin E acetate, an additive in some THC-containing e-cigarettes or other vaping products.  Although researchers at the C.D.C. do not know precisely how Vitamin E acetate harms the lungs, they maintain that its thick consistency (similar to honey) coats the lungs, making breathing exceptionally difficult.  

Tackling these issues head on, John Kagia, Chief Knowledge Officer of New Frontier Data, opened the Revel forum by providing necessary context. Although the vaping crisis is widespread, it seems to be most concentrated in areas where markets lack proper and thoughtful regulation. In those cases, cannabis is either completely criminalized, which creates entirely independent illicit markets, or the legal market is so vast that proper regulation has yet to emerge. Another issue that he highlighted was the emergence of counterfeit vaping products, which have also been linked to consumer injury. To that end, speakers Ramon Alarcon, founder and CEO of Witi, and Tamer Mohamed, Vice President of Manufacturing at CrescoLabs, both discussed the importance of thoughtful mechanical design of vaping products. In this arena, regulation also has a significant impact as it can spark innovation. So too can regulation remind entrepreneurs of the liabilities they need to protect themselves from, as noted by Eric Alvarez, Esq. of the Cannabis Law Group at Norris McLaughlin.

The audience also heard from luminaries Stacia Woodcock, PharMD, New York Assistant Director of Dispensary Operations at Curaleaf, as well as Aaron Riley, President of CannaSafe. Given that the night’s theme was the danger of unregulated and illicit markets, they each highlighted their respective companies’ extensive screening and testing of cannabis products. Vitamin E acetate, for example, is firmly on the list of chemical components that both companies screen for and that is not to be found in their products. While the safety of their patients and customers is their top priority, their rigorous testing standards also provide a model for other industry professionals.  

Revel’s forum on cannabis and vaping certainly provided much needed expert perspectives on a growing national concern. Proper regulation, which is very much tied to cannabis legalization, is the sensible path forward.  

For more information on the quarterly Revel forums, visit their website ontherevel.com.

Keyanah Nurse is a femme intellectual queen on a mission to change the way we think about love, intimacy, and connection.  Follow her on Twitter @KeyanahNurse.