A recent finding at RCSI’s Department of Chemistry greatly improves our understanding of the risks associated with inhaling illicit vaping products.
In August 2019, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an increasing number of lung injuries following the use of some vaping products, and vitamin E acetate was identified as one possible cause. Though some patient lung biopsies showed signs of chemical burns that vitamin E acetate alone would not be expected to cause.
Vitamin E acetate, primarily found in illegally made THC-based vape liquids, is considered non-toxic in vitamin supplements and skin creams. This research from RCSI has now shown that heating up vitamin E acetate through vaping can produce ketene, a highly toxic gas.
Ketene is a colourless gas with a penetrating odour. When inhaled, it can cause serious damage to the lungs up to 24 hours after exposure. It is lethal at high concentrations, and at lower concentrations it can irritate the eyes and lungs and impair the central nervous system.
The researchers connected a vaping device to a series of glass vessels, which allowed them to collect samples after simulating a person vaping vitamin E acetate from the device.
In addition to chemically trapping the toxic ketene gas, the researchers also found that heating up vitamin E acetate produces other carcinogens that are found in regular tobacco smoke.
The team set out to determine the vaping effect on a single pure substance at chemistry molecular level. Determining the exact relevance of these results to the direct cause of lung injury requires further studies due to the diversity in vaping devices, mixtures and their modes of uses.
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